Sauk County prosecutors, law enforcement and victim advocates will team up to ensure best practices are used in sexual assault investigations.
That’s thanks to a $400,000 grant that Sauk County received from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women.
“If there’s not a team approach, the chances of going all the way to prosecution (with a sexual assault case) are very slim,” said Julie Fisher, Associate Director of the Baraboo-based Hope House of South Central Wisconsin.
The grant will fund salary and benefits for a nearly full-time position within the Sauk County District Attorney’s Office, a full-time investigator with the Lake Delton Police Department, and a half-time advocate at Hope House through 2017.
The employees will form a team that will undergo training in the area of sexual assault investigation and victim services. They will then offer training sessions to their peers in other local agencies.
“Sexual assault is a very tricky thing to prosecute because of the way a person is victimized,” Fischer said. “So it takes a team of people working together to make it happen in a way that the victim is supported, law enforcement is able to get the information they need, and the investigators are passing the evidence on to prosecutors.”
The grant is intended to allow prosecutors, law enforcement officers and advocates to attend training seminars on best practices. It also seeks to improve relationships between agencies, victim advocacy and the timeliness and effectiveness of the process from reporting to prosecution.
Lake Delton Police Department Det. Shawn Posewitz said the grant will help his department deal with an unusually difficult sexual assault caseload.
Because of the high tourism traffic, many times the sexual assaults that take place in Lake Delton involve people from outside the community. Posewitz said he often drives to other states to interview witnesses.
His position will be funded by the grant, and the police department will hire another employee to fill his former role. The additional prosecutor within the Sauk County District Attorney’s Office will focus solely on sexual assault cases.
Posewitz said it will be important for the team to help other agencies utilize best practices during sexual assault investigations, which can be tricky to handle.
“You have to see the signs of what the victim is going through and tweak the interview process based on that,” he said. “You don’t want to retraumatize the victim.”
Sauk County is one of seven communities that received a portion of the $2.7 million in funding intended to improve how the justice system handles sexual assault cases.
The county will serve as a pilot site along with the Jefferson County Commission in Birmingham, Alabama; the City of Los Angeles; the Cobb County Board of Commissioners in Marietta, Georgia; the city and county of Honolulu; the New Hampshire Department of Justice; and the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
In announcing the grants, U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch called sexual and domestic violence “a heinous crime, inflicting physical and emotional trauma that can linger for years, with grave consequences for survivors and their loved ones; for neighborhoods and communities and for our country as a whole.”