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Sexual Assault Response Team to Provide an Informed Compassionate Response
Dr. Sarah de la Torres will train nurses so that sexual assault examinations can be offered locally.
Friday, May 3, 2024


Blaine County District Attorney Matt Fredback gazed out over a small crowd outside The Advocates office this past week and related his anguish at watching what victims of sexual assault in Blaine County have had to go through.

“There are days where I listen to victims of sexual assault as they relay the most painful events in their lives…Then they have to travel alone hours to another county to have a long, intrusive medical exam,” he said.

Typically, victims go to the emergency room at St. Luke’s Wood River. Then they have to travel in a police car to Twin Falls to be examined by an examiner trained to deal with sexual assault cases. Many have been so traumatized that they’ve asked to turn around and go back home before ever reaching Twin Falls.

Tricia Swartling, CEO of The Advocates, welcomed those attending the launch of the Sexual Assault Response Team with a cake featuring a blue ribbon, which has become a symbol in the fight against domestic violence, relationship violence and child abuse.

That painful process will soon be a thing of the past thanks to the efforts of a new Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in Blaine County, which received its official launching at the gathering.

“SART will provide a compassionate law enforcement response empowering communities to stand united against sexual violence,” said Fredback.

Dr. Sarah de la Torre, a board-certified ob-gyn, is heading up an effort to train medical examiners in Blaine County so local residents no longer have to make the long trip to Twin Falls. She hopes to offer training this fall, and have the program up and running in early 2025. The intent is to have the examinations offered free of charge.

De la Torre, who moved from Seattle to Sun Valley a few years ago and offers menopause and hormone consultations, says she is currently recruiting St. Luke’s nurses, private nurses and retired nurses for an intensive three-day training. She has seven who have expressed interest so far, and a local medical provider has donated an office that the exams can be conducted in.

Each of us plays a role in reducing sexual violence in our community, said Matt Fredback, the district attorney for Blaine County.

When a sexual assault is reported, police will call the nurse on call, who will then meet with the victim in a private medical office with a representative of The Advocates.

“I’m so proud of law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney for coming together to make this happen,” she said.

Dawn Crabb stepped to the podium to describe how she was first sexually abused when she was 5, the abuse carrying on until she reached her teens.

“I’m sharing something I’ve never talked about, even with family,” she said, struggling to hold back tears. “My mind was unable to process it. I had no self-esteem … I self-medicated to escape the pain. I’ve been silent way too long about this. There are women and men who need your support. I’m 52 and just now beginning to believe in myself. I was supported by The Advocates and this community and in seven years I’m a productive member of the community and I’ve turned my life around. But I still have to tell myself I’m worthy to be loved.”

Anytime law enforcement can collaborate on something like this is a good thing,” said D.R. Neth, representing the Idaho State Police.

Darrel Harris, social change coordinator for The Advocates, said representatives from The Advocates began meeting with law enforcement and other agencies to discuss organizing a Sexual Assault Response Team nearly two years ago. During their monthly meetings, they’ve learned trauma-informed training and talked about what’s working here and what can be done better.

“We’ve been building relationships and trust. The effort really began to gel the past six months. Before, everyone had been busy doing their own thing. But we’ve decided this is priority,” she said.

The main thing is making sure everyone is equally prepared, said Todd Peck, assistant chief for Hailey Police Department. Peck said his department recently created a safe, supportive space for post-incident interviews.

“Dealing with sexual assault cases is hard on law enforcement, too,” he said. “Police have to know horrendous details, sometimes while dealing with language barriers. Before, we might have approached things old school, where we might have assumed someone was lying because they told us one thing one day and then changed some of the facts, like the time of the assault, the next day. With trauma-informed training, we’re learning that changes in responses like that can be triggered by trauma.”

“We want survivors to know we believe them,” said Todd Peck, assistant chief with the Hailey Police Department

Idaho’s state forensics laboratory is ahead of other states in not having a backlog of lab samples related to sexual assault.  But most rural towns in the state lack SART teams, which are much more commonplace elsewhere. Harris is helping those in Twin Falls to organize one there.

“We’re going to be the model,” she said. “Sexual assault is underreported. I think once we have the awareness, reports will go up.”

Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said the SART team is an important step to making sure that justice can be served with thorough and accurate forensics investigations: “Sexual violence is widespread and impacts every citizen.”


Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Blaine County Sheriff’s Department, Hailey Police Department, Idaho State Police, Idaho State Police Forensic Service.

Also, Ketchum Police Department, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, Sun Valley Police Department, The Advocates, The Hunger Coalition, Dr. Sarah de la Torre, and private citizens and health care professionals.

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