With festival season underway in the Coachella Valley, staff at Eisenhower Health are getting the word out about safety, especially when it comes to sexual assaults.
"It can happen anywhere to anyone. age, race, none of that matters," said Katie Pelland, the sexual assault program coordinator for SART at Eisenhower.
SART, or sexual assault response team, is a program consisting of a group of nurses and advocates at Eisenhower dedicated to helping those who may have been sexually assaulted.
According to Pelland, her department gets busier around this time of year.
"We can see up to 20 patients a month, but during festival time, that number condenses into the three weekends. So, we will see four to five patients or victims in that one-day 24-hour period. Times that by three days, and you have a large volume of victims coming through at one time," Pelland said.
In 2017, SART performed 154 sexual assault exams, the highest since the program started in 2002. When looking at the three festival weekends alone, SART performed 9 exams in 2015, 16 in 2016, and 14 in 2017.
Pelland said they want to get their message of speaking up out, with certain trends and what could happen.
"There is date-rape drugs. There's GHB. There's ketamine. There's stuff that's odorless and tasteless that someone can slip in your drink, and you will never know what happened," Pelland said.
According to Pelland, when a patient comes in regarding a sexual assault, they are taken into a specific room at Eisenhower where nurses will start collecting forensic evidence, such as taking pictures and doing swab tests. It could take anywhere from two to six hours.
Pelland says swabs will then be sent to the state program RADS" or rapid DNA service, a timely option for cases, she says, that's only offered at SART throughout Riverside County.
"They run those tests, and then they come back in three weeks. Whether or not there was DNA on the swab, and whether or not it was an offender hit, or whether or not it's a serial rapist," Pelland said.
She says she hopes more cases are reported than not.
"The more the message gets out there, the more people need to know they have help. They have somebody to listen to them, to believe them, to take care of them," Pelland said.
Pelland recommends using the buddy system and watching your drink, if you are out at parties or large public events, like festivals. She says SART also offers programs through Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services to help patients as their case moves forward.