Fergus County Sexual Abuse Response Team awarded grant

The barber-style chair (above) is currently used for examinations at the Fergus County Nurses Office and will be replaced with a table designed for medical examinations. Pictured (from left): Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Courtney Moline, Fergus County Deputy Ryan Peterson, CMF Director Bret Carpenter, SANE Becky Nachtigal and Licensed Social Worker Connie Harvey.

Photo courtesy of Carrie Mantooth

Central Montana Foundation awarded a $1,000 grant at its Sept. 26 meeting to Fergus County Sexual Assault Response Team to help with the purchase of an examination table and sexual assault exam supplies.

Fergus County SART members Fergus County Deputy Ryan Peterson, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Courtney Moline and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Connie Harvey presented their request to the CMF Board of Directors and explained that they are a team of professionals who help victims of sexual assault. Their primary focus is helping children, but they also work with victims who are over 18.

Peterson said they have a cooperative agreement with the Fergus County Public Nurse’s Office to allow for 24/7 access to conduct examinations. They currently have only an older barber-type chair and requested funding from CMF to purchase of a table designed for medical examinations.

Fergus County SART was formed in 2009 and has specialized training to conduct forensic and suspect interviews, gather physical evidence, prosecution of cases and to provide trauma-informed treatment in a comprehensive, compassionate and professional manner. SART is made up of representatives from the Fergus County Attorney’s Office, Lewistown Police Department, Fergus County Sheriff’s Office, Child Protective Services, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Providers and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.

The SART members told the CMF directors that unfortunately, the need for their services is growing as the number of sexual assault cases continues to rise.

“The number of sex crimes we investigate and prosecute has grown significantly in the nine years I’ve been in the Fergus County Attorney’s Office,” said SART Team Coordinator Jean Adams. She added that the increase may be due in part to more awareness and willingness to report these crimes. Adams said reporting a sex crime and going through the investigation and prosecution process is extremely difficult. “The SART team has worked hard to establish protocols that prevent re-traumatizing victims.”

The work is also hard on SART team members. “Working with child victims of sexual assault and their families can be emotionally draining and oftentimes heartbreaking,” said Connie Harvey. “We’ve learned from experience not to do these cases in isolation. Having a team of trained professionals in which to share the workload as well as receive feedback and support enables us to keep things in perspective.”

Peterson agreed that the cases assigned to SART are often challenging and difficult. “We know we did our job when the child says ‘thank you’ and something positive came out of their terrible experience.”

Fergus County SART doesn’t have an operating budget, receiving training and technical assistance from the Montana Children’s Alliance and the National Children’s Advocacy Center. Any costs beyond these services are absorbed by the Fergus County Attorney’s Office, other organizations with SART representatives, or by individual team members.

Harvey, who wrote the grant to CMF, said they are appreciative of CMF’s commitment to their mission. “CMF’s support will enable SANE nurses to conduct the sexual assault examinations with the proper equipment in a comfortable setting.”

For more information about Fergus County SART, contact SART Team Coordinator Jean Adams at the Fergus County Attorney’s office, 535-8127.

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