Pictured Above: Krystal Clark, The Woman’s Fund Board Chair; Jennifer Pagliera, The Women’s Fund Forum Co-chair; Meera Ballal, The Women’s Fund Forum Moderator; Valerie Nagoshiner, The Women’s Fund Forum Co-chair.


It’s not your fault. You are not alone. It is a team effort.

Such were some of the compelling messages brought forth at the 2019 Women’s Fund Forum titled “More Than a Frightening Headline: The Reality of Sexual Assault in our Community for Women and Girls.”

The Forum, held November 14 at The Junior League of Nashville, featured a panel of three local experts: Virginia Carrigan, Metro Police Department sex crimes lieutenant; Pam Crues, FNP Medical Legal Exam Team Manager, Nashville General Hospital; and Rachel Freeman, president and CEO of the Sexual Assault Center in Nashville.

Attendees were provided eye-opening recent statistics by the forum’s moderator, Women’s Health Care Initiative founder and Women’s Fund Board member Meera Ballal. Top of the list: there were 1,005 victims of sexual assault reported in Davidson County in 2018, with 40% of victims between the ages of 13-24.

That’s nearly three sexual assaults a day.

Prompted by Ballal’s questioning, The Forum touched on the step-by-step process of what happens after a sexual assault is reported, medically and by law enforcement, highlighting the support services of SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse practioners and the counseling services available from the Sexual Assault Center.

Daily cooperation between law enforcement officials, SANE nurses and counselors became apparent just listening to the three experts on stage during The Forum. Carrigan, Crues and Freeman all spoke to the improved systems in place to support victims of sexual violence, a direct result of local resources focused on providing personal care for those in need.

“It’s a team effort,” said Carrigan, who gave praise to the increased involvement of counselors early in the process after a sexual assault is reported, as well as emphasizing the skill of nurses such as Crues, who estimates she has conducted 750-1,000 sexual assault exams in her career.

Forum Panelists
Pictured: Rachel Freeman, LCSW, President & CEO Sexual Assault Center; Virginia Carrigan, Sex Crimes Lieutenant, Metro Police Department; Pam Crues, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, SANE-A, Medical Legal Exam Team manager, Nashville General Hospital; Jennifer Pagliara, The Women’s Fund Forum Co-chair; Valerie Nagoshiner, The Women’s Fund Forum Co-chair; Meera Ballal, J.D., M.Ed., founder of Women’s Healthcare Initiative.

Sexual abuse is the latest chronic community concern tackled at the annual Forum hosted by The Women’s Fund, a longtime initiative of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Previous topics have included domestic violence, human sex trafficking, hunger and the sandwich generation. The Women’s Fund was established 25 years ago by a committee of community leaders who wanted to invest in long-term solutions for transforming the lives of women and girls and improving the well-being of our entire community.

Improving the well-being of our community means stemming the onslaught of sexual assault cases. The once taboo topic has become a more open conversation since the #MeToo movement.

“Predators prey on our lack of conversation,” said Freeman as she urged attendees to take away the shame in terminology and normalize the conversation.

The goal of The Forum is to continue to make the conversations around sexual assault more acceptable.

“Taking that first step to seek counseling is often the hardest,” said Freeman, whose advocates now accompany nurses and law enforcement officials as a matter of recourse once a rape or sexual assault is reported. Her staff size has doubled over the past three years.

Women and girls are not alone as victims. Of those 1,000-plus reported victims in Davidson County last year, 90 of them were men and boys.

Minorities also suffer disproportionally, with African-Americans more likely than whites to be sexually assaulted.

“There’s still a whole lot of work left to do,” Freeman said. “We’re barely scraping the surface. … Our community is just now having this conversation.”

What can we do?

“It goes without saying that this is an under-reported crime.” said Carrigan as she emphasized the importance of reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement.

Carrigan explained reporting the crime and collecting the evidence, are the first step. The initial timing is critical. From there, the decision is up to the victim to move forward with a case.

She added that we need to be having conversations with our children about healthy relationships.

“If you see something that doesn’t look right you need to step in, whether it is as a parent or as a friend out on the town. We need to take better care of each other,” concluded the police lieutenant.

For more information about The Women’s Fund and future Forum events, contact Jenni Moscardelli at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, (615) 321-4939.

For more information about The Women’s Fund and future Forum events, contact Jenni Moscardelli at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, (615) 321-4939.