Law enforcement, advocacy groups work to break down sexual assault stigma

Published: Nov. 8, 2019 at 9:50 PM CST
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According to court documents, Carlos Hivento from Cedar Rapids assaulted four women within the course of a little more than a year, between June 2017 and September 2018.

Iowa City law police say in all the cases he went under an alias and video recorded the victims without them knowing. Sergeant Scott Stevens says situations like this and sexual assaults, in general, aren't uncommon, but surely underreported.

"When we get a survivor that will step forward to report a crime of sex abuse, we take good care to handle that case appropriately and compassionately," said Stevens.

He says that means being victim-centered and trauma-informed. "Those are two things we worked hard on recently through training and education," Stevens added.

This year, the department received a grant through the International Association of Chiefs of Police to improve responses to sexual and domestic assault and stalking.

Stevens says it can help in some of the most challenging cases they see. "One thing we also know about sexual assault crimes is that often times the perpetrator of those crimes is often known to the victims," said Stevens.

In Hivento's cases, that was true. In one of the circumstances, he assaulted a woman he allegedly provided drugs to on a regular basis.

Sexual assault advocate Abby Michael says the stigmas still present can hinder victims from reporting.

"There is definitely victim-blaming, shaming going on in any kind of role in the community, whether it’s online, or in the media," said Michael.

Michael says they are hoping that will decrease.

"Even though more people are telling their story and that's great, but some people aren't comfortable," she said. Micahel says they don't focus so much on telling victims what they can do, themselves, to prevent assaults but they do educate.

"We do try to get into schools and try to talk about healthy relationships," she added.

Law enforcement and advocates say they always encourage survivors to reach out to people they trust or other community resources for help.

Anyone with information regarding Hivento, or who may be a victim of additional assaults, is urged to contact the Iowa City Police.

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