Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month: Intervention and Prevention

AUTHOR: ASHLEY BENEDICT

Everyone has a role to play in preventing sexual assault. There are many different ways that you can step in or make a difference if you see someone at risk. This approach to preventing sexual assault is referred to as “bystander intervention.”

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Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month: Reporting

Author: Ashley Benedict

Rape Kit Backlog

DNA evidence has become a critical factor in achieving justice for victim/survivors of sexual violence, but there are still challenges in the way evidence is collected, stored, tracked, and used to hold perpetrators accountable. The overwhelming backlog of DNA evidence is currently one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence.

The backlog of unanalyzed sexual assault forensic exam evidence is often referred to as the DNA backlog or “rape kit backlog.” The source of the backlog is complicated and multi-layered, but there are two main sources:

DNA evidence is a critical factor in identifying, prosecuting, and convicting perpetrators, but in some ways, the effectiveness of DNA evidence has been the source of its biggest obstacle. As DNA evidence proved to be a useful tool in both investigation and prosecution of sex crimes, collecting this evidence became standard procedure for law enforcement agencies across the country. Today, all 50 states and the federal government collect DNA from perpetrators convicted of certain crimes. An increasing number of states have expanded their laws to collect DNA from people arrested or accused of certain felonies and, in some cases, certain misdemeanors. In addition, DNA evidence can be collected directly from crime scenes and during sexual assault forensic exams.

Sexual assault forensic exams

You may have heard the term “rape kit” to refer to a sexual assault forensic exam. The term rape kit actually refers to the kit itself—a container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam. A rape kit may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK). The contents of the kit vary by state and jurisdiction and may include:

  • Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection
  • Comb
  • Documentation forms
  • Envelopes
  • Instructions
  • Materials for blood samples
  • Swabs
Preparing for a sexual assault forensic exam

If you are able to, try to avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence such as:

  • Bathing
  • Showering
  • Using the restroom
  • Changing clothes
  • Combing hair
  • Cleaning up the area

It’s natural to want to go through these motions after a traumatic experience. If you have done any of these activities, you can still have an exam performed. You may want to bring a spare change of clothes with you to the hospital or health facility where you’re going to have the exam.

In most cases, DNA evidence needs to be collected within 120 hours in order to be analyzed by a crime lab—but a sexual assault forensic exam can reveal other forms of evidence beyond this time frame that can be useful if you decide to report. Place your belongings, including the clothes you were wearing, in a paper bag to safely preserve evidence. If you have questions about the time frame, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or talk to your local sexual assault service provider.

The length of the exam may take a few hours, but the actual time will vary based on several different factors. It may be helpful to have someone to support you during this time. If you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or contact a local sexual assault service provider, you may be connected with an advocate who can talk to you about the examination and offer support. The advocate may also be able to accompany you during the actual exam. Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they could be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.

What happens during a sexual assault forensic exam?

The steps below outline the general process for the exam. Remember, you can stop, pause, or skip a step at any time during the exam. It is entirely your choice.

  • Immediate care.
  • History.
  • Head-to-toe examination.
  • Possible mandatory reporting. If you are a minor, the person performing the exam may be obligated to report it to law enforcement. You can learn more about mandatory reporting laws in your state through RAINN’s State Law Database.
  • Follow up care. You may be offered prevention treatment for STIs and other forms of medical care that require a follow up appointment with a medical professional. Depending on the circumstances and where you live, the exam site may schedule a follow up appointment, or you can ask about resources in your community that offer follow up care for survivors of sexual assault. Someone from the exam site may also be able to provide information or resources about reporting options.
Who can perform the exam?

Not every hospital or health facility has someone on staff that is specially trained to perform a sexual assault forensic exam and interact with recent survivors of sexual assault. When you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) you will be directed to a facility that is prepared to give you the care you need.

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) — registered nurses who receive specialized education and fulfill clinical requirements to perform the exam
  • Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs) and Sexual Assault Examiners (SAEs) — other healthcare professionals who have been instructed and trained to complete the exam
Why should you consider having a sexual assault medical forensic exam?

How long will the evidence be stored?

The amount of time an evidence kit will be stored varies by state and jurisdiction. A SANE, advocate, or law enforcement officer should let you know how long the evidence will be stored and the state’s rules for disposing the kit. It’s important to note that the amount of time the kit is stored doesn’t necessarily match up with the amount of time that legal action can be taken against a perpetrator, also known as the statute of limitation. If you have questions about timing, statutes of limitation, or any other concerns, contact your local sexual assault service provider.

