Victims of sexual assault in Lincoln County speak up

Submitted by Elka Wood
Lincoln County public health nurse Riley Black has completed the training to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and is mak-ing public her own story of sexual assault in a bid to en-courage local victims to break their silence as well.
Black has been partly inspired by the international #metoo movement, where women used the hashtag on social media to acknowledge how many of them have been sexually assaulted. Black hopes the current social cli-mate and revealing her per-sonal story will break the stigma of reporting sexual crimes, which are, Black said, “grossly underreported.”
Locally, 26 women an-swered a Facebook post call-ing on survivors of sexual assault in Lincoln County to be interviewed for this arti-cle. Many of them, like Black, have never come forward with their stories before, and some of their stories are in-cluded throughout the arti-cle.
“This is an unpinned gre-nade waiting for someone to come along and kick it,” Black said in an interview on February 1, adding that the issue is in no way limited to women, and victims of sexual assault include boys, men and LGTBQ people as well.
Black was 19 and living in Libby when the assault occurred.
“I didn’t know I had been assaulted until about a week afterwards, when my assail-ant confessed to me,” Black said, “he thought it had been some wonderful interaction that he wanted to do again, but I had no memory of the event.”
“I have never been un-conscious like that before or since,” Black said, adding that it is likely she was drugged.
Ten years have passed since the assault, and Black has sought counselling to try to piece together what hap-pened to her, but said she still feels her skin crawl when she talks about it.
“When he was telling me what happened, I remember feeling physically sick,” Black said “a horrible, icky creepy crawly feeling. You never forget the feeling of that vio-lation.”
Like many assault vic-tims, Black never reported the crime, confiding in only one close friend.
If she had reported the assault and wanted to press charges, it would have re-quired a trip to Kalispell to the nearest sexual assault clinic for a physical exam and evidence collection.
Now Black, spurred by her own experience, has un-dergone training to become a sexual assault nurse examin-er [SANE] so that anyone seeking care after a sexual assault can be seen in Libby.
“I have completed the adult training,” Black said, “and this summer I’ll do the paediatric course, so I can see children as well.”
Black is working with local law enforcement and the medical community to ensure her services as a SANE nurse are known to all first responders.
Libby’s chief of police Scott Kessel said in an inter-view on February 7 that he is “very supportive” of Black’s certification to be a sexual assault nurse and said Libby has been the only place he has worked where there hasn’t, until now, been a nurse available locally.
“Imagine having to get in the car and drive two hours to Kalispell after something like that [a sexual assault],” Kessel said.
Kessel said that there have been no sex crimes re-ported to his department since his start date in January 2017, a fact which is, he said, either “positive or sinister.”
“I hope it doesn’t repre-sent underreporting,” Kessel said, adding that he and his staff understand that in many instances the victim of sexual assault is afraid – afraid of being “victimised twice” by having to be examined, and of not being believed.
Attempting to under-stand the victim’s perspec-tive is one reason Kessel had his staff attended a 21-day course on sexual crimes last September, he said.
“I attended the same course for executives,” Kessel said, “and it did cover rates of underreporting and the rate of false claims [the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network currently estimates false claims to be under 2 per cent]. I want my department to take very seriously all reports of sex crimes and have training, so they can be helpful to victims.”
Having training and in-formation about trauma and the brain can be powerful for all first responders, Black said in her interview.
“We now know that trau-ma affects memory and the experience of time,” Black explained “so victim’s stories can sound unbelievable on first telling as they mix up the order of events.”
Sex crimes are often com-plicated by the fact that the parties know one another – as in Black’s assault, where her assailant was an ac-quaintance.
“This – that assault occurs on a date, or in a bar, adds to the victim’s guilt,” Kessel said “and it shouldn’t. It should-n’t.”
Overcoming the stigma of reporting a crime is the next step, Kessel said.
A Lincoln County woman who was raped when a stranger broke into her home in Nantucket said during her interview on February 14 that although she was exam-ined after the attack, [and pulled out a yellowed file from the era stamped with her name and the words ‘rape exam’] she did not testi-fy against her rapist.
“My father called to tell me the rapist was going to trial a few years after the rape,” she said “and he told me ‘there’s no way you are going to through that [testifying]. My father want-ed to protect me.”
40 years have passed since the rape, and the wom-an now wishes she had testi-fied: “I was told my attacker had raped seven women be-fore me, and now I wonder if I had testified then if I could have convinced the jury that this man needed to be put away for life so he couldn’t hurt anyone again,” she said on February 17.
Recovering from a sexual assault has two aspects: per-sonal healing and seeking justice, said Black during her interview. The two are inter-twined, but the first step is often telling a close confi-dant.
A former teacher at Troy high school, who worked at the school between 2010-2015, said that during her five-year employment, seven students confided in her that they had been sexually as-saulted or abused.
“Two of those students were male,” she said via email on February 2 “often that perspective gets left out of the conversation.”
The teacher reported the crimes as required under mandatory reporter laws but never heard the outcome of making the reports. She said she still thinks about those students.
“Those were students I had known for two or three years then they finally opened up. I always think about how many didn’t re-port …” she said via email.
“The more people who report, the more people who report,” Kessel said, “we still have a long way to go, espe-cially with things like male on male rape.”
Although the time for legal justice may well have passed for Tracy Shumate, speaking up about her sexual assault has been cathartic, she said in an interview on February 10.

Now a teacher’s aide at Libby Elementary, Shumate was in the military in 1999 training as an intelligence analyst when she was raped for the first time.
“I was working out a lot. As a woman in the army, you have to work so much harder to prove yourself and I was always walking the half mile to and from the gym from my barracks, so I could work out. I remember the day it happened it was a beautiful fall afternoon when I was going to the gym.”
