Rape survivor to speak to local professionals, citizens

A rape survivor will share her story with area law enforcement, mental health clinicians and other local groups today to help educate working professionals about sexual violence.

Debbie Smith, and her husband Rob, will be the keynote speakers at the seventh annual Sexual Assault Response Team Conference held today from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Tri-City Baptist Church in Conover.

The conference, held by the Rape Crisis Center of Catawba County Inc., targets a wide-ranging professional audience “to enhance working relationships and delivery of services to sexual assault survivors,” according to the Rape Crisis Center.

On March 3, 1989, Smith was kidnapped from her home while her husband Rob, a police officer, was sleeping upstairs in their home. She was dragged into the woods behind her home and raped. After lingering traumatic effects, Smith and Rob now travel the nation to talk about her experience.

“It has become our life,” Rob said, adding that he and his wife have taken their presentations to Canada, Africa, Australia and 33 states in the United States.

“The goal is actually different according to the group,” Rob said.

“This is a Sexual Assault Response Team group, so one of our main focuses will be how to interview the victim. We tell them that if you treat your victim in a way that he or she is more comfortable with, you’re going to get more information and have a better chance of properly prosecuting the case.”

Rob said before Smith's assailant was caught, his wife was suicidal for six-and-a-half years.

“When we first started down this path, I was very selfish,” Rob said.

“I thought by Debbie doing this type of work it would benefit her. Once she became very functional, I started seeing all the people we were helping and said, ‘This is pretty cool.’”

Rob thanks the Rape Crisis Center of Catawba County for putting the event together and said the conference will be very beneficial to everyone that attends.

“They are going to hear it from the victim’s perspective,” he said, “which is almost a rarity.”

For more information on the Rape Crisis Center of Catawba County, visit rapecrisiscenter.com.