In Michigan, for sexual misconduct in the first degree, there is no time limit to commence legal proceedings against the perpetrator of the crime; for second, third, and fourth degree offenses, legal proceedings must take place within 10 years after the crime.

What’s the benefit of having a sexual assault forensic exam?
What happens to DNA evidence?

Once DNA is collected, there is a protocol for how the evidence is handled and used in an investigation. The evidence can be provided to law enforcement who are legally required to send it to a crime lab. The lab will analyze the material and develop DNA profiles that are unique to a specific person. The lab works with law enforcement officials to compare these profiles to the DNA of potential suspects. If the perpetrator is unknown, they may compare the DNA profile against a large database run by the FBI called CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. This way, they can identify suspects that the victim doesn’t know or isn’t familiar with.

Reporting

Communicating with law enforcement

When you’re talking with law enforcement, it can be helpful to know what to expect and to understand their process. You may only interact with law enforcement when you report, or they might ask you to stay involved with the investigation over a length of time. Knowing what your rights are and when to raise your hand can help you feel more in comfortable and in control:

  • You should have privacy.
  • It may take a while.
  • You can take a break.
  • You can go up the chain.
  • You can have support.
    • A trained advocate. When you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, the sexual assault service provider in your area may be able to connect you with an advocate who is trained to support you while you talk to law enforcement. Some law enforcement agencies also have trained advocates available.
    • Someone you trust. If you want a family member, friend, or partner to be present, you can have that too. Be aware that family or friends who are present when you speak with law enforcement may be called as witnesses if the case goes to trial. If the officer asks to speak with you privately, understand it’s likely to help you feel comfortable disclosing information that may feel private or sensitive. You can refuse this request.

Here are some general notes and tips about reporting to law enforcement

Note:

What goes into the report?

When law enforcement files a report, it includes the case tracking number and a written narrative based on the interview(s) with the victim. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, some aspects of the report will include:1

Why don’t some victim/survivors choose to report?

Of the sexual violence crimes reported to police from 2005-2010, the individual reporting gave the following reasons for doing so:

  • 28% to protect the household or victim/survivor from further crimes by the offender
  • 25% to stop the incident or prevent recurrence or escalation
  • 21% to improve police surveillance or they believed they had a duty to do so
  • 17% to catch/punish/prevent offender from reoffending
  • 6% gave a different answer, or declined to cite one reason
  • 3% did so to get help or recover loss

Of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, the individual gave the following reasons for not reporting:

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 13% believed it was a personal matter
  • 8% reported to a different official
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble (Remember that most sexual assaults occur by someone the victim/survivor already knows)
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
  • 30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason

 

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month: Types of Sexual Assault and the Effects

AUTHOR: ASHLEY BENEDICT

Note: This post is quite long due to a lot of important information that is rather difficult to condense. Please don’t let this discourage you from reading. The information in this post is extremely important and worth reading. Share this post with friends and family to help spread awareness during the month of April (and every other month) on sexual assault and prevention!

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Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month: The Statistics

AUTHOR: ASHLEY BENEDICT

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. Sexual violence is a major public health, human rights and social justice issue. On April 1, 2001 the U.S. first observed Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) nationally. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it.

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World Water Day 2017: Wastewater

Author: Ashley Benedict

World Water Day is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. The Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure everyone has access to safe water by 2030, making water a key issue in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty.

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated March 22 as World Water Day. World Water Day is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with governments and partners.

Why wastewater?

Globally, the vast majority of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature without being treated or reused – polluting the environment, and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials. Wastewater continues to be produced at an increasing rate due to increases in population, but our treatment of waste water is seriously lacking.

Here are some statistics from this Factsheet on the World Water Day website:

  • Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.
  • 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with feces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
  • Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.
  • 663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources.
  • By 2050, close to 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to 50% today5 . Currently, most cities in developing countries do not have adequate infrastructure and resources to address wastewater management in an efficient and sustainable way.
  • The opportunities from exploiting wastewater as a resource are enormous. Safely managed wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.
  • The costs of wastewater management are greatly outweighed by the benefits to human health, economic development and environmental sustainability