DENVER, Colo. -- Nobody prepares to be sexually assaulted.
Irene Wilke never thought about it. Not for herself and not for her daughter.
“It’s very difficult, knowing that harm has come to your child,” said Wilke.
Over the summer, Wilke experienced a worst-case scenario for a parent. Her adult daughter was sexually assaulted, twice.
“To have to hold your child’s hand as she recounts the events to the police and to the hospital,” said Wilke.
Anyone who’s familiar with a rape examination knows it’s not pleasant.
“The exam itself, it’s invasive, I mean, I’m looking all over at their entire body, but I don’t feel like it’s a bad experience. We want to empower our patients,” said Michelle Metz who runs the sexual assault examination unit for Denver Health.
And most of the time in those cases, police have to take those victims’ clothes as evidence.
“So, if a patient’s wearing the same clothing from the incident, we, law enforcement, likes to collect that clothing because it’s potentially a good space to get evidence from. But when we collect that clothing, so they don’t get that to go home with,” said Metz.
“The hospital and the police are left trying to figure out how to come up with replacement clothing for them,” said Wilke.
That’s what happened to Wilke’s daughter. The police took her clothes, so Wilke had to send her boyfriend out to get her daughter new clothes.
“You’ve just listened to her recount this story, this horrific story, and they, they actually take her into another room, and do the SANE exam, commonly known as a rape kit, and it’s during that process that they took her clothes. And to have the nurse tell you, she’s going to need something when she comes out,” said Wilke.
Now Wilke is doing something about the clothing problem. A few weeks ago, she started her organization, AFTER. She collects women's clothes to donate to hospitals, so they have something to wear home after these exams.
“Just imagine yourself, if it were you, what would you want to start your first steps after,” said Wilke.
Recently, she dropped off a donation box at one of her favorite breakfast spots. But, there was already clothes waiting for her.
“I never thought of that gap between the system where they just need that immediate help, that, right now I need clothes immediately, I just think it’s fantastic what she’s doing,” said Jill Hope, manager at Sunrise Sunset.
“And we picked up a carload of donations, from the employees here... my heart is touched, hearts touched,” said Willke.
Wilke isn’t the only one trying to solve this problem.
“The main output that we do is produce Fear2Freedom Aftercare and Icare kits which are then given to survivors of sexual assault,” said Tricia Russell, the executive director of Fear2Freedom.
The organization was founded by a rape survivor in Virginia, who went on to accompany college students who’d been raped, who would show up at hospitals in the area.
“And she realized that the students were having to leave in hospital gowns and scrubs. Just things that she thought were no appropriate for them to have to be leaving in. You’ve already been traumatized and humiliated and now you’re just adding to that,” said Russell.
"You don't want to stand out, after you leave, and if you walk out of here in paper scrubs or a gown, you definitely would stand out," said Metz.
So she started collecting clothes to give to the hospitals.
“It’s t-shirts, underwear, sweatpants, it has toiletries so they can take a shower, so they can brush their teeth, brush their hair, and then it has some therapy items in the kits as well,” said Russel.
According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. That’s more than 1,100 people every day.
Michelle’s unit at Denver Health saw more than 400 victims last year.
“We’ve already seen 40 patients this month.”
For Wilke, the assaults robbed her of something most moms love to do with their daughters.
“How do you go shopping? Shopping for your daughter’s clothes is something that’s supposed to be fun, you know? You go to lunch, you go shopping. Not I got to go find some clothes because your child's clothes are taken into evidence.”
But she’s not going to let that be the end of her story. Wilke will take her carload of clothes and try and make sure that the next person to go to the hospital after being assaulted will have something clean and comfortable to go home in.
“Something fresh, something new, something that they can start their life after in fresh clean clothes.”