A sexual assault occurs every 2 minutes in the United States. In 2007 alone, there were 248,300 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. While the most common victim of a sexual assault is a woman, sexual violence affects nearly every demographic in America, no matter their gender, age, or background. Indeed, 2003 saw 78,188 child victims of sexual abuse. Sexual violence occurs in many forms, from domestic violence and intimate partner abuse; sexual harassment; stalking; inappropriate touching by a teacher, coach, or trusted person; child molestation; or rape.
Forensic nursing professionals are on the front lines of response for these assaults and work hard to provide medical care for survivors, while collecting evidence to be used against the perpetrator in a court of law. However, for many decades forensic nurses and many in the health care profession have also been working to prevent the occurrence of sexual violence before it happens. Part-awareness campaign, part-call to action, the Primary Prevention approach to combating sexual violence outlines roles that everyone can play in building safe environments. From a parent in their workplace to their child in their classroom, every person has a right to feel safe in every space that they inhabit.
In her recent post about fostering healthy mentoring relationships, SWSG’s Director of Process Improvement and Knowledge, Meghan Trombly, began by writing, “For Strong Women, Strong Girls, the toxic and abusive relationships dominating recent news headlines – such as the Penn State allegations – are quite disheartening. As a mentoring program, relationships are at the core of our work.” For this very reason, I want to share my own resource that works to foster healthy, safe environments. We at ForensicNursing.org have created a primary sexual violence prevention resource that describes the two most prominent models of prevention: the Ecological Model and Spectrum of Prevention. The Ecological Model identifies four different levels of influence on sexually violent behavior and develops specific intervention strategies to reform at-risk behavior. The Spectrum of Prevention similarly focuses on the need to reform at-risk behavior, but seeks to do so by engineering far-reaching societal change through action on six different, but overlapping levels. We include sample action plans derived from each model that can be tailored for any need or any environment.
At the end of the day, to prevent sexual violence, we must destroy established norms that promote sexually disrespectful behavior turned towards women and girls in particular. Though daunting, all you need to do is start the conversation. Talk to a teacher with whom you feel comfortable about starting a classroom discussion on sexual violence and respectful behavior. Or, reach out to a school administrator about speaking at a school-wide event, or even start a club. If you are a parent, perhaps bring it up at your next PTA meeting to see what your child’s school can do to create a safe environment. If you attend church, talk to your pastor or priest about it. If you are an employee, talk to the Human Resources director about including sexual violence prevention in the next company-wide newsletter. We may not be able to stop sexual violence, but working together and starting the conversation about it can go a long way in creating the safest, most respectful environments we can. I invite you to refer to ForensicNursing.org to learn more about how you can participate in this movement for safety and respect.
*Carmen Rivera is a forensic professional who is enthusiastic about the prevention and awareness of sexual and domestic violence across the nation.