Rape and sexual assault: Under-reporting calls for extra vigilance

Nan Calendar-Price, RN

Nan Callender-Price, RN

By Nan Callender-Price, RN, MA
Executive Director, Continuing Nursing Education

I’m a big fan of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” on television. In fact, I’m always surprised when I discover a previous episode that I haven’t seen before. One of the reasons I like it so much is because both law enforcement and healthcare providers provide the appropriate care and interventions. In particular, Mariska Hargitay, who plays detective Olivia Benson, is a shining star example of a tough cop, but shows her soft side when interacting with victims, especially children. Generally, the perp, the nickname commonly used for perpetrator on the show, is apprehended, tried and sentenced. I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing there’s been justice and a job well done.

We all know, however, the recovery of victims of sexual assault doesn’t end here. The aftermath can interfere with daily functions and overall health in devastating ways. Another sobering fact about rape and sexual assault is no one actually knows how often it occurs. No valid statistics for rape and sexual assault exist due to under-reporting of the crime, as many victims do not report sex crimes. Although 84,767 forcible rapes were reported to law enforcement in 2010, according to the FBI, this statistic doesn’t reflect the actual number of sexual assault victims.

So what can we do about it? Laws in all states require healthcare providers to report rape or sexual assault of children. About 15% to 30% of girls and up to 15% of boys are sexually abused before they are 18 years old. States vary as to mandatory reporting of adult victims. Our most vulnerable, such as the elderly with dementia, the mentally ill and children, are especially at risk. The takeaway here is to stay alert for signs and symptoms of sexual abuse, report any suspected sexual abuse regardless of age, and know about appropriate resources in your community.

Many thanks to emergency and forensic nurses for providing rape and sexual assault victims with both technical expertise and emotional support during that critical time following an incident.

By the way, Hargitay took her job to the next step in real life as the founder and president of Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization whose mission is “to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.” This might be her best work yet.

Here are some related continuing education courses you may want to consider:

Adolescent Dating Violence

Sexual Assault and Rape: The Nursing Role

Evidence Collection and Preservation in a Healthcare Setting

Elder Abuse: Mistreatment of Elderly Americans on the Rise

How Nurses Can Prevent Child Maltreatment

Crisis Intervention: Helping Patients Regain Safety and Control


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