Monday, January 6, 2014

Time for action on awful sexual assault rate

Posted by on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Rep. Christina Hale, D—Indianapolis
  • Rep. Christina Hale, D—Indianapolis
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 US Centers for Disease Control discovered that the national rate of high school aged girls that had been 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 makes it clear that we have a serious problem here. This registry only lists those who were caught and served their time. We don't know how many perpetrators are never caught. Think about the last time you read the paper or watched the news and didn't see a story about a child being abused.

It is beyond time now for Indiana to get to work and do something. Government's primary purpose is providing for public safety, and yet our most vulnerable citizens - our children - are not safe from sexual predators.

After the CDC report was published, Jonathan Plucker, policy director for the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, told the press that 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 doesn'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 may be up to 80 percent underreported. The sad fact is that 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 that we can better connect victims with services.

Second, authorize and fund a study that will collect the necessary information so that 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 that 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.

We need to act urgently. This is a complicated and longstanding problem with grave repercussions impacting generations. Yet to succeed, we need a team effort. We need to involve parents, teachers, religious leaders, law enforcement, youth-serving agencies and our young people, as well.

There has been much discussion about taking our state "from good to great." Certainly we can agree that today, Indiana is not doing good enough by our children. There is nothing more important, more urgent, or more frightening than a child in danger. We must make Indiana a safe place to live for everyone.

Rep. Christina Hale is a Democrat from Indianapolis. She was elected to the House in 2012.

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