DES MOINES, IOWA — It has been two weeks since Pieper Lewis was sentenced to probation after her sentence was deferred by a Polk County judge.
She pleaded guilty last year to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury in the June 2020 killing of 37-year-old Zachary Brooks, who she said repeatedly raped her. Lewis claimed she had been trafficked to Brooks.
The Des Moines Police Department is still investigating the human trafficking that Lewis alleges occurred.
“They are complex and complicated cases,” said Sergeant Paul Parizek with the Des Moines Police Department. “You will have victims that are frightened to talk that will just do about anything to avoid talking because they are afraid of what the consequences from their trafficker might be.”
Lewis’ case caught the international spotlight, but it also highlights resources and services that are available for sexual assault victims in the state.
“We do see patients from far and wide across the state it is not unusual for a patient to drive 3 to 4 hours to the metro area to receive services,” said Shannon Knudsen, a registered nurse and sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE).
Knudsen is trained to examine both adults and pediatric patients, which the state desperately needs. She works all across the metro and works with sexual assault victims daily.
Sara Hulen is the state’s first sexual assault forensic response coordinator and she works for the State Attorney General’s office. Hulen’s priority for her position is establishing a database for SANE nurses in the state.
“Previous to my position there was no database so no one knew where the SANEs were, where they weren’t, where they were trained, who trained them, things like that. So I am working on creating that database,” said Hulen.
Knudsen and Hulen work crosses over a lot due to their field’s nature. One misconception they both believe is out there, is that more reports mean more people are being sexually assaulted.
“What I think that people are fearful of is when they say, ‘Gosh our reports are going up, why are we seeing so many reported?’,” said Knudsen. “I always have to stop people and say it’s a good thing that means we are doing our job. Because again, as I said earlier that we know that it is the most underreported crime there is, we can’t help what we don’t know.”
Part of Hulen’s work also involves victim advocacy and being there for sexual assault victims through their own recovery process; whether that be filing charges or finding services and resources to help them get better.
The Attorney General’s website has resources, training and information for those looking to become a SANE nurse. Hulen is currently compiling that data to allow the general public to see where the SANE nurses are in the state and how they can get in contact with one.