Raising awareness about sexual assaults

Raising awareness about sexual assaults
Photos contributed

By Antonia Ehlers

With prom season upon us, and many heading to college next fall, it’s important for teens and their parents to be aware of the prevalence of sexual assaults.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and education is the key to preventing sexual assaults. The statistics are a bit startling: about 80 percent of survivors experience assault before the age of 25, and nearly half of those have been assaulted before the age of 18, said Naomi Adler, MD, a Kaiser Permanente Richmond emergency room physician.

According to recent statistics, 50 percent of women and 33 percent of men are victims of sexual assaults, which often are committed by a partner, close friend or family member.

“Through this annual observation, we empower ourselves to become a safer community that supports survivors. It reminds us that when one of us is impacted, we are all impacted,” said Nicole Barnett, RN, chief operating officer and chief nurse executive at the Kaiser Richmond Medical Center. “It’s also a good time to share resources for prevention and remind ourselves about the importance of post-assault response.”

Keeping open lines of communication with children, teens and young adults is extremely important for parents, said Suzanne Lippert, MD, emergency room physician at Kaiser Permanente Richmond.

“If your teen suddenly becomes depressed and withdrawn, ask what’s going on,” she said. “Teens often feel that a sexual assault was their fault. Remember, no means no – even if someone has been intimate with a partner in the past.”

It’s normal to feel sad or frightened after a sexual assault. In fact, feelings of guilt often prevent people from reporting an incident.

“It’s never too early for parents to talk to their kids about personal space,” Adler said. “If there has been a sexual assault, it’s important to seek medical care and report it. As Kaiser Permanente emergency room doctors, we make sure to create a private, confidential and comfortable environment. We collaborate with patients to help them make decisions about their medical care after an assault.”

If someone has been assaulted, doctors can prescribe antibiotics to fight sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and medicine to prevent infection with HIV. They also can also prescribe emergency contraception, which delays or prevents ovulation.

After a traumatic sexual assault, counseling can help victims heal. In addition, these community resources can help:

  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline provides free, confidential counseling. The hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673).
  • The National Center for Victims of Crime assists victims of assault from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., EST. The hotline phone number is 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846).

This article was submitted for publication by Kaiser Permanente.