GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana must act now to protect children

2014-01-16T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana must act now to protect childrenBy Christina Hale nwitimes.com
January 16, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Children have the right to be safe. Yet in Indiana, girls are more likely to be sexually assaulted than almost anywhere else in the country.

In 2008, a national study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control discovered the national rate of high school aged girls raped or assaulted was 10.5 percent.

In Indiana, that figure was 17.3 percent. That means nearly one in six Hoosier girls has been sexually assaulted or raped.

That is outrageous and unacceptable.

And yet, as I write this, not much has been done about it.

In fact, CDC researchers said the findings don’t fully reflect the scope of the problem because up to 50 percent of all sexual assaults are never reported.

One look at Indiana’s searchable sexual offender registry (www.icrimewatch.net/indiana.php) makes it clear we have a serious problem here. This registry lists only those who were caught and served their time. We don’t know how many perpetrators are never caught. 

After the CDC report was published, Jonathan Plucker, policy director for the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, told the press he was shocked to see Indiana ranked among the worst states in the country in sexual assaults of young people. His statements — that the numbers hit him “like a punch in the stomach” — are echoed by many of us.

But he also pointed to the need to find out the scope of this problem, and that is where I would like the Indiana General Assembly to go in 2014.

The data we have right now don't allow us to figure out why our numbers are so bad.

And it isn't just young girls who are at risk.

The rape and sexual assault of males is estimated at 4.5 percent, a figure that might be up to 80 percent underreported. We have even less data or information regarding the plight of young boys and sexual assault.

To effectively address this issue, we need to know more. Where is this happening? Is it an urban problem? Rural? A problem in families or schools, or a combination? Is it date rape? Child seduction? All of the above?

There are many, many questions left unanswered, and the longer we wait to find those answers, the more our young people are left in danger.

This session I will author legislation to do two things.

First, increase reporting so we can better connect victims with services.

Second, authorize and fund a study that will collect the necessary information so we can prevent this from happening.

Indiana must produce policies that deal effectively with problems, and form policies and laws that are forward-looking and shaped by evidence.

This means we must take the necessary steps to understand this complex problem and then use that information to form programs, policies and laws that will laser focus on the problems and deal with them in the most expedient, effective and efficient means possible. There is no more worthy issue than protecting Indiana’s children from sexual crime.

State Rep. Christina Hale, D-Indianapolis, represents the 87th District. The opinions are the writer's.

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