Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on May 26, 1974 · Page 100
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 100

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 26, 1974
Page 100
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MIAMI, FLA. T he number 325-RAPE rings in the emergency room, a nurse answers the phone and immediately alerts the hospital's Rape Crisis team that a rape victim is on her way to the hospital. Within minutes a gynecologist, nurse and social worker are ready for the incoming patient Since January, a significant effort against rape has been underway at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Fla. The unusual feature of Jackson's Rape Crisis Center is that it is sponsored by the county (Dade) and staffed completely by professionals. Dr. Dorothy Hicks is the medical director of the team of five doctors and several nurses and counselors who staff the center24 hours a day. Each member of the team has been sensitized to the problem of rape by Dr. Hardat Sukhdeo, team psychiatrist. "In the usual course of events," says Dr. Hicks, "a rape victim who decides to report the crime or seek medical attention has been subjected to degradation and humiliation at the hands of police officers and hospital personnel. A common experience "What too often happens is that two uniformed police arrive on the scene. They are supposed to ask preliminary questions to find out briefly what took place, which way the assailant left and what he looked like. However, they have been known to ask questions like: 'Did you enjoy it? How many orgasms did you have? What did you take off first?'" Most police officers have a stereo- " typed view of a rape victim's reactions. They expect her to be hysterical. If she is calm, although it may be a sign of shock, they are likely to believe rape never took place. "Equally absurd," says Dr. Hicks, "is that if a woman shows no signs of being badly beaten, the police often decide she has been a willing participant. That theory is just plain ridiculous. A woman should not fight unless she is convinced her assailant means to kill her. She has a much better chance if she remains reasonably calm and tries to talk her assailant out of what he is doing. Hurried intern. "When the rape victim is taken to the hospital, she is seen by an intern, who is rushed and often oblivious to the importance of collecting proper evidence in the event the woman wishes to prosecute. And the intern, like the police, has not been sensitized to the woman's extremely traumatic feelings. Unfortunately, very rarely does a rape victim see a gynecologist "It is a very sad fact," she continues, "that rape is the only^crime in which the victim is treated -like a criminal by bySherylSeyfert Rape v/ct/ms urgently need competent and sensitive medical and psychological care, says Dr. Dorothy Hicks, head of a Miami hospital's Rape Crisis Center. the police, the hospital and the courts." According to Dr. Hicks, Dr. Sukhdeo, who gives a course at the county's police academy, attempts to sensitize the police force to the feelings of the rape victim so that they can handle the situation with insight and sympathy. 'There is nothing better for a woman after such a traumatic experience than to be confronted with a sympathetic male figure. Ifs a lot like falling off a horse. If you don't get right back on you may never ride again." Jackson's center consists of a private examining room and a comfortable. "family room" where the victim can sit quietly and talk about the crime and her emotions, without being embarrassed by scores of people gaping at her. While the rape crisis team tests every victim thoroughly for venereal disease and the possibility of pregnancy as well as filling out carefully and accurately reports on the victim's condition and collecting evidence of penetration and seminal fluids, the center emphasizes follow-up counseling for the victim and her family. "It's not just the victim who needs help to understand what has happened to her but her family and particularly her husband. To many people a rape victim is a dirty girl, a bad girl, and her husband too often wonders what it was his wife did to provoke the attacker," says Dr. Hicks. An extreme case "I recently encountered a woman whose husband divorced her after she was raped and then killed himself. An extreme case perhaps but you'd be surprised at how often misconceptions about the crime of rape ruin people's lives. "I had two women recently come in who had been raped four and five years ago but who had never told anyone. Because they had been unable to talk out their feelings, they had lived with the terrible experience day in and day out" How did the women of Florida's Dade County manage to establish a county-sponsored Rape Crisis Center when most anti-rape groups meet indifference and even hostility? In 1973, Miami feminists marshaled evidence on the maltreatment of victims by police and hospitals. They gathered statistics on the rising incidence of rape [ the FBI reports that rape rose from 41,890 in 1971 to 46,430 in 1972 and about 51,000 in 1973] and stressed the urgent need to provide competent and sensitive medical and psychological treatment. How they did it The women talked to and gained the support of many highly respected professional women, community leaders and sympathetic men in key institutions. Then they approached the county commissioners who were convinced to is--sue a mandate to Jackson Memorial Hospital in early December, 1973, to open, by the first of the year, a Rape Crisis Center. The facility is funded by the county and payment is determined by the patient's ability to pay. The maximum fee, however, is $10. "If a woman comes to us for treatment or counseling," says Dr. Hicks, "she is assured of anonymity. Fortu-* nately, though, most women are choosing to prosecute. Admittedly rape is a brutal enough crime without the demeaning treatment a woman gets in the courtroom, but prosecution is really the only way to curb the rise in rapes each year. We do our best to prepare the women for the experience." Battle for opinion Although Dr.Hicks'schedule is a hectic one (she also maintains a private practice), she and the other members of the rape team make time to attack- the crucial battlefront of public consciousness. They and other concerned professional men and women present programs and talks to community groups and professional associations. They maintain constant coverage of their activities against rape on radio, TV, in newspapers and magazines. What has been the impact of Jackson's Rape Crisis Center? Says Dr. Hicks: "An undeniable improvement in the treatment of the victim in the hospital and by the police, who if they are unable to rid themselves of prejudices, at least cooperate because of the pressure they get from the department and the county commissioners. More and more women are- choosing to prosecute, and because we are so careful in the collection of evidence more convictions should be possible. And hopefully, through counseling, fewer women and their families will bear long-lasting emotional scars from the experience." 13

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