Education and Conversation: Two Tools to Help Prevent Sexual Assault
We might like to believe that living in the Midwest means we don’t have to face the uncomfortable issue that sexual assault happens – here.
That’s just not true. Rates of sexual assault continue to rise in all states. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and a good time to recognize that this type of violence thrives when we avoid talking about it.
“South Dakota has the third highest rate of sexual assault per capita across the entire country, and cities like Sioux Falls and Rapid City actually have more cases of sexual assault per capita than places like New York or Chicago,” said Jen Canton, MSN, RN, who serves as the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) supervisor with Avera eCARE®. “This is really happening, and it’s happening here. It’s not something we can ignore, even if talking about how to prevent it is tough.”
Canton added that since sexual assault is under-reported, the actual rates are likely even higher.
Support for Sexual Assault Survivors
Avera SANE nurses help patients across much of the Avera system either in-person or using virtual video visits, with an approach that’s specialized for these victims. The program reflects Avera’s mission to serve all peoples and communities, no matter what they face.
“Our teams employ a therapeutic method in order to help them, because that situation is unreal, unpleasant and overpowering,” Canton said. “There’s a sea of emotion in those moments, from anger to shame to regret.”
The SANE program’s goals are to help support victims in any way they need – whether the victim was raped or harmed in another way.
“We are here to help the reporting person, and we try to start the process of healing,” Canton said. “We also realize that process will take time and grace.”
Preventing Assault Starts With You
Canton said that while the recent #Metoo expressions have helped raise awareness of this national problem, there are many miles to go.
“We need to have everyone realize what we’re up against, and to start that education with young people, about consent, respect and accountability,” she said. “There is no one race, no one place or no economic level where sexual assault happens. It happens all around us.”
She said teaching children more about boundaries and respect, as well as what consent really means, is a good place to start if we want less sexual assault in our society. Holding people accountable for their actions can also make a difference.
In South Dakota, there were 72.6 sexual assault victims for every 100,000 people in 2019. Those numbers were only behind Alaska and Arkansas (148.7 and 77.2 per 100,000, respectively.) The national rate is 42.6.
Since 1992, South Dakota has remained above the national rate.
“Abuse gets passed on from generation to generation,” said Canton. “We have to teach respect – for all people, no matter the gender, age, race or class. We need a mindset change. We can’t expect a young person to respect others if they don’t see that modeled by parents or other adults.”
Canton said any conversation on the topic is going to be tense – but necessary. Learn more about Avera’s resources for people facing sexual assault or abuse trauma.