HIGHLAND, Ind. -- A northwest Indiana county is strengthening the way it handles rape kits, and advocates hope their plan will be considered by central Indiana counties, too.
In Lake County, near Chicago, a group gathered this week to talk about the new protocol for the county's Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART. Following a statewide audit of untested sexual assault kits, Lake County will now test all of its reported kits and require quarterly reports to better track individual kits.
Kits submitted by victims who want to remain anonymous, often called Jane Doe kits, will not be tested without victim consent.
"I think it’s a very important step forward," said Tracey Horth Krueger, CEO of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, or ICESA.
At Lake County's event, survivors came forward to tell their stories, saying they hope to break down barriers and change the way the state handles sexual assault.
"To this day, I still don't know what was worse, the trauma itself or the aftermath," one woman said.
That woman said she waited four years for a court date, and ultimately had to settle for a plea deal which did not require her perpetrator to register as a sex offender. She said that she later heard from multiple women who told her they'd been raped by the same person, but had not reported it.
"When these woman told me what happened to them, I asked them why they didn’t press charges and they all gave me the same answer: They didn’t think anyone would believe them. And as sad as it is, they had every right to feel that way," the woman said.
Horth Krueger, who attended the event and is now at the End Violence Against Women International conference in Chicago, said she hoped to see some central Indiana counties follow Lake County's lead and strengthen their own protocols.
"They are figuring out ways, really low cost, no cost ways, to make sure that kits aren’t left behind and that non-anonymous kits are tested," Horth Krueger said. "I am very hopeful that other counties will reach out to Lake County."
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and ICESA will join other state leaders to dye the canal teal Saturday to kick off a month of programming.