A purple sweat suit. A toothbrush. Soap.
They may seem like simple things. But for a sexual assault victim who might otherwise have to leave the hospital wearing only a flimsy paper gown, the basic necessities can make a big difference.
"The whole experience is so traumatic," said Julie A. Carlson, Loudoun County's Victim Witness Program coordinator. "Anything to restore their dignity." Thanks to donations from the county's Wal-Mart stores, Carlson and others at the victim witness unit of the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office are assembling the kits for victims whose clothing is taken after a hospital visit as part of a police investigation. The program is one of several the office is launching as part of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Workers also are seeking donations for smaller kits that will be offered to victims who have managed to grab a change of clothes but would welcome the means to freshen up.
"The natural response [after an assault] is to shower or bathe," Carlson said. Police encourage victims not to do that until a nurse examines them and retrieves evidence, but immediately afterward, it can be comforting to have soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush on hand.
The kits will be handed out at Inova Fairfax Hospital, which has a special unit to treat victims of sexual crimes.
Staci Grimshaw, a Loudoun victim witness worker, said she first became determined to find a way to provide abused women and men clothing for their trip home after she watched a woman's paper gown disintegrate in the rain.
"I said, 'We've got to do something about this,' " Grimshaw said.
Packaged in canvas bags, the kits include small hair brushes and mirrors, socks, plastic sandals, lotion and snacks. The bags also contain folders packed with information on counseling, victim's rights and other county services.
The Victim Witness Program has four full-time employees who generally are called at the start of a sexual crime or domestic violence investigation and help the victim navigate the court system and contact outside resources. The workers act as a link among the victim, prosecutors and police and are on hand during court hearings.
"People have referred to us as hand-holders, but that's what needs to be done," Carlson said. "It can be very frightening being in court."
CAPTION: The donated kits include a change of clothing, sandals, toiletries and food.