On that day, Shumate was offered some tips on improving her sets by a higher-ranking man she describes as “balding, with glasses.”
The man offered her a ride home, since it was dark by then, but wanted to stop by his office on the way to pick something up.
When it became clear the man’s intentions, Shu-mate put her hand on the door, she said, and he told her she better not get out or he would cut her.
“There are two reactions – fight or freeze, and I froze when I realised he might have a knife,” Shumate said.
“I remember knowing rape was wrong and expect-ing that the military would take care of me. I was a kid,” said Shumate, who was 18 at the time.
The day after the rape, Shumate was compelled to tell a female colleague [“I just had to tell someone” she said] and began the process of reporting.
However, Shumate’s expectations that the mili-tary would take care of her were thwarted, and Shu-mate was actively discour-aged at every step of the process by her superiors, the process Kessel calls “revictimization.”
“First, they did a rape kit – and the two nurses were so cold and talked about me as though I wasn’t in the room,” Shumate said, re-porting that the physical experience of gathering evidence was “horrific.”
Shumate’s drill sergeant, a woman named Brown, asked Shumate multiple times “are you sure it was rape?” and told her that the man she had accused was married with three kids, and that reporting it could ruin his career and hers.
“You are taken on as a victim,” Shumate said, “but you are blamed.”
Even now, 10 years lat-er, the doubts cast in Shu-mate’s mind about the na-ture of the crime by her superiors are apparent.
Shumate said she still wonders if she can really call what happened rape because, she said “it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to me – I wasn’t beaten or gang raped.”
The military’s discour-agement and lack of support had impacted Shumate so much that when it came to identifying the man from a series of pictures, she made a decision.
Although her assailants picture was right in front of her, she told her drill ser-geant she couldn’t remem-ber clearly what he looked like.
The next year, Shumate was raped again while sick in bed with strep throat, by a man who was well known to her.
“The second time, I real-ly fought back, and I remem-ber screaming ‘no!’” she recalled.
But she didn’t consider reporting the crime after her first experience.
In order to cope with the trauma, Shumate threw herself into military life, determined to win fitness competitions and soldier of the month, which she achieved. She served in Ko-rea and made friends she is still close with today.
“The military has a great sense of camaraderie and friendship,” she said “but it’s the flip side to the same coin that made them not want me to report the rapes. There is so much pride – you don’t want your unit to look bad, and an accusation of rape to a high-ranking of-ficer doesn’t look good.”
In 2009, years of quash-ing the trauma caught up with her and Shumate was wrestling with depression, unable to sleep and feeling “worthless,” she said.
Talking to her con-cerned husband made a difference for Shumate: “he saved my life by making me go to therapy,” she said “and my therapist in Missoula was amazing. She told me “I’ll believe in you until you can believe in yourself.”
As Shumate’s story shows, having an empathet-ic sexual assault examiner can make a huge difference for victims.
At this stage, Black is the sole provider in Lincoln County trained to treat vic-tims of sexual assault, and she is determined to do whatever she can to make the experience of gathering evidence as easy for victims as possible.
“We are currently apply-ing for funding for equip-ment so we can set up a sexual assault exam room,” Black said “we hope I will be ready to accept patients in about six months.”
The location is as yet unknown, Black said, but it is important to have a desig-nated area for examination to keep the space clean of DNA of anyone other than the victim and perpetrator.
All treatments to be offered by Black are the patients choice and can be refused at any point.
“I want to stress that coming to me does not mean you have to press charges,” Black said “collecting evi-dence just keeps your op-tions open. But I’m also available if you just want to talk about a sexual assault.”
In her role as SANE nurse, Black can offer post assault treatments like anti-biotics, hepatitis vaccina-tions, STD and pregnancy testing and emergency birth control.
This last point is an im-portant one, Black said, as according to statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, there are estimated to be between 7,000- 12,500 conceptions in the U.S as a result of rape every year.
Black can also collect forensic evidence with a pelvic, oral and anal exami-nation and take photos of any injuries, which may be used in a court case should the victim choose to press charges.
Any evidence collected within three days after an assault can be used in a court case for up to one year after the assault, Black said.
Black would also be an expert witness in any cases she had collected evidence for.
If someone you know tells you they have been assaulted, assess their medi-cal safety first, Black advis-es.
“Once you’ve ascer-tained safety, remember that the victim’s body is now a crime scene. Avoid show-ering or changing clothes. Don’t even eat or drink any-thing if there has been oral trauma. Call law enforce-ment immediately,” Black said.
The current lives of the perpetrators of the crimes against Black and Shumate are unknown – they may be free men, with high paying careers. They may be in jail, or anything in between.
What we do know is that it is likely that they have assaulted someone before or since their crimes against Lincoln county women – the Rape, Abuse and Incest Na-tional Network website said that for every thousand al-leged rapists, more than half have a prior conviction of rape, assault or battery.
Speaking up and report-ing sexual assault stops the cycle and may prevent fur-ther victimisation.
Shumate said speaking about her rape publicly has made her feel lighter, and that all victims of sexual assault need an advocate like Black.
“I encourage men and women to come forward and talk – to anyone – and get help,” she said via email on February 13 “it’s not an easy process but taking con-trol and fighting for justice is worth it.”
If you think you have sexually assaulted someone, or fear that you might, you can call Men Can Stop Rape at [202] 265 6530 or visit their website
Victims of sexual assault can call the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network hotline at 800 656 4673 or contact the county victims and witness advocate Jessica Vanderhoef on 406 283 2415 during office hours.
Black’s services will be free to those without insur-ance, and she will be availa-ble 24/7 with a recommen-dation from law enforce-ment.