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PAMELA TERRILL The longtime UI nurse is a front-line fighter against sexual assault and the myths that compound it.

Not long ago, victims of sexual assault had to fight their battles largely alone. Now they have allies in people like Pamela Terrill.

“Society is changing in its attitudes about rape, and these days, fortunately, victims have many more people on their side,” says Terrill, a family nurse practitioner and staff member in the College of Nursing.

Terrill’s work includes healing victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. She belongs to a group called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANE—nurses trained to provide emotional support and medical care to victims while collecting forensic evidence for law enforcement.

Terrill recruits and supervises other nurses for the SANE program. She also coordinates the Johnson County Sexual Assault Response Team (JCSART), working closely with sexual assault nurse examiners, emergency room staff at area hospitals, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, and local law enforcement agencies.

Together, these programs aim to boost reporting of sexual assaults, increase prosecutions and convictions, and provide consistent, sensitive treatment for victims. Terrill and colleagues also want to communicate the truth about crimes that remain shrouded in misconception and denial.

 “Sexual assault is a life-changing event, and for some victims, it won’t hit them until weeks later,” Terrill says. “We have a lot of myths in our society about who is vulnerable, but it can happen to anyone. Only 20 percent of rapists are strangers.”

Terrill works to ensure that more victims get the help they need by going out into Iowa communities twice a year to train 20 more sexual assault nurse examiners. The special training, the 24-hour on-call requirements, and the stressful subject matter are barriers to participation in the program, she says, and there’s a lot of turnover.

Helping rape victims is an extension of Terrill’s interest in women’s and children’s health issues. Her 23 years at The University of Iowa have included work in the Department of Pediatrics at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and several research projects in the College of Public Health.

This summer, Terrill is assisting the Rape Victim Advocacy Program and JCSART with public education. Her greatest frustration, she says, is that many perpetrators still get away with their crimes.

“Sexual assault is a medical emergency and nothing to be ashamed of,” Terrill says. “Society is slowly coming around to that idea, but we need to do more to educate the jury pool. We need to do more about making sure the victim never feels all alone. ”

Story by Gary Kuhlmann; Photo by Tom Jorgensen

July 30, 2007