Angelina County Succeeds in Protecting Rape Victims' Identities

An East Texas high school student accused of rape now has a court date next week in Trinity County. Alexander Pennington has a pre-trial hearing set for next Tuesday. Pennington is accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in the boys' field house at Groveton High School.

Police have charged the 17-year-old and two juveniles with aggravated sexual assault of a child. The three of them are accused of breaking into the field house after hours and forcing themselves on the girl. All were Groveton students.

The two 15-year-olds have told investigators the girl wanted to have sex.

Victims of rape are often traumatized by the crime and later again during the legal proceedings that put their attackers behind bars. Sexual assault victims are supposed to remain unidentified throughout their ordeal.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Norma Sanford said, "We cover victims from all ages. Our youngest has been about three days [old] and we have had victims up into their 90s."

Sanford believes Angelina County does a good job concealing the identity of all rape victims. Not just at the hospital and police station, but also in court where many sexual assault victims end up talking publicly about their attack.

"The last thing you would want to do to a rape victim would be to further traumatize them by making that event a public incident that everybody would know about. And our goal is not to further that trauma for them."

Protecting the identity of a rape victim starts as soon as someone comes forward with an allegation of sexual assault.

"When the victims come into the departments, we isolate them from the general population; put them into a protected room that is secured and then try at all costs that nobody is able to connect them with a particular medical product or the rape kit that would identify them as a victim."

Despite recent national high-profile cases where the credibility of rape victims has been questioned, Sanford said Angelina County rape victims don't have to worry about being judged or criticized by S.A.N.E. nurses.

She brought the program to Angelina County seven years ago. There are only three of the specially trained staff members at Memorial hospital, but they see dozens of rape victims each year.

Before the program came to Lufkin, many rape victims would have to go all the way to Beaumont for the four-hour exam.