April Is Sexual Violence Awareness Month

By Karen L Ramsey RN BSN WCC SANE

Sexual violence awareness month is an opportunity to honor the resiliency and healing of survivors while highlighting this very important issue. Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes any type of unwanted sexual contact. Sexual violence is forced, manipulated, or coerced sexual activity. It is a crime in which an assailant uses sex to inflict humiliation on the survivor, to exert power and control over the survivor or to use the survivor to attain sexual gratification without regard for the survivor’s consent. Forms of sexual violence includes rape, attempted rape, incest, child sexual abuse, obscene phone calls, fondling and sexual harassment.

  • Every 60 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, 36 % of the sexual assaults will be reported to law enforcement. (Department of Justice)
  • More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual violence (CDC)
  • Most women and men across all identities who experience sexual violence report that the assailant was someone they knew (CDC)

        Many survivors who have experienced sexual violence either don’t know who to turn to or have had a bad experience when they have reached out for help. After sexual assault has occurred, seeking medical attention is one option that the survivor has. A sexual assault medical forensic exam is a resource for all survivors. There are many misconceptions around going to the Emergency Room after an assault had occurred, but ultimately going to the Emergency Room is about the survivor’s health and safety. Treatment may be essential to make sure the survivor has no immediate physical injuries.

        Sexual assault medical forensic exams are conducted by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) or providers in the Emergency Room (MD, NP, or PA). Exams include collection of sexual assault kits for evidence collection that can be sent to the crime lab. These kits can be collected anonymously, reported with survivor’s information, or exam completed with no collection of evidence. Survivors can choose if they want the report the crime to law enforcement. They also have the right to choose which parts of the exam they want to participate in, and they can refuse care at any time during the exam.

        An advocate from a local crisis center will be available during the exam to provide survivors with free, confidential, non-judgmental emotional support, information, and resources to help them make informed decisions about what type of care they would like to receive. Coos County crisis center exists through Coos County Family Health Services and is called RESPONSE.

        After survivors have experienced sexual assault, it is hard to know how to react. Everyone reacts to sexual violence in their own way. Common emotions include shame, guilt, fear, shock, and the feeling of isolation. Recovering from sexual assault is a process that looks different for each survivor. It can take months, years or even decades to recover. Survivors of sexual assault are: Three times more likely to suffer from depression, four times more likely to commit suicide, six times more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. (CDC)

        If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence and in need of support, you have multiple options to get help.  You can come to the Emergency Room for a Sexual Assault medical forensic exam, you can call RESPONSE at 1-866-662-4220 or the 24-hour NH Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline at 1-800-277-5570, or you can contact the Emergency Department at any time to get advice without having a medical forensic exam.


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