Gary Davidson, Public Information Officer, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
Courtney Nomina, Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (850-297-2000)
SHERIFF’S OFFICE SELECTED FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT TRAINING PROGRAM
Sexual assault is among the most traumatic of all crimes, leaving emotional scars long after the physical ones heal. And it can also be one of the most complicated and challenging crimes for law enforcement to handle.
That was the impetus behind a cutting-edge program designed to help officers and prosecutors work more effectively with victims to bring their perpetrators to justice. This week, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office was notified that it was among four locations around the state that have been selected to receive the specialized training. Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said he was pleased to be chosen for the program, which is being offered through the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV). “There are many unique factors that make sexual assault investigations different from any other type of criminal investigation,” said Sheriff Chitwood. “Working in partnership with the victim to corroborate the facts needed to arrest the offender and secure a conviction is critically important. That’s what this program is all about, and we’re thrilled that we were selected to participate.”
The program, called the Excellence in Sexual Assault Response Project, or ESARP, is a partnership between FCASV and the criminal justice community that’s funded by the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. It includes extensive trainings on the science of trauma, the brain and body’s biological response to the trauma of sexual assault and how it impacts victims’ reactions. The goal was to create an intensive curriculum incorporating the most up-to-date sexual assault investigative and prosecutorial strategies. This cutting-edge research helps responders learn the most effective ways to engage with victims that maximizes the information and evidence gathered in order to hold offenders accountable for their crimes. Just as important, the new techniques have proven to build victims’ trust in the criminal justice process. And it’s not just for Sheriff’s detectives. To ensure the effective handling of sexual assault cases from the initial reporting of an assault all the way through the criminal justice process, dispatchers, patrol deputies and prosecutors will also undergo the training.
“We know that sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes, and that victim confidence in criminal justice systems has a direct impact on the number of reports,” said Grace Frances, Director of Certification and Special Projects for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence. “This project model provides trauma-informed investigative and prosecutorial techniques and tools that can lead to better victim participation. When victims are supported and offenders held accountable, our communities are safer -- a goal that FCASV and our project partners have in common.”
The project was developed with subject matter experts from across Florida and the nation. In addition to the initial training, the project offers train-the-trainer events, policy development consultation and technical assistance to law enforcement organizations and their state attorneys’ offices on responding to sex crimes against victims 11 years old and above. Trainings are led by professional law enforcement, dispatch and prosecutor trainers experienced in using the ESARP techniques. After the initial trainings, the Sheriff’s Office will then designate in-house instructors who will be certified to teach the trauma informed response curriculum to the remaining staff and new hires, thus ensuring an ongoing and seamless application of the new practices.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office was chosen through a competitive selection process. The program comes with a $15,000 grant to help pay for the training, which also will include the State Attorney’s Office and staff with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program and the local Sexual Assault Response Team. Flagler County officials also will be invited to participate. The other three areas that were selected were the Ocala Police Department, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office/Palatka Police Department.
This marks the second year that ESARP has been offered to Florida law enforcement agencies. By the completion of the current 2016-17 project year, approximately 700 law enforcement officers, dispatchers and prosecutors will have received the trainings. Testimonials about their experiences from site leaders at agencies that underwent the training last year can be viewed at fcasv.org.
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4589 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151