When “Jenny” got molested Dothan couldn’t help her

Her experience is not unusual for those enduring perhaps the most traumatic experience of their lives.
Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 8:42 AM CST
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“Jenny,” a molested nine-year-old girl, traveled to Birmingham where she spent hours in a hospital examining room.

Her experience is not unusual for those enduring perhaps the most traumatic experience of their lives.

Birmingham is among a few Alabama cities that have facilities and expertise to collect vital evidence from child sex abuse victims. Dothan is not one of those cities.

That is why Jenny, not her real name, was forced to travel to Children’s Hospital a few weeks ago, taken by a Good Samaritan who cared enough to give up her holiday weekend to help a confused and tortured little girl.

“I would tell her that I’m very sorry for what happened,” Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba would say to Jenny if the two met.

And he admits the time is now for the city to step up to the plate, something he promises is finally happening.

“A non-profit entity (that has been created) will allow us to move forward, and things are moving quickly,” Saliba said of plans for a sexual assault response team and crises center.

Meetings during past months, he said, have ignited an effort for a facility where evidence used in criminal prosecutions of rape victims will be collected locally.

That evidence could be the difference between guilty and not guilty verdicts.

“I think (juries) now want to not just hear what happened, they want to see what happened,” said Wiregrass Angel House Court Liaison Nereida Bundy.

A former prosecutor, Bundy is frustrated that molested children under 14 must travel 400 miles round trip for rape kits, often told they cannot urinate until after the exam because evidence could be lost.

Police share her frustration.

“There are some aspects that we just can’t do and must leave to experts in those areas,” said Dothan Police Lieutenant Scott Owens.

And, without a facility in Dothan, victims unwilling to travel are never examined and may not receive immediate counseling from symphathetic experts.

Children are not the only ones affected by lack of services.

Southeast Health Medical Center last year shut down its program to collect evidence from older teens and adult victims, forcing them to travel to Montgomery.

Since then, Southeast Health and Flowers Hospital have been instrumental in the pursuit of a new sexual assault crises center in Dothan and are again providing services until then.

The biggest obstacle to a Dothan facility is money, trained and licensed staff, and a suitable location.

“We are having conversations at the state and federal levels, but funding is our biggest challenge” Mayor Saliba told News 4.

He believes, within a few weeks, big strides will be made in solving those issues, though it is still not clear when the sexual assault crises center will be operational.

For Bundy, tomorrow would not be soon enough, though she is pleased with recent progress.

“People are coming together so there can be a facility right here in Dothan and Houston County,” Bundy said.

For Jenny, though, now is too late.

It is News 4′s policy not to identify sexual assault victims except in rare circumstances.

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