April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Agencies ask public to believe victims right away

contributed photo ACCESS advocates and staff wear teal ribbons to highlight Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Law enforcement is also trying to raise awareness of the under-reported crime.

April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and agencies in Marshalltown are trying to raise that awareness — not just during these 30 days, but throughout the year. The crime is occurring in Marshalltown and Marshall County, and people should know about it.

Thus far in April, the Marshalltown Police Department has 12 Facebook posts regarding Sexual Assault Awareness Month. MPD Detective Kraig Lageschulte is the primary investigator of sexual assault and domestic violence, and said police department vehicles bear teal ribbon magnets, courtesy of the Marshall County Sexual Abuse and Domestic Abuse Coalition, to raise awareness. These actions are to help make sure the public understand the problem of sexual assault is not going away, he said.

One awareness step Lageschulte said people can take is believing victims, including children.

“Say something happens — it’s entirely possible,” he said. “Begin by believing the victim. Believe them and get them to the correct professional help and resources they need for us to investigate. General awareness can happen when we start by believing and referring to those professional services.”

The MPD works closely with ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support), a nonprofit which covers Marshall County, along with the counties of Boone, Greene, Story and Tama. ACCESS Domestic Abuse Supervisor Kristina Griego agreed with Lageschulte that believing victims is an important first step.

“That’s our motto, believing right away,” she said. “We have so much victim blaming take place, and so many individuals pull back their statements because of it. That does not mean the assault did not take place. So, we always believe.”

Griego said every single sexual assault case ACCESS works on has victim blaming. The reason for that is 90 percent of the cases involve perpetrators the victims already know, such as family members.

During the month of April, Griego said ACCESS takes the opportunity to bring about change in the community. They do that through presentations, spreading information on fliers and wearing teal ribbons.

“I give my teal ribbon away every chance I get,” she said. “It’s any given opportunity for us to plant that seed of awareness, we will. It’s also prevention. If you see something, say something. It’s a community problem, not just an ACCESS problem.”

Number of cases

So far in 2024, Lageschulte said the MPD has worked on 15 sexual assault cases. In 2023, the department investigated 74 sexual assault cases; 2022, 80; 2021, 70; 2020, 56; and 2019, 59.

Kassandra Carson-Castellanos, the diversity advocate for Marshall County ACCESS, is working on 40 active sexual assault cases. Griego said it is a big caseload, and not all of them involve the criminal justice system. Since ACCESS is not a mandatory reporter, not all of the cases end up with law enforcement.

“A lot of times clients come to us because they don’t feel obligated to report,” she said. “They just need that comfort of crisis counseling or education on what it looks like if they decide to go forward with criminal charges.”

Lageschulte said two of his concerns are the number of unreported incidents and some of the cases can take a long time to investigate.

“We know this is happening, and it’s an underreported crime,” he said. “I am concerned about what is going on that we don’t know about.”

Lageschulte said according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, two-thirds of sexual assault cases are not reported to law enforcement. Using that figure, Marshalltown is estimated to have had roughly 222 sexual assaults in 2023.

The length of investigations, on the low end of the time spectrum, can take one month. On the high end, Lageschulte said some cases have been closed after two or more years.

“It all depends on the variables — witnesses, digging for evidence, forensic evidence and what we need to do to get those things,” he said.

The MPD sends evidence to the state lab for forensic testing, and there is usually a wait. Lageschulte said the majority of law enforcement agencies send evidence to the same place.

A count by End the Backlog, a website operated by the Joyful Heart Foundation — a national nonprofit dedicated to changing society’s response to sexual assault — there were 2,502 untested rape kits in 2021 in the state of Iowa.

During his almost two years as an MPD detective, Lageschulte said he has seen sexual assault affect all age ranges.

“Unfortunately, we have several child cases,” he said. “This crime affects every age group, even the elderly. I have worked cases for every age range. There is no group in more or less danger, which is why we need to raise general awareness.”

One important step for people to take is to talk to law enforcement as soon as possible.

“We understand what they have gone through is traumatic, and they might remember different things at different times,” he said. “We understand that is how the brain works. We recommend writing things down, giving yourself a little bit of grace and being open and honest with us so we can get the information.”

That does not mean the MPD will not investigate assaults which occurred some time ago. Lageschulte said it does not matter if the assault occurred 15 years ago, they will still work on it. DNA evidence, he said, continues to improve, and law enforcement can still talk to potential witnesses. Whether or not the case will be prosecuted would be up to the county attorney, Lageschulte said.

“But there is no limit to investigation,” he said. “We do not want anyone to be discouraged about reporting, even if it happened several years ago. We will investigate.”

Griego said a new Iowa law eliminated statute of limitations on sexual assault cases, including ones that happened in childhood. She said it used to be 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday. Griego does not think the new law will bring new people to ACCESS, because each case is different and largely depends on what the client wants.

The big thing Lageschulte wants the community to do is listen to and believe the victims.

“That is the goal,” he said. “We are here for the victim. Do not hesitate to reach out to us anytime for this.”

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.


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