For the past two decades, victims of sexual assault in the area
seeking justice had to begin their painful journey with a long car
ride up to San Jose in the back of a police car.
For the past two decades, victims of sexual assault in the area seeking justice had to begin their painful journey with a long car ride up to San Jose in the back of a police car.

Now, thanks to the generosity of local law enforcement agencies, a new room with expensive equipment at the South Valley Medical Center in Gilroy will provide a more convenient location for victims throughout southern Santa Clara County and San Benito County to receive support, treatment and counseling. Before the new facility, victims had to travel to Monterey, Santa Cruz or the Valley Medical Center campus in San Jose – adding hours to an already terrifying experience.

“We’ve been talking about this for 10 years, and now it’s here. It’s just amazing,” said Linda Richards, a registered nurse of 35 years who coordinates the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System’s Sexual Assault Response Team. She and 20 other nurses – five of whom were present and beaming Wednesday – take calls from hospitals and police 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They see an average of 30 patients per month throughout the county. According to the FBI, there were 12 rapes reported in Gilroy in 2007 and 36 reported by the sheriff’s office that same year, the latest for which data was available.

After a sexual assault, victims either call police or go to a nearby hospital. Depending on whether the victim – whose body police must treat as evidence during the first 72 hours after an attack – is willing to submit to an exam, an officer will transport the victim to the nearest SART facility. There, a specialized nurse like Richards conducts an interview, performs an intensive physical exam and takes photographs. The nurses also work with officers, detectives and victims’ advocates from Community Solutions, a Morgan Hill-based nonprofit that works to prevent and counsel victims of rape and domestic violence, among other crimes. The whole process takes several hours, and paired with the long drive to get to a facility, the time commitment dissuades some victims who just want to breathe and gather their thoughts, according to one advocate.

“You think about the trauma someone is going through having been raped and then having to travel in a police car – it can be a deterrent for some victims who just want to rest and get their head together,” said Perla Flores, program director for domestic violence and sexual assault services at Community Solutions.

“Until now, victims had to drive 45 minutes to two hours … for follow up exams,” said Supervisor Don Gage. “The new office will provide victims of sexual assault with a location in or near their community.”

Aside from the patient’s woes, Richards said officers from various agencies have reported single trips costing their respective departments up to $1,000 due to staff time, fuel costs, and wear and tear on vehicles.

The $15,000 for the room’s new equipment came from equal $3,000 contributions made by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, San Benito County Sheriff’s Office – whose county does not have a SART facility – and police departments in Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and Hollister. Health Center Manager Denise Ramos set aside a bathroom and unused room for the SART team last October when the South Valley Health Clinic moved from its cramped quarters in San Martin to its spacious Gilroy facility.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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