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Miss North Carolina USA: Advocating for Change
Caelynn Miller-Keyes is Miss North Carolina USA 2018. She received a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Virginia Commonwealth University and currently works as a mentor to young girls at Windy Gap, a Young Life camp in Weaverville. As Miss North Carolina USA she is committed to improving policies for sexual assault survivors and inspiring other survivors who want to share their experience.
I was sexually assaulted while attending college and I was sure the perpetrator gave me some kind of drug. The morning after I was sexually assaulted, I went to a hospital to see if they could do tests to find out if there were any drugs in my system. The hospital told me they would not perform tests unless I filed a police report and then turned me away. At that point—still unsure of exactly what happened—I left the hospital feeling defeated. When I decided to file a police report, less than 24 hours later, I went to another hospital and had a partial sexual assault evidence collection exam performed. I consented to have blood drawn and medical treatment. I refused to have a full forensic exam performed because, at the time, I felt my body had been through too much to endure the invasive evidence collection process.
I expected that my kit would be tested right away and the evidence would be used to bring my offender to justice. Unfortunately, the response from law enforcement and the university where I was assaulted was deeply flawed and the perpetrator was never held accountable.
I was one of three women sexually assaulted at the university that night. Our identities became known after an emergency text message about the assaults was sent to all students. After that, I was retaliated against for making a report. My kit was finally tested and the results were “inconclusive.” A detective explained to me that too much time had passed between the time drugs would be in my system to the time they left. Drugs used to facilitate sexual assault can go undetected because they may leave the system within a few hours.
The perpetrator wasn’t punished through the university discipline process, and the commonwealth’s attorney wouldn’t take the criminal case forward.
My experience shows how difficult it can be for a survivor to understand what to do immediately after an assault. A survivor who goes to a hospital or files a police report may not understand how collecting DNA evidence works, what the exam entails, and when to get help. As a survivor and advocate, I’m dedicated to changing the way hospitals, first responders, and colleges and universities handle these cases across the country. Having evidence collected is important to survivors, like me, who want to see their assailants brought to justice. I knew that this offender would victimize other people and I wanted to stop him.
Had the first hospital provided me with a compassionate, competent response, I would have better understood my choices and made an informed decision about immediately having a full evidence collection examination and reporting my sexual assault to the police. And, had I had an exam at the first hospital, there is a much higher likelihood there would have been clear toxicology results from the blood test.
That’s why Joyful Heart’s mission and their End The Backlog initiative are important to me and why I am using my platform as Miss North Carolina USA to educate people about the backlog. During my personal appearances, I discuss the backlog and the role everyone plays in helping to fix this problem. I am also advocating for change with my legislators on the state and federal levels.
Earlier this year, the state crime laboratory reported there were more than 15,000 untested rape kits sitting in storage facilities across North Carolina. Each of these kits represents a person— a survivor—waiting for answers and hoping for justice. Right now, our state law does not require rape kits be tested or for police to track them. This needs to change and I am going to work with Joyful Heart to make sure it does.