Student helps victims of sexual assault

Photography student Ka’Saundra Reynolds, 67, reads near art department offices in G Tower. (Photo by Yuanyuan Ji)

By Nana Ramsey
The Scene staff

Forest Park student Ka’Saundra Reynolds is using her attempted rape to help other victims of sexual assault.

The 67-year-old fine arts major has shared her story at fundraising events and in a video produced by YMCA Metro St. Louis, and through TV and newspaper stories.

“It’s not (the woman’s) fault,” she said. “It’s not about sex. It’s about power.”

A man robbed and attempted to rape Reynolds in March 2007. He later was arrested and convicted.

This spring, Reynolds made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as part of a story on the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program, which trains nurses to collect forensic evidence after sexual assaults. The work of a SANE nurse helped in her case.

“(This program is important because) nurses and physicians don’t learn forensics in school, and it’s not part of their orientation to the ER,” said Kathy Howard, forensic nursing coordinator for St. Louis University Hospital.

Reynolds works full time as a St. Louis city dispatcher at night and takes photography classes at Forest Park during the day. She has two grown children, four grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Bloody bandages

Reynolds’ attempted rape occurred early one morning in her North St. Louis County neighborhood. She was walking her Shih Tzu, Baby Cakes, near a basketball court.

A man reportedly jumped out of some bushes, grabbed her cell phone and ripped into her pants.

“I just couldn’t roll over and play dead,” Reynolds told the Post-Dispatch. “I knew that if he succeeded in raping me, I would never come back from that.”

Reynolds fought off the man by grabbing, twisting and pulling before she ran home. He followed her and tried to bring her down on the front steps of her house, but her daughter opened the door and he ran off.

Reynolds’ hands were bloodied from the attack. While waiting for an ambulance, her daughter wrapped them in bandages.

Reynolds was treated by Joyce Sanchez, an emergency room nurse at St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights, who had received SANE training. Sanchez collected the bandages, nail clippings and other evidence.

About a year later, Reynolds’ attacker was arrested for violating parole on unrelated charges. His DNA samples matched the profile found on her bandages.

“In November of 2009, (the attacker) pleaded guilty to attempted forcible rape, robbery and tampering with a victim or witness,” according to the Post-Dispatch. “He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.”

The last charge resulted from the man’s use of Reynolds’ cell phone to call and threaten people, including her.

Forensic training

The roots of the SANE program go back to 1992, when 74 nurses established the International Association of Forensic Nurses. It now has 3,000 members.

SANE nurses are trained to collect and preserve forensic evidence such as vaginal fluids, nail clippings and other evidence.

“You want a nurse who knows where to look, how to get it and how to do it properly,” Howard said.

Her first concern is addressing the physical and emotional damage of sexual-assault victims. She often calls in YWCA volunteer advocates to provide support and resources.

Howard encourages women to come forward as quickly as possible and get medical treatment after sexual assaults, even if they don’t want to file police reports.

“They have 72 hours for emergency contraception to be effective, as well as any HIV preventive measures,” she said.

The federal Violence against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 has made it easier for victims to provide evidence anonymously (with a “Jane Doe” rape kit). They are given codes to identify themselves later if they choose to report sexual assaults, and evidence is preserved.

States have been required to provide forensic exams in sexual-assault cases since 2009, regardless of whether the women are willing to cooperate with law enforcement.

Starting in 2015, health facilities will no longer be able to charge for exams up front and ask for victims to file for reimbursement through insurance later.

Asking for help

The YWCA’s mission is “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” Reynolds became affiliated with the organization after seeking counseling to help her cope with the attempted rape.

She recently spoke at the YWCA’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event and appeared in a video at a Circle of Women fundraising luncheon.

“Ask for help,” Reynolds tells women. “That’s the first step to start healing.”

Last year, Howard heard Reynolds speak at the DePaul Conference of the St. Louis Regional Sexual Task Force, which is composed of police officers, nurses and advocates.

Howard believes Reynolds is doing important work, particularly when she encourages victims of sexual assault to go to the hospital for treatment, no matter how hard.

Reynolds has found that talking about her experience publicly has helped her “take the power back.”

“I’m just a huge fan of hers,” said Cindy Malott, YWCA crisis intervention supervisor. “She’s an amazing speaker and has an amazing story.”