Guest viewpoint: ‘Embrace Your Voice’ during Sexual Assault Awareness Month
BY SHANNON RITTER
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the theme this year is “Embrace Your Voice.” With the advent of #MeToo and other movements this past year, there has been plenty of discussion around sexual assault, but before being able to discuss the issue and bring about awareness and subsequently change, we need to be able to define it. There are dozens of criminal statutes relating to sexual violence crimes, but the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women describes it simply enough: “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
A 2010 CDC survey reported that one in five women and one in 71 men in the U.S. will be raped at some point in their lives. When applied to our county’s population using 2016 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 17,568 of Iredell County women and 1,198 of Iredell County men have been or will be raped during their lifetimes. According to the 2015 National Crime Victimization Survey though, only 31% of rapes are reported to police. What does this mean for our community? The prevalence of rape, just one of many types of sexual assault, is over three times what is seen by our law enforcement. Sexual assault is therefore not simply an issue for law enforcement to investigate. It is a community issue that requires community awareness and collaboration. As residents of Iredell County, we have an opportunity to embrace our collective voice and the voices of those who have survived sexual assault in order to provide a safer and more supportive place to live.
Where can I get help?
For those seeking medical attention after a sexual assault, Lake Norman Regional Medical Center and Iredell Memorial Hospital have Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) on staff to serve victims of sexual assault. SANE nurses are registered nurses with specialized education and training for the care of patients who have experienced sexual assault. If requested during medical treatment, a SANE nurse can collect evidence. Unless survivors fall under mandated reporting laws (such as children), this does not usually require the involvement of law enforcement, but allows for precise evidence collection while giving the survivor time to consider whether or not to make an official report. North Carolina is unique in that there is no statute of limitations for felony crimes, under which most sex crimes are classified. For those who do choose to report, victims or witnesses can call 911 or, in a non-emergency situation, one of the following dispatch numbers for Iredell County’s law enforcement agencies. A report can also be made with DSS for anyone who suspects abuse of children or disabled and elder adults.
- 704-878-3180 (Iredell County Sheriff)
- 704-878-3406 (Statesville Police)
- 704-664-3311 (Mooresville Police)
- 704-528-7610 (Troutman Police)
- 704-873-5631 (Iredell County Department of Social Services)
For information on resources available to adult sexual assault survivors, individuals can call My Sister’s House, the rape crisis center for Iredell County, at (704) 872-3403. Dove House Children’s Advocacy Center serves child survivors of sexual assault and abuse and can be contacted at (704) 883-9814. Information on child sexual abuse can also be found at www.dovehousecac.org/how-to-report-abuse.
How can I help and where can I learn more?
My Sister’s House will be collecting donations for self-care kits to be distributed to survivors at area hospitals. Items requested include basic toiletries, comfortable clothing, books and bags or backpacks. Donations can be dropped off at Fifth Street Ministries at 1421 5th St. Statesville, NC 28677 and labeled “self-care kit MSH.”
For individuals wanting to educate themselves and/or their children on sexual assault and consent, each of the Iredell County Public Library branches and the Mooresville Public Library will have displays set up for the month of April. Books on the topic relating to children and adults will be available for checkout. For those seeking further information, the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center have information for survivors, friends and family, and service providers.
Shannon Ritter is a Victim Advocate for My Sister's House.