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McCrobie, Furbee battle against sexual violence

By Staff | Apr 22, 2009

A DYNAMIC DUO — Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee and Victim’s Advocate Joni McCrobie take cases of sexual abuse very seriously. Currently there are over 20 cases of such on the court docket.

According to the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services, one out of nine women in West Virginia have been raped at one time in their life.

That is nearly 85,000 women out of a total state population of 1,812,035.

The month of April has been set aside as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence (focusing on sexual assault and rape) and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

The 2009 SAAM campaign national slogan is: “Respect Works. Prevent Sexual Violence in our workplaces.” The goal is to help communities recognize the effects of workplace sexual violence and understand how employees and employers can take actions to prevent sexual violence.

Sexual assault is a crime that happens when a person is forced, threatened or manipulated into sexual contact against their will. Commonly referred to as rape, sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in the United States. Tyler County Victim’s Advocate Joni McCrobie adds that alcohol does not provide an excuse for rape.

There are issues of competency; specifically if the victim is intoxicated they cannot consent. Any sex that is not consensual is considered sexual assault,” said McCrobie.

Tyler County Prosecutor Luke Furbee takes sexual assault cases seriously. Currently there are over 20 cases on the docket dealing with sexual abuse, rape, and assault.

“We obviously give sexual assault cases great emphasis in this office, as we should,” said Furbee. “It is a consistent practice throughout the state.”

The first step is to seek medical help. McCrobie says to do this as soon as possible.

“If you are sexually assaulted, without a doubt you should seek medical treatment first,” stressed McCrobie. “It doesn’t mean that you have to pursue charges with law enforcement, but there are a number of things that the medical component can assist you with, and the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse should call the Victim’s Advocate. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to pursue charges, but you’ll be able to get assistance.”

For adults, the Sexual Assault Help Center of Wheeling is a vital resource. The center has sent counselors to Tyler County in the past to help victims of rape. The organization provides information and referrals for legal, medical, psychological, and protective services.

“Their workers up there are very good,” commented McCrobie.

For children, the Wetzel/Tyler Child Advocacy Center helps children through their traumatic experiences. The center’s goal is to provide a safe, neutral environment to interview child victims of abuse, neglect, and sexual assault. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of times the child has to relive their experiences by coordinating between law enforcement, social services, medical services and mental health services.

The Child Advocacy Center was able to provide some funding for Sistersville General Hospital to get nurses to be trained as SANE nurses.

“That’s an awesome resource for us – especially for being such a rural area – for Tyler County to be able to get nurses trained in sexual assault.,” exclaimed McCrobie. “It is my understanding that some of the larger hospitals, like Camden-Clark (Memorial Hospital), are struggling with their SANE programs.”

Should the victim choose to press charges, the hospital would then contact law enforcement.

“There are certain things that law enforcement needs medically, as far as the forensic medical examination,” explained McCrobie. “That needs to be done immediately. If you’ve been raped, you’re not supposed to take a shower, and that’s the first thing the victim wants to do. You’re not supposed to change clothes, but again that’s the first thing that they will want to do.”

“It is important for it to be reported as soon as possible,” agreed Furbee. “It increases the likelihood that we can obtain corroborating physical evidence. The more time that passes the less likely it is that type of evidence will be found, the more difficult a case becomes.”

The next step is prosecution, but that can be the hardest step. Both McCrobie and Furbee agree.

“I would say it’s never easy to prosecute a sexual assault case because sexual assault doesn’t happen on Main Street,” said McCrobie. “There are never any witnesses usually. You can have witnesses to the before or after, but whenever it comes down to the actual sexual assault, you’re relying pretty much solely on the victim.”

“Every case is unique,” added Furbee. “The evidence in each case is different. I don’t think any prosecution is ever easy. In many cases the matter boils down to someone’s word in these type of cases. Contrary to popular television shows, there often times isn’t any physical evidence.”

Furbee stresses that victims of sexual assault have a friend in the jury system.

“I believe in the jury system and I believe there isn’t any mechanism better than a jury to get to the bottom of these type of cases or any other cases for that matter,” said Furbee.

Above all, McCrobie says that parents need to talk to their children about sexual assault and how to avoid being placed in vulnerable situations.

“It’s hard for parents to talk to their children about sexual assault, but if you don’t tell them anything, tell them not to be alone at parties and things of that nature,” said McCrobie. “Even when you’re with people you can trust, sometimes if alcohol is involved you’re increasing your vulnerability. They should always have their guard up and be careful.”