Evanston police provide sexual assault victims with clothing

Paige Leskin, City Editor

The Evanston Police Department will receive funding next week to provide victims of sexual assault with sweatshirts they can comfortably leave in after a medical examination.

Police Chief Richard Eddington will request the money to continue the program at the Evanston Police and Fire Foundation’s annual luncheon, which will take place Nov. 14. The luncheon benefits the foundation’s fund, which directs supplemental resources toward the city’s police and fire departments.

“When we need to take the complaint of the sexual assault, oftentimes we need all the garments of the victim,” Eddington said. “We need to give them some clothes right away, and it’s nice we have these sweatsuits that are non-descript … so there’s no stigma or undue attention-calling to an individual when they’re wearing these garments.”

A victim’s personal belongings can be valuable to a future investigation, especially because technology can now obtain more information from physical evidence, Eddington said.

Police initially provided victims with hospital scrubs to change into after reporting an assault and undergoing a medical examination. They have transitioned to sweatsuits over the past five years to ensure the process is as easy and comfortable as possible, he said.

Jim Huenink, executive director of Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault in Arlington Heights, also cited comfort as one the top priorities in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Rape crisis centers like Northwest CASA have been providing victims with sweatsuits for years, Huenink said. This is the first time the EPFF has given funding for the sweatshirts to the EPD’s Victim Services Unit, which Eddington said has existed for more than two decades.

The sweatshirts can offer warmth to victims that the hospital gowns they’ve been wearing fail to supply, Huenink said.

“Most people don’t have another set of clothes with them,” he said. “It’s just a way of providing comfort to the victim and ensuring them, helping them resume normality as much as possible under those conditions.”

The sweatshirts are not only beneficial to the needs of the victims, but also to the police, who can more easily conduct the investigation when a victim has clothes to change into, Evanston police Cmdr. Jay Parrott said.

Northwest CASA and EPD also provide other services for victims, including sending an advocate to accompany a person who has come to a hospital seeking help, he said.

“As soon as a sexual assault victim comes into the emergency room seeking medical care, they will contact us, and we will send either a staff person or a trained volunteer to the emergency room to be with the victim,” Huenink said. “We want to provide support, we want to make sure that the victim’s aware of her choices and that she’s not feeling under duress to do anything she’s uncomfortable with doing.”

EPD’s victim services currently operates with three victim advocates who are responsible for accompanying victims of sexual assault through the entire process, including gathering evidence, any police investigation, and arrests and court appearances, Parrott said.

As soon as police respond to an incident of sexual assault in Evanston, the victim advocates are made aware of the situation, he said.

Because of this service the EPD provides, Huenink said although Northwest CASA has a satellite office in Evanston, it does not provide its counselors and advocates to those in the city.

“If a victim is an Evanston resident and the crime occurred in Evanston, their department will respond to the hospital call,” he said.

The EPD’s victim advocates are a 24/7 hour service and Northwest CASA’s staff would just be a duplication of help that already exists, Huenink said.

However, many victims of sexual assault who come to Evanston’s Presence Saint Francis Hospital, 355 Ridge Ave., are Chicago residents, who Northwest CASA will provide assistance to, Huenink said.

The work done by the Victim Services Unit will only develop and expand through funding like that from the EPFF, Eddington said.

He expressed his appreciation to both the organization and the public for putting donations toward specific programs that the EPD needs money for.

Other Evanston police and fire services the luncheon next week will benefit include various training and educational programs.

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