No one wants to think about sexual assault. But if you're a parent of a child entering his/her teen years or heading off to college, you should know that kids this age are especially vulnerable. For example, one in four young college students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or being unable to consent.
Michelle Resendez, RN, a Franciscan Health sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) in Northern Indiana, shares how to protect your teen or college student and help them in a crisis:
Caroline Fisher, RN, CEN, SANE-A, a Franciscan Health sexual assault nurse examiner in Indianapolis, answers your most pressing questions about how to support your children and protect them from sexual assault.
First, Can You Tell Us What Forensic Nurses Do for Patients?
Sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) provide compassionate care for victims of sexual assault or rape. This includes tending to both physical and emotional needs.
We ask about what happened so we can assess any injuries or other physical needs like testing for and treating sexually transmitted infections.
In addition, we collect physical evidence that can later be used in court. For example, if someone was touched in their genital area, I can swab that area and potentially get a DNA profile of the perpetrator. We don't need a big sample these days to get DNA information.
We also direct patients to local resources to address safety concerns, follow-up medical care and emotional support.
What Misunderstandings Do You Think People Have About Sexual Assault?
There's this misconception that rape happens by a stranger leaping out from behind a bush and grabbing you. Assaults by strangers do happen, but 80 percent of the time the perpetrator is someone the victim knows.
People also tend to blame the victims of sexual assault – suggesting they shouldn't dress inappropriately or wander into a dark alley with someone they don't know well. While those are solid suggestions, our culture has a tendency to blame the victims of sexual assault.
And yet, it's the perpetrators who committed those violent acts. Sexual assault knows no boundaries. It affects people of all colors, genders and economic levels.
That Being Said, Is There a Particular Group That Is More At-Risk Than Others When It Comes to Sexual Assault?
At our Franciscan Health Center of Hope locations, we commonly see patients between 15 and 25 years old. I think there are several reasons that people in this age range are more vulnerable.
First, younger people don't have as much experience in the world. Unfortunately, social media plays a big part in many sexual assaults. Younger people are more social media savvy, but not savvy enough to know when they're being scammed.
Also, people in this age range are much more social in general. A 16-year-old is going to a lot more parties than someone who is 35 to 50 years old. Those parties usually include alcohol or drugs, which are both big factors in sexual assault.
So What Can People Do at Parties to Prevent Sexual Assault?
You need to be careful about drinking. Alcohol interferes with your ability to make decisions. It also makes you an easier target for potential perpetrators.
It's great to have a designated driver or person watching out for you. I'm a big believer in going to parties with a best friend and leaving with that same friend. But, your best bet is to stay sober enough to take care of yourself.
How Can Parents Help Prevent Sexual Assault?
First and foremost, we have to train men and women that taking advantage of or committing violence against other people is not okay. As parents, we need to model that.
For example, don't say mean jokes about other people, whether it's sexual, racial or something else. That's the very first step of bullying.
Also, use open communication with your kids. Talk about body parts using their correct names rather than cutesy monikers. Most important, make sure your kids know you're available for them if they encounter a dangerous or threatening situation. But it has to be done without judgment and without lecturing – although you'll be tempted to do so!
But what's more important ... having a child feel safe enough to ask for your help when in trouble or lecturing them about what they did wrong? Clearly, rescuing your child is more important.
What Should Parents Do If Their Child Has Been Sexually Assaulted?
You should encourage your child to come to one of our Center of Hope locations to get specialized care. If the incident just occurred, it's best for your child not to change, shower, eat, drink or go the bathroom before arriving here in order to preserve evidence.
But at any point after an assault – whether a few days or over several years – we can help by providing resources and guidance. What's most important is that your child gets the support she needs to start the healing process.