Sexual abuse: A growing problem locally and across the nation

Safe Harbors' Volunteer Coordinator and Sexual Assault Advocate Janet Shook shared statistics last week during a workshop that outline sexual assault as a local as well as a national problem. Photo by Rocky Wilson

Sexual assault is not just a national problem. It is a local problem as well. That was the message delivered by Safe Harbors Volunteer Coordinator and Sexual Assault Advocate Janet Shook in a workshop held last Friday in the Safe Harbors conference room in Enterprise.

Eight years ago there were no sexual assault cases reported in Wallowa County. Last year there were 26 sexual assault calls to the Safe Harbors hotline. Calls for 2003 have yet to be tabulated. It may be simply that a higher percentage of cases are reported than in the past, but it could be that the number of cases are up. No one knows for sure.

More than once Shook reiterated the message that sexual abuse is not about sex, but instead about power, domination and humiliation. She also called it a "hate crime."

The nature of sexual abuse keeps it out of the public's eye. Shook, who shared a plethora of statistical data, said that one in every 16 instances of sexual abuse is reported. She said that one in every three women in the United States will be sexually abused during her lifetime and that one in every eight men will be sexually abused. She defines sexual abuse as everything from harassment to rape and murder.

Statistically, said Shook, 95 percent of all rapists are male. She said that there is no set profile for an abuser, that everyone can and cannot fit the mold. Without treatment, 40 to 90 percent of rapists will become repeat offenders. According to the figures shared Friday only one in every 100 convicted sexual abusers will spend over one year in incarceration.

Eighty-five percent of rapists are known to the victim prior to the assault, said Shook. Fifty percent of sexual assaults happen in the home.

Sexual abuse most commonly is perpetrated upon the most vulnerable individuals in our society; children, women, the elderly and the handicapped.

Abusers often have low self esteem and have little respect for the children or women they assault.

Again, the very nature of the crime makes it hard to gain a conviction through the judicial system. Shook quoted figures that nine of 10 jurists will acquit a suspected rapist and that women jurors vote for a conviction even less than that. It all too often comes down to the word of the woman against the word of the man and a conviction, with reasonable doubt in the air, more often than not, is not forthcoming.

Much of Shook's presentation dealt with how to help and enhance the recovery of the abuse victim.

Because rape victims speak of their experience so infrequently the individual she or he decides to speak with is encouraged to listen intently, believe their story and support them by reinforcing the thought that the incident was not their fault. The listener may offer suggestions as to whom the victim may next tell their story to, but allow the victim to make her or his own decision. It is OK, said Shook, to encourage the victim to talk to a trained counselor.

The standard stages of recovery for an abuse victim are denial, anger, depression, bargaining and finally acceptance. The abuse victim will never be totally the same, but can reach a phase of acceptance where she or he can go on with their life.

All too often a sexual abuse victim holds the trauma inside. "The majority of sexual assault survivors never tell anyone," said Shook during her two hour power point presentation.

For more information or to report an incidence of sexual abuse phone 426-4004 or contact Safe Harbors' 24 hour crisis line at 426-6565.Sexual assault prevention day camp planned FridayA free sexual assault prevention day camp for high school students will be held Friday, April 25 at the Wallowa Lake Methodist Church Camp. Sponsored by Safe Harbors, the 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. camp will include food, t-shirts, music, talk, education, creation and swimming at the Eagle Cap Chalet.

A free bus service will pick up students at Wallowa High School at 8:50 a.m., M. Crow Store in Lostine at 9:10 a.m., Enterprise High School at 9:30 a.m. and Jerry's Market in Joseph at 9:45 a.m.

Persons wishing additional information or wishing to register may phone Safe Harbors at 426-4004.

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