EDITORIAL: Better response to sexual assaults needed

2014-04-07T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Better response to sexual assaults needed nwitimes.com
April 07, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The establishment of a separate treatment facility dedicated to victims of sexual assault should be an eye-opener for Northwest Indiana.

Seeing the stories of sex crimes trials day after day, it's easy to lose perspective and see these cases as unfortunate everyday occurrences without stepping back to try to see what they are so frequent.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter sees it as an epidemic. Tragically, he's right.

In 2013, Franciscan Alliance treated 108 sexual assault victims at its local hospitals, 32 percent of whom were pediatric patients.

Methodist Hospitals reported similar numbers for 2013, with 117 sexual assault cases at its Gary and Merrillville campuses combined. Of those, 55 were pediatric patients.

These are alarming statistics. But wait, it gets worse.

Cases often go unreported because they involve family members or neighbors. Victims or the adults who watch out for them believe they can deal with the issue without involving the legal authorities, either to protect the victim or the abuser or both.

"It's larger than we know and are actually dealing with," Carter said.

That has inspired Nancy Healy, a sexual assault nurse examiner, to lead an effort to open NWI Forensic Services in June in a discreet Schererville location. The facility would treat victims of sexual assault.

Instead of telling their story many times, the victim would have to relive it only once.

Healy is working with law enforcement, the Lake County prosecutor's office, Lake County Sexual Assault Response Team, Child Protective Services, hospitals and others in the medical community as well as advocates to establish and run this new facility.

"Privacy is huge," said Michelle Resendez, regional sexual assault nurse examiner coordinator for northern Indiana for Franciscan Alliance. "When patients come in with sexual assault, they're considered critical parties."

The victims are fragile. Care for them includes limiting the number of people who enter and exit the room and the number of times they do so.

"We want to let them know they're safe," said Cindy Mele, nurse manager of the emergency room at Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary. "We want to let them know they're safe. It's humiliating. It's upsetting. Think of all the emotions."

More must be done for the victims, to help them come forward so their abusers will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities and the victimization can be stopped.

But we also need good research on how to deter assaults. This epidemic must not continue. We need evidence of prevention methods that work well, not just evidence of the crimes already committed.

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