Thoughts on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month from FMH SAFE Coordinator Julie Hansberger, RN, BSN, FNE A/P
Each year, April is observed as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. Rape and sexual assault affect millions of this nation’s citizens every year. As a country, we have made profound progress in addressing this issue; however, the prevalence of sexual assault continues.
Recent results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey show the extent of the problem. The telephone-based survey collected information on sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence involving adult men and women — and the results are astounding.
One in five women has been raped, while even more have endured other forms of sexual violence and abuse. Of these female victims, 81% experience a lasting impact on their life, including post traumatic stress disorder. It was also reported that one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetimes, while 1 in 7 men have reported being physically assaulted by an intimate partner. The statistics are very clear; this isn’t an issue exclusive to either gender.
Both male and female victims reported experiencing sexual assault at an early age. About 80% of female victims experienced their first rape before the age of 25, and almost half experienced their first rape in their teenage years. More than 25% of the male rape or assault victims reported being raped when they were 10 or younger. Imagine being a victim at such an early age, and living with the scars of the assault for the rest of your life.
Here at FMH, we recognize sexual assault and intimate partner violence as a serious issue both locally and nationally. Our team of 13 Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) nurses is available 24/7/365 to help any victim who has been sexually assaulted or raped. The victim has the opportunity to consent to a forensic examination, which involves a forensic nurse taking photographs of injuries and collecting evidence to be sent to a crime lab for analysis. The victim can also be treated for any possibly-contracted sexually transmitted disease(s) and women are offered the Plan B medication to prevent pregnancy. A patient advocate from Heartly House remains with the victim throughout the hospital visit, and also follows up after discharge from the hospital to assist with any needs the victim may encounter.
In 2010, the SAFE program adopted “Jane Doe reporting” which allows victims to report a rape to our staff and have evidence collected, but without reporting the crime to the police. In the past, we found many victims would not come forward due to embarrassment or fear before it was too late and any evidence that may have been present was no longer available. This anonymous reporting allows for the kit to be collected and held while the victim decides whether or not to report the crime to the police.
Our program also includes a Lethality Assessment in collaboration with the Emergency Department. Any patient who presents to the emergency department with a complaint of being physically abused or assaulted by an intimate partner will be asked a series of questions about the abuse. Sometimes simply asking these questions can help a victim understand he or she may be in serious trouble. At the end the assessment, the patient is given the opportunity to speak with an advocate from Heartly House. This provides the patient with a basic, but vital, resource within the community that can offer further assistance.