HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. — A new program expected to begin in late spring or early summer is aiming to break down even more barriers for local victims of sexual assault.

The Hancock Community Health Network, through grant funding, will launch the county’s first Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. When it begins, it will mark the first time that victims of sexual assault will be able to receive a sexual assault exam without having to travel to another county.

“If a survivor was from Hancock County, they often had to drive more than an hour to receive medical treatment and services,” Aimee Herring, chief deputy prosecutor for Hancock County, said.

“It’s hard enough having been traumatized by something, then having to go to law enforcement, then after you do all of those things, you’re being told will you have to go far away to do that, that just creates another barrier,” Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said. “We want to try to eliminate those barriers so that we can be responsive and try to do right by people and let our victims know that they matter.”

Donna Timblin, a nurse practitioner with Hancock Physician Network, will be one of the 12 SANEs working with the program when it begins. She said she believes this is an important step forward for the community.

“I think they’re just victimized twice,” Timblin said. “I think they come in, they’ve asked for help, you know, and we say ‘sorry we can’t help you; you need to drive an hour or two away’ and it gives them time to rehash the victimization over, and over, and over again.”

“Hopefully here, we can see them immediately, get them any help that they need, take care of their physical needs and take care of the patient,” Timblin added.

The SANE program will offer survivors in the community a secure and comfortable environment to receive medical attention after an assault. It will serve both Hancock and Henry County, another area where victims were unable to previously receive a sexual assault exam without traveling beyond county borders.

Anyone in need of medical care can go to nearby Knightstown during business hours or the Hancock Regional Hospital, which is the on-call facility, for a sexual assault examination after an assault occurs.

While an evidence collection kit can be lengthy and invasive, sometimes taking up to six hours, Timblin said, anyone who comes in will be treated with respect, dignity and love.

“We will collect the evidence, that is part of our job, but the primary part of our job is to take care of the patient,” said Timblin. “My job is not to be judgmental. My job is to just love you and take care of you.”

The hope is to expand access to the medical care, show support for survivors and increase their ability to allow them to report, if they choose to do so, and stay safe while doing so.

“We’ve notoriously had a low report rate,” Herring said. “I don’t think that’s because sexual assaults aren’t happening in our community, I think it’s because there are so many barriers to disclosure.”

“The national statistics would say that 66% of sexual assaults are never reported. Yet statistically speaking one in four women is raped in their lifetime,” she added. “There’s a lot of sexual assault going on, but there’s not a lot of talking about it, so we want to give victims and survivors the opportunity to decide what is best for them and prior to this grant, there was no opportunity to receive a medical forensic examination in their home community if a survivor was from Hancock County.”

Herring said it was a goal of the prosecutor’s office to work on getting nurses who specialize in sexual assault evidence collection in the Hancock County community within 2-to-5 years of when she started in 2020, along with building up the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).

“Little did I know that over here at the Hancock Physician Network that we had similar-minded people that were looking to make improvements and provide for the survivors in our community and we made the connection and have been working together,” said Herring.

Hancock Physician Health Network’s Chief Clinical Officer Susan Neeley was able to secure the funding for the program after she applied for the grant through the state. It’s not clear when the funding will arrive, but they expect it to be in the near future and the program to be underway by late spring or early summer.

While the medical examination is completely optional, officials want survivors to know that the option is there and it’s not just for the potential of collecting forensic evidence.

“It’s to make sure their bodies are okay and if they need any treatment, that they are provided that treatment, free of cost,” Herring said. “It’s not something that they’re going to receive a bill for later.”

The goal is also to make sure that if a victim does want to report, they know how to do so, who to contact, and if they don’t want to, that they still know how to receive the medical treatment they deserve.

“We want our survivors to know that they have a community to know that they have a community that supports them and they have a decision that they get to control. What happened to them prior to that was without their control,” Herring said. “They did not have any ability to stop the assault as it was happening, yet what they choose to do from there will be supported and encouraged and we’ll provide the resources for them.”

This program is just one resource of an even greater effort underway to provide support to survivors and hold perpetrators accountable in Hancock County.

“We will take care of any needs that you have,” Timblin said. “Please, if you are a victim, just come see us and we’ll do our best to take care of you.”

Hancock County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART)

Hancock County’s SART is working to help provide support services for survivors of sexual assault, while working to better prosecute offenders.

“This is a multi-disciplinary approach so that we all work together as a team to respond to potential sexual assault crimes,” said Eaton.

The response team is made up of police, prosecutors, victim advocates and healthcare providers.

“Every law enforcement agency in Hancock County is part of our Sexual Assault Response Team. They have assigned detectives and investigators working with our multi-disciplinary team,” Herring said. “Our goal is that every victim, no matter where they are assaulted receive same, top-of-the-line consistent services and they are treated with dignity and respect.”

A law passed in 2007 required counties to participate in a regional or county SART, but despite that, Eaton said only about half of Indiana counties are actually participating.

Although the response team existed for several years back, Eaton said it was more of a skeleton that was neglected and they recognized there was a major need for change.

From 2006 to 2016, the prosecutor’s office did not have a single conviction for rape. Eaton, who took office in 2015, and Herring, who joined in 2020, have been working to change this.

“We want to send a message to offenders in Hancock County that you may have been able to get away with this prior to the culmination of our team, but we’re out there, we’re working hard and one of our goals is to hold you accountable if you engage in this behavior,” said Herring.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Herring’s experience coming from St. Joseph County, where she served as the head of the Special Victim’s Unit and worked on their ‘robust’ SART team, has been crucial to helping build the program in Hancock County.

“When I came to Hancock County frankly, it was apparent pretty quickly that there was a lot of work to be done,” she said.

“We want to have a consistent team-oriented wrap-around approach for our victims so we can do right by them,” Eaton said. “One of the things that really happens when people may be the victim of a traumatic crime is feeling it that they’re alone, that there’s nobody there that nobody maybe cares or is going to help them, and I think that’s a large part why this is a crime that often times may not get reported.”

That’s what they’ve working to do, and will continue working to do, moving forward. Regardless of whether a case results in prosecution, Herring said, they want victims to know they are here, they are listening and they believe them.

“We know we have lots of survivors out there who have been silent that it’s not too late to make a report if that’s what you want to do,” Herring said. “If you choose to keep your story to yourself, that’s also a choice that you have, but there are resources and services for you.”

Donations needed to help after sexual assault exams

Often times, when a victim of sexual assault needs an exam, clothing and other personal items are collected as evidence, leaving a person needing clean clothes to wear as they leave the exam.

From April 1 through April 23, SART and Leadership Hancock County are teaming up for a donation drive across Hancock County to help minimize that worry.

Officials are hoping to collect items to offer survivors that they might need after their exam, allowing them to exit with dignity and comfort, and knowing the community is wrapping their arms around them in support.

“When you walk out of that hospital, you should feel good about what just happened,” Herring said. “It’s a long, intrusive, invasive examination, but you should have the treatment you deserve and when you walk out, you should not be walking out in a hospital gown or scrubs if we can avoid it.”

Leadership Hancock County will be collecting the following items and asks, for health reasons, that the donated items be new with tags or in original packaging:

  • Underwear of all adult sizes
  • Blankets
  • Socks/slipper socks
  • Robes
  • Sports Bras all adult sizes
  • Sweatshirts of all adult sizes
  • Sweatpants of all adult sizes
  • Sanitary Napkins
  • Tampons

Individual/Travel Size:

  • Snacks
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body Wash
  • Face Wash
  • Razors
  • Shaving Cream
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant

Where to donate/Drop-off locations

Donation boxes are set up at dozens of locations across Hancock County. Those locations are listed below. The collection drive will go until April 23 and donations will be picked up during the week of April 24.

Greenfield Fire Station 42117 W South StreetGreenfield
Greenfield Fire Station 422210 W New RoadGreenfield
Greenfield Rotary Club23 N East Street Greenfield Christian ChurchGreenfield
Hancock Regional Hospital1 Memorial Drive  Main, Cancer, SurgeryGreenfield
Hancock Wellness888 W New RoadGreenfield
Healthy 365120 W McKenzieGreenfield
Greenfield PD17 S StateGreenfield
Greenfield Bank1920 N State StreetGreenfield
Greenfield Bank10 E Main StreetGreenfield
Greenfield Bank51 N Meridian RoadGreenfield
Hamilton County Sheriff123 E Main GreenfieldGreenfield
Hancock County Library900 W McKenzieGreenfield
Jane Pauley1107 N State StreetGreenfield
Christ Fellowship Church4833 N SR 109Knightstown
Shirley Police409 Main SteetShirley
Hancock Wellness4055 S Wilson StreetNew Pal
Sugar Creek Fire 4423545 S 600 WNew Pal
Sugar Creek Fire 445473 S 500 WNew Pal
Greenfield Bank5783 W US 52New Pal
Hancock County Library5731  US 52New Pal
McCordsville PD6280 W 800 NMcCordsville
Hancock Wellness8535 N Clearview DriveMcCordsville
Greenfield Bank7363 N 600 WMcCordsville
Greenfield Bank111 W BroadwayFortville
Fortville PD714 E BroadwayFortville
Vernon Twp Station 431600 Vitality DriveFortville
Greenfield Bank12140 E WashingtonCumberland
Cumberland PD11501 East Washington StreetCumberland
Fraternal Order of Police400 E. Davis Road    Greenfield
Mom & Pop’s Mini Mart 203 S. Main Street Maxwell
Hancock Physician Network224 W. Main StreetKnightstown

Resources for sexual assault survivors and loved ones