COMMENTARY: Education key to sexual assault awareness

Sexual violence is a major health concern in the United States and worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 44.6 percent of woman and 22.2 percent of men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

Sexual violence can negatively impact one’s physical and/or mental health, which can result in an increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and gynecologic or pregnancy complications.

Sexual violence usually occurs in private, but like all crimes, it impacts victims and entire communities. In Delaware, we have a coordinated response to assisting victims of sexual violence. The medical community has embraced the forensic nurse programs which exist in all counties in Delaware.

Cheri Will, RN

Cheri Will, RN

Delaware has a statewide advocacy program to assist victims of sexual violence. Law enforcement receives the most up-to-date information for solving these crimes and sexual violence cases are given to seasoned detectives. Prosecutors and the Deputy Attorney General are specifically assigned to these types of cases in Superior Court.

Beebe Healthcare was the second hospital in the state to have a forensic nurse program. Our program started in 1998. Conviction rates have greatly improved due to evidence collected, chain of custody maintained, and excellent court testimony.

In 1999, Delaware’s forensic nurses received pediatric evidence collection education hosted by then-Attorney General Jane Brady and Beebe. Sexual violence continues to be addressed by federal agencies such as the United States Department of Justice, prevention strategists like the CDC, advocacy groups such as the National Sexual Violence Research Center and forensic science specialists.

The field is ever growing. For example, the time frame for successful evidence collection has increased from 72 hours to 120 hours.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Gov. Jack Markell will have a proclamation signing and you may see some teal ribbons, which represent the month. Please remember the best way to assist a victim of sexual violence is to listen to their needs, know where to find resources, and educate yourself.

Some resources include:

• Contact Lifeline, rape crisis, can be called at 1-800 761-9800.

• YWCA Sexual Assault Resource Center 1-800-773-8570

• Delaware State Police Victim’s Center 1-800-842-8461

• Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-HOPE (4673)

• 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline (Kent & Sussex) 302-422-8058

• Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-292-9582

If you feel you are in danger, call 911.

Cheri Will, RN, is the sexual assault domestic violence coordinator at Beebe Healthcare. She is available to speak to groups and provide resources to victims. She can be reached at(302) 645-3311.

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