Sexual assault awareness

Sexual assault awareness

Boundaries need to be respected and our wellbeing shouldn’t be taken away because of sexual assault, harassment or abuse

  • Why preventing sexual assault is a community effort.
  • Providence helps children who suffer sexual assault.
  • Two key ways you can support victims of sexual assault.

[4 MIN READ] 

Everyone has the right to feel safe at home and at school, on the job and in public places — no matter how old they are or what their gender is. Boundaries need to be respected and our wellbeing shouldn’t be taken away because of sexual assault, harassment or abuse. While a dedicated focus on this important topic happens every April, it’s an always-on issue and knowing how to recognize it and the resources that can help is always important. 

“During natural disasters and in conflict zones, the prevalence of sexual violence increases,” said Camille Cooper, RAINN’s vice president of public policy.

According to RAINN, every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. “During natural disasters and in conflict zones, the prevalence of sexual violence increases,” said Camille Cooper, RAINN’s vice president of public policy. “There are so many things we need to consider in this crisis (COVID-19) to ensure that we’re doing all we can to prevent sexual violence and appropriately respond when it does happen.” Learn more.

Preventing sexual assault is a community effort 

Unfortunately, sexual assault is all too common in our communities. Data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that one in three women experienced sexual violence during their lifetimes. The CDC also reports that sexual violence happens early in victims’ lives. One in eight female rape victims were assaulted for the first time between ages 11 and 17.

These disturbing numbers reflect a huge need to work together to bring about safe, respectful and healthy actions wherever we live, work and play. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) offers suggestions about how to start.

The organization explains that prevention means not just protecting ourselves. It extends to those around us. Here are ways communities can make a difference when it comes to raising awareness about and preventing sexual assault.

  • Teach the skill of asking for consent and respecting the answer.
  • Share what you know about sexual violence and make sure others learn that it is never the victim’s fault.
  • Don’t allow others to make jokes or comments that demean people. 
  • Try to model healthy relationships. 
  • Encourage children to respect other kids’ bodies and treat others with respect. 
  • Seek to improve policies and practices within work, faith and educational communities.
  • Make sure staff and volunteers within organizations are well-trained to show healthy behaviors and respect others’ boundaries. 
  • Educating children early on about how to maintain boundaries with their own bodies and when and how to report inappropriate actions.

Even small actions can lead to big changes. Learn more about how you can bring about positive change in your community to prevent sexual assault.

Help for children who suffer sexual assault 

According to the Sexual Assault Clinic of Providence St. Peter Hospital, 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) involve children ages 17 and under. The clinic is on the frontlines of helping children who suffer from that type of abuse. The staff sees about 350 children every year and receives about 550 referrals a year. 

Dr. Joyce Gilbert is the medical director of the clinic. In a recent interview, she says one of the most vital things the clinic offers is a sense of stability. It serves as a one-stop care facility for children in need, with full support from all types of caregiving. “Children were getting scattered care from many areas within their community. We have one area where they come — a very child-friendly environment,” says Dr. Gilbert. 

An example of the clinic’s child-friendly setting is their facility dog, Astro. He’s well-trained to help in every step of a child’s interactions with the staff. Providence’s Sexual Assault Clinic is backed by a team of trained professionals who know how to work with victims of all ages. They include: 

  • Medical providers
  • Pediatricians
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Medical social workers 

They all work together to provide start-to-finish support services to children in need, as well as their caregivers or parents.

Two key tips for supporting victims of sexual assault

Whether it’s intended or not, sometimes we may send a message that sexual assault is caused by the victim’s choices or failings. Sexual assault and abusive behavior are actions that one person chooses to inflict on another. The victim didn’t have a choice in the situation.  

Sexual assault and abusive behavior are actions that one person chooses to inflict on another. The victim didn’t have a choice in the situation.  

When it comes to children, there’s one rule that stands above the rest: Believe a child who makes the tough decision to disclose that she or he has been a victim of sexual assault. According to Dr. Gilbert, “For a child to completely disclose having been sexually assaulted, the child has to feel safe and the child has to be believed.” She says the first time a child tells anybody about physical abuse or sexual abuse, being believed is “the most important thing.”

The numbers around sexual assault are hard to hear. But Dr. Gilbert offers hope. “The knowledge we have now, thanks to science, means we have a future that looks so much better for these children and [other] victims.”

To help a child who may be a victim of sexual assault, Dr. Gilbert recommends contacting your national Children’s Advocacy Center and speaking with a social worker. You can also visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website.

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Find a professional

Providence professionals know that recovery from sexual violence is a lengthy process and a very personal journey. If you’re a victim of this type of assault or know someone who is, contact a Providence professional who specializes in sexual abuse

As always, you can also search in our provider directory for a behavioral health specialist.

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Related articles

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Video: HealthBreak Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Living our Mission through Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse

Here’s why we still need to talk about sexual consent

Sexual Assault Clinic of Providence St. Peter Hospital

Future of Health: Providence St. Peter Sexual Assault Clinic

Children’s Advocacy Center

National Sexual Assault Hotline

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Learn what you can do to help prevent sexual assault and support victims, then share your experience @providence. #sexualassault

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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