By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Investigators learn science behind sexual assault trauma
Training methods seek to trigger better responses
Placeholder Image

From college campuses to police headquarters, Anjana Freeman has been leading workshops on the science behind sexual assault trauma.

Freeman, a licensed professional counselor and community educator for Rape Response in Gainesville, delivers as many as four trainings per month for investigators on memory formation during traumatic situations.

“Traditionally, interviews are all about retrieving memory as if it was formed under normal circumstances with logical information. Those techniques often provide a barrier to good information,” she said.

In recent months, Freeman traveled to Berry College in Rome and Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland. At the end of last year, she held a training for Title IX investigators on the University of North Georgia campuses in Gainesville and Dahlonega.

“My piece of the training is specifically to help Title IX investigators understand why they witness some of the behaviors in the aftermath of a trauma and what they can do to retrieve information in a trauma-sensitive way,” Freeman said.

Title IX is a section of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination. A college’s Title IX coordinator manages complaints of sexual discrimination, harassment or violence.

The science of the presentation, Freeman said, comes down to how the brain records information, particularly the differences between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.

The prefrontal cortex, which often focuses on problem-solving, is what leads us to “voluntary and intentional” actions, Freeman said.

The amygdala, however, is the brain’s “alarm system” to potential danger, the counselor said.

“When it perceives threats in the environment, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex in addition to doing all kinds of things to the body that put us in fight or flight,” Freeman said.

When someone is in a dangerous situation, the brain records information that is based on senses and emotions.

“If investigators can use those internal cues to trigger information, they tend to get better information,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, there were no reports of rape between 2012 and 2014 made on the Oakwood campuses of Lanier Technical College and UNG, as well as the Gainesville campus of Brenau University.

The FBI reports 21 reported rapes in Hall County in 2015.

Chief Jeff Strickland, who has been tasked with starting the Lanier Tech police department, said he and other members of the executive staff attended multiday training class sponsored by the Technical College System of Georgia.

On Feb. 16, Freeman offered her presentation at the Gainesville Police Department, which other area law enforcement officers attended.

From the patrolmen to the detectives, the department was taught the mental processes and ways to “soften their approach” when handling traumatic scenes, Gainesville Police Investigator Stephen Johnson said.

“It’s good to remind us that these are special victims, and we’ve got to handle them with care,” he said.

Johnson said the department works well with the Gainesville nonprofit Rape Response, an organization serving six North Georgia counties.

“They’re involved in cases that we may never know about, because adult rape victims aren’t required to report to law enforcement,” Johnson said.

While the service is focused primarily on sexual assault, Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said having patrolmen attend the presentation will also help in other traumatic investigations.

“They’re going through this training to recognize the physiological aspects of the investigation,” he said.

Regional events