A lot of people and organizations make up the support process for sexual assault victims in Orange County. It starts with telling someone who can help.
"We go out for every case in Orange County that presents, at any hospital, any district attorney's office, any hospital," said Tina Conneely, who coordinates the Sexual Assault Response Team in Orange County. "Anywhere. And they can also just call into the 1-800 number if they want advice."
Conneely works as an advocate and recruits sexual assault examination nurses for the program with Mental Health Association in Orange County.
"It's all about collaborating and working together," Conneely said. "We've developed awesome relationships from the 32 departments across Orange County. We absolutely do get calls to accompany victims on interviews. We have excellent relationships with all the hospitals we go in annually to do education for nurses and doctors in the emergency departments."
When sexual assault is reported to police or to hospitals, or reported through the 24-hour rape crisis line, the Mental Health Association in Orange County works to advocate for the victim and advise them of options.
"We follow them along from the moment they come to the hospital to the end of the case," Conneely said. "It helps them to have that person who just sits there and is only there to give you support."
And the program's examiners help to collect forensic evidence, like evidence of brusing, bodily fluids and DNA. But the victim has a choice of whether they want an exam, and if they want to move forward with prosecution.
"We can store their kit, and that kind of gives them a sense of power," said Kinga Stala, RN, who works as a senior sexual assault examiner. "If I want to, I can later on ... make a report with the police, and here's the evidence. Because after a certain number of days, the evidence won't be there."
Advocates say the most important thing about this coordinated response is to ensure the survivor's needs are met, "To let them know that we're not here to scare you, that we're not here to take over your body, that we're not here to call the cops," Stala said. "I think really helps the patient regain a sense of control, which is what they need."
If the survivor does choose to move forward, law enforcement then collaborates with the district attorney to prepare for prosecution.
"That's about, you know, boots on the ground, investigating cases, getting cases that are prosecutable," Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said. "Things that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt."
It's a team that says it's prepared to assist victims whenever they need it, prepared with the best information possible, from beginning to end.
"The focus of it is for all of us to be on the same page when we're dealing with victims," Conneely said.