Speakers: The Casper Community Needs To Change Culture About Sexual Assault
No single law enforcement officer, prosecutor, social service worker, victim witness advocate, or health care worker -- nor all of them -- can adequately respond sexual assault crimes, they said Wednesday.
"It can't just be us, up here," said Jennifer Dyer, executive director of the Self-Help Center.
"It takes a community, it takes a culture," Dyer said at the second panel discussion about sexual assault at Durham Hall at Casper College on Tuesday.
"So we've got to change the culture and it's going to take some time, but we need help and so I just urge all of you that you're here today because of your interest find out how you can help," she said.
This was the second of two scheduled panels on sexual assault.
Lesley Travers, Dean of the School of Business and Industry, moderated the event with Dyer, Interim Casper Police Chief Steve Schulz and Police Sgt. Mike Ogden, Iza Hill with the police department's victim services office, Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen, Kayleigh Clark from the Children's Advocacy Project, and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Cynthia Duncan with the Wyoming Medical Center.
Dyer said the cultural issues surrounding sexual assault are deeply rooted.
Victims who come to the Self-Help Center already endure the shame of guilt and victim-blaming when they've heard comments like, "'what were you wearing?'" or "'what did you do to make him mad?'"
Duncan, who is among the nurses who conduct rape exams, said she's had to deal with medical professionals who ask if someone really was assaulted. About three-fourths of all sexual assaults do not leave injuries, she said. "I believe everyone that comes into my room," she said.
Blonigen said the legal culture denigrating sexual assault claims goes back centuries. He cited a 17th century jurist who said, "'rape is easy to accuse and difficult to disprove,'" adding that's nonsense.
That culture persists in a Wyoming law that prohibits the disclosure of the name of a defendant in a sexual assault case until their arraignment in district court, Blonigen said.
"The major reason, it seems to me, is the Legislature still views complaints about sexual assaults as suspect," he said. "I would like to say it's a different reason but that's the only reason I can come up with. They've been asked to repeal it several times. They've never taken action to do so."
"There's a dynamic change in the Casper Police Department and has been in the last month and a half, and a different shift in direction" -- Interim Police Chief Steve Schulz
The panel discussions were a response to criticisms of the city's and the police department's dealings with sexual assault cases.
Organizers held the first panel on April 6, the same week a Fraternal Order of Police survey was made public that indicated severe morale problems within the police department and a lack of confidence in then-Police Chief Jim Wetzel.
This spring, Casper City Council authorized spending $53,550 for the Center for Public Safety Management to do an independent review of department operations, resources and interaction with the community.
Wetzel was fired on May 5.
Meanwhile, city council was completing its austere budget but granted Schulz's request to increase training for officers to $200,000 -- the most ever allocated.
Ogden said the department recently has added more personnel to investigate sexual assaults and crimes against vulnerable adults.
In recent years, Ogden and others said the cooperation among government and nonprofit agencies has significantly improved. "We've seen a drastic change in how everybody's working together better."
Schulz said these cases and the responses to them are reflections of the community, and not just the justice system and the other agencies represented on the panel, he said.
"There's a dynamic change in the Casper Police Department and has been in the last month and a half, and a different shift in direction," Schulz said.