Erika Monroe is a successful business woman who handles the northeastern Indiana territory for a national lending company. She is 44 years old and lives in Fort Wayne. She and her husband of 19 years have two beautiful children, ages 17 and 13. On the surface her life looks perfect, but it’s not.
When Monroe was 10 years old, she was kidnapped from her Elkhart County home and brutally raped.
“It was a Saturday night, March 5, 1988 and my brother and I were home alone. I fell asleep watching television in the living room. Suddenly, I heard a loud crash and before I could even open my eyes a man threw a coat over my head and dragged me out of my home and into his car. He drove me to an unknown location and spent the next 3 to 4 hours raping me repeatedly on the front bench seat of his car,” says Monroe, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the assault.
Miraculously, the man dropped her off near her house. Bleeding, bruised and barefoot, she walked home in the cold. Her parents got home minutes after she did and called 911, which terrified her.
“The man told me if I called the cops or told my parents, he would come back and kill me and my family. I was in unbearable pain and at the hospital; three male doctors came into my room. They looked very sad and uncomfortable and couldn’t even make eye contact with me or my mother. They explained that they needed to perform a pelvic exam to see how badly I was hurt. They used a speculum and the pain was unimaginable. They said I would need surgery to repair the internal tears. I was in the hospital for several days.”
Her physical wounds eventually healed, but the emotional wounds remained raw and open.
“After I got out of the hospital, I had to go to the sheriff’s office every week for months where the interviews began to feel more like interrogations. I remember thinking that I must be doing something wrong because no matter how many times I told them my story, they were never happy with me.”
As the warmth of the summer months came, the case went cold. DNA testing was in its infancy. Samples of her clothing were taken and put in a bag that eventually ended up at the back of a police evidence vault in Indianapolis where it sat untouched for 24 years.
At the request of Monroe, the case was reopened in 2011. DNA technology had become sophisticated enough to track down the rapist: Robert Quinn of Elkhart County. He was already serving time for sexually assaulting two other girls. In 2015, he was sentenced to 53 years behind bars.
“It’s important to me to use my real name, to let other victims know that they are not alone and to never lose hope,” says Monroe.
Michelle Ditton is the Chief Nursing Officer, Executive Director and one of the founders of the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center. She remembers hearing Erika’s story for the first time and how she grieved for the little girl who was now an adult.
“DNA and technology have changed immensely in 25 years. But even 25 years ago, we would never have done an adult pelvic exam on a child that young because it would really hurt and could cause permanent damage. While the people treating her may have been well-intentioned, they only
made the situation more traumatic by re-victimizing her,” says Ditton.
The Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization serving 17 counties in northern Indiana. Located on Kerrway Court on the city’s northeast side, services are provided at no cost to patients. The staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
“Through blizzards, 9/11 and even COVID, we’ve never not been available in 25 years,” says Ditton. “Our highly specialized team is what makes it work. To date, there are only 470 nurses internationally who are dual certified as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) for both adult and pediatric patients. There are 26 million nurses worldwide. We have 11 employees on staff and four of them are dual certified by the International Association of Forensic Nursing, or IAFN. We’re passionate
about what we do and our tagline is, ‘Forensic nurses… making a difference.’”
Ditton explains that a lot of people think they have to go to a hospital or their doctor’s office after being assaulted, but that’s not true.
“Even if you go there, they will send you to us because we’re the only ones who do this. For children, we have a child-friendly room that’s very soothing and we give each child a special pillowcase to put their belongings into as well as the toys we give them. We have a wall covered in the handprints of children and its main purpose is to let children know that they are not alone and that other children have gone through the same type of trauma. Before they leave the center, each child is given the opportunity to add their painted handprint to the wall. Our adult room is also very pretty and comfortable. Both rooms are equipped with medical supplies needed to perform exams and collect evidence. Each patient is treated with the respect and care they deserve, and not as just another statistic.”
The staff at the center works closely with other agencies to complete the circle of care.
“Erika was interviewed multiple times by multiple different disciplines who all needed the same information,” says Leslie Cook, a forensic nurse and the education coordinator at the center. “After a while, a child and even an adult, starts to think that no one believes them or they wonder if they did something wrong. We bring in a multidisciplinary team called the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) that includes a sex crimes detective, a patient advocate and a forensic nurse just to get the basic information, so the patient can tell her story once and then we go into the medical component by ourselves. We bridge the gap between all members of the SART team. We also act as a liaison between the patient and their primary health care provider.”
“One in four women has been sexually assaulted, so everybody knows somebody who’s gone through this,” says Ditton. “The community needs to know that there is a resource right here in Fort Wayne that has highly specialized and trained staff to help them through one of the most difficult times in their life. We provide highly skilled medical forensic care for men, women and children. The DNA we collect may assist in a conviction, and equally as important, it may exonerate an innocent person.”
For Erika Monroe, the goal is to help other people know they are not alone.
“People need to see that you can survive something like this and go from being a victim to a survivor to a thriver.”
Address: 1420 Kerrway Court Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805
Phone: (260) 423-2222
Years in Business: 25
Number of Employees: 11
Products & Services: Please go to warm-cozy.org to find out more about the SATC annual fundraiser, “Warm and Cozy,” taking place Sept. 22.