TIFTON -- Recent funding of a specialized piece of equipment used to collect forensic evidence after a sexual assault is a "shot in the arm" for Ruth's Cottage advocates working to establish a Sexual Assault Response Team (S.A.R.T.)

Advocates appealed to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in Atlanta recently and received $74,000 to fund two legal advocate positions for Ruth's Cottage, a planned domestic violence shelter.

The group made the trip to Atlanta again Wednesday and received $35,000 more to purchase a culposcope, a specialized piece of equipment used to identify and photograph evidence such as bruise patterns and historical scarring and DNA evidence that can be missed with the naked eye.

The culposcope would allow for a large base of experts to be accessed throughout the State of Georgia. Many investigations require the level of documentation that only a culposcope can provide.

"Often, victims in this area have been transported as far away as Macon to access specialized services," said Patti Stafford, vice president of Ruth's Cottage.

Investigators don't have an unlimited amount of time to gather adequate evidence after a sexual assault occurs. Evidence such as seminal fluid or serum, is often lost through transfer, absorption and degradation because of the delay in the initial examination.

According to local law enforcement agencies, 61 sexual assaults have been reported this year in Irwin, Tift, Turner and Worth counties, counties which constitute the Tift Judicial Circuit.

"These are the cases the law enforcement and Department of Children and Family Services are notified of and investigate," said Stafford.

Stafford said victims of sexual assault often feel victimized a second and third time when they are asked by numerous professionals to endure examinations and answer questions. A "coordinated community response provided for victims and secondary victims" is essential.

"There is no rape crisis center or crisis line, nor a dedicated sexual assault advocate in our 1,510 square mile area," said Stafford.

If a sexual assault case is not prosecuted because of lack of forensic evidence, effective defense or mistrial, the victim's closure may never occur, said Stafford.

Advocates believe that community awareness and provision of "end-to-end" services for victims will result in additional reporting of sexual assaults.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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