by Dawn Huffman
Mille Lacs Health System
Sexual assault: it’s more common than you think.
Sexual violence affects people of all genders, ages, races, religions, incomes, abilities, professions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape some time in their lives. Nearly one in two women and one in five men have experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lifetime. Child sexual abuse occurs in one out of six boys and one in four girls before the age of 18.
Victims often know the person who sexually assaulted them. People who sexually abuse usually target someone they know – a friend, classmate, neighbor, coworker or relative. Nearly 74% who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well. One-fifth of the assaults were committed by a family member.
Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact. This can include words or actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will without their consent. Consent is voluntary, mutual and can be withdrawn at any time. Anyone can experience sexual violence, including children, teens, adults and elders.
At Mille Lacs Health System, sexual assault is taken very seriously. When a patient comes in after being a victim of sexual assault, MLHS staff, Sarah Sopkowiak, R.N., and Jessica Popham, are the nurses who help victims. “We try to make sure the patient is in control and that they know they are in a safe place. Safety and control are very important,” said Sopkowiak. “If the patient wishes to have an advocate, we call the Pearl Crisis Center, which represents Mille Lacs County, and they’ll send an advocate to be with the victim. It is up to the victim regarding who they want or do not want.”
“Once evidence is collected,” Sopkowiak said, “the person who performs the exam is responsible to stay with the patient and with the evidence in sight at all times, until law enforcement obtains custody of the evidence. Following the chain of command is very important in preserving evidence should the victim wish to file charges against their attacker.”
Victims of sexual assault are three time more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
As individuals, do your part to create safe environments so these numbers don’t become a reality for people in our community:
- Intervene to stop problematic and disrespectful behavior
- Promote and model healthy attitudes, behaviors and relationships
- Believe survivors and assist them in finding resources.
With recent media stories, there has been some speculation about expired assault kits. “Test kits do not expire. There were blood vials in kits that had an expiration date, but that vial is no longer used since only a small sample of blood is needed. That sample is now placed on a collection card for DNA testing, said Sopkowiak.”
Sexual assault is ugly. It is something that no one should ever have to experience, but it is one of the biggest crimes that goes unreported and often a crime that sees no justice. That is why it is so important for communities to talk about it and for individuals to be willing to come forward when they even suspect that something isn’t right. Never just assume that it isn’t your place to interfere. Act and let law enforcement sort it out. You may just help someone not become a victim.