Sexual Assault: Repairing the Pattern of Neglect
Statistics of sexual assault
If you identify as a woman and happen to be spending time with two of your girlfriends, statistically, two out of the three of you have been sexually assaulted and haven’t reported it. The official numbers collected through extensive research by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), are that 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are actually reported to the police. Those numbers are staggering. At this point, you may be thinking, how could this possibly be accurate? There are resources for sexual assault victims, why don’t they go to the police, call one of many available hotlines, tell a close friend or family member who then may encourage them to take action? The answer is complex and many-layered. It involves emotional and societal pressures as well as a broken justice system. While steps are being taken to repair the judicial neglect, it is imperative that we keep the topic on the forefront of the global conversation. The more knowledge is made available, the more action can be taken to overcome the pattern of sexual assaults that go unreported.
Putting your mental health first
Before we delve into details of this issue, please consider this disclaimer: you are under no obligation to read further. It is understood that the statistics highlighted in the first paragraph are upsetting enough. As suggested by The Mighty author Sarah Schuster in her article What to know if seeing ‘Me Too’ on your Facebook feed is hard for you, this topic can trigger negative emotions and PTSD for many. It is healthy to take a mental break from the recent up-rise in coverage of this topic on the news and social media if the content elicits a negative response to personal trauma. In essence, I urge you not to sacrifice your mental health for the sake of staying informed. There is no standard amount of time for healing; set your own pace and only get involved if and when it is right for you.
A system in need of repair
One of the most pressing concerns is that of the system for processing the DNA evidence of rape victims. RAINN cites DNA evidence as “A critical factor in achieving justice for survivors of sexual violence,” but also cites it as one of the biggest obstacles due to the “backlog of unanalyzed sexual assault forensic exam evidence.” It is standard procedure for law enforcement agencies to collect DNA evidence using a sexual assault evidence collection kit, often called a “rape kit.” Too often, however, this collected evidence is delayed in reaching the crime labs to be analyzed, or the labs themselves are ill-equipped to handle the influx of evidence they do receive for testing. The untested kits are then “stored” for too long and the chances of identifying and catching the perpetrator become extremely slim. There is an urgent need to have accountable processes in place, to ensure survivors who endure the additional physical and mental strain of a rape kit test don’t have their evidence lost in the shuffle of an inadequate system.
How you can help
The most positive impact you as an individual can make on a personal level is to listen, without judgement, to a survivor of sexual assault if they choose to confide in you. Help them find the help they need to heal, whether it is filing a police report, seeking professional counseling, or physically removing themselves from a dangerous situation. On a national level, you can perform research on the criminal justice system and reach out to Congress through email or Twitter to support legislation that protects survivors and prevents sexual violence. RAINN provides volunteer opportunities to help raise money for survivors as well as promote prevention. College students are encouraged to get involved with their school’s prevention program to help provide accurate information and let other students know there is support and recovery available to them.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7, and is free and confidential. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or violence, call 800-656-HOPE.