The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Rape victims have additional options for help

Sexual assault victims in Dallas can now receive effective treatment and counseling, thanks to SMU alumnus Courtney Underwood.

Underwood knows firsthand the difficulty of being a sexual assault victim. She was raped at the age of 15 by the pastor of her church.

Underwood, who went to a religious private school at the time, didn’t feel like she had anywhere to go.

“I didn’t talk to anybody about it for two years,” she said.

She was eventually able to get counseling, but that is not the treatment that most victims of sexual assault in Dallas were fortunate enough to receive before Underwood took action.

Prior to Underwood’s efforts, Dallas had a policy that allowed only Parkland Hospital to perform rape kits on victims of sexual assault. The policy came as a result of a decades-old agreement between the district attorney’s office and Southwestern Medical School, who would financially benefit from the arrangement.

“Parkland does serve a certain demographic, but after someone has been raped, a lot of people just won’t go,” Underwood said.

She said the hours of waiting while not being able to go to the bathroom or change your clothes, and the overall atmosphere of Parkland discourages women from seeking the help they need.

Because of this, Underwood decided to take on city hall and fight for more options for victims of sexual assault. Thanks to her efforts and the cooperation of district attorney Craig Watkins, she was able to bring help for sexual assault victims to Presbyterian Hospital.

“I was really passionate about getting the program started at Presby because of the close location to SMU. I wanted victims from SMU to have somewhere close where they could go for help,” Underwood said.

Nurses who have been trained to be Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners will run the program at Presbyterian. This program trains nurses on how to take samples from victims that have the best chance of standing up in court.

“If one thing is wrong or mislabeled on the rape kit, the courts just throw it out and there is no evidence,” Underwood said. “SANEs have a much higher rate of accuracy when performing rape kits than physicians, and their kits are much more likely to stand up in court.” 

Underwood is also the co-founder of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, which began a 24-hour help hotline in May of last year, and officially opened the doors to a professionally staffed counseling center in August.

Prior to the opening of the DARCC, Dallas was the largest city in the United States without a rape crisis center.  

“Dallas has been the worst city in terms of availability of aid to sexual assault victims, but now I really think we are in a position to solve that,” Underwood said.

 

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