4/11/2012 8:59:00 AM EDITORIAL: Sex-assault prevention can, should start today
It has always been difficult for social service groups, educators and researchers to clearly determine the exact numbers of sexual assaults in Indiana.
Many traumatized victims, perhaps nearly 50 percent, don’t report an attack to police. And Indiana, with Mississippi and New Mexico, is one of three states that do not require law enforcement agencies to report sexual violence to the FBI.
The problems with Indiana’s reporting system came to light again after the release of a national analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indiana females in grades nine through 12 have the nation’s second-highest rate of forced sex. The CDC found that 17.3 percent of high school-age females in Indiana reported having forced sexual intercourse. The national average was 10.5 percent.
Calls came out immediately for more education and prevention efforts. Indeed, there is fear among advocacy groups that Indiana’s numbers may actually be higher. Now that the shock of the statistics is sinking in, it is time to address this tragedy without panic and with a workable statewide strategy.
In one sense, Hoosiers can appreciate the fact that reporting seems to be on an upswing. It is critical for victims to report their attacks to local law enforcement agencies. It is not comforting, however, that these numbers do not routinely get passed to the FBI to place Indiana’s rate in better context with other states.
Reporting by individual jurisdictions could take years before evaluating an accurate trend in Indiana.
More immediately, families and friends can encourage victims to report, discuss and address attacks. Most cases of unwanted sexual activity — 80 percent, it is believed — involve people who know each other and are in a relationship, dating or acquaintances.
The Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault is one group trying to address prevention. Its website (www.incasa.org) offers an awareness guide and advocacy tips as well as initiatives to take in discussing sexual violence. Such discussions can form the basis of communitywide approaches in preventing sexual violence. Parents often seem squeamish when asking their school districts to prepare uniform programs on sexual assault awareness for students. There are ways, however, to calmly bring the discussion into schools so teens and young adults can understand their rights when dating. Schools can and should be proactive in preventing sexual violence. The CDC statistics point to a critical need for Hoosiers to be open in discussing violent acts that, in many cases, can be prevented and should be reported to authorities.
By the time young women get to college, nearly 20 percent of them are victims of attempted or actual sexual assaults as are about 6 percent of undergraduate men. Gathering statistics and writing reports take time. Better education and prevention efforts, however, can start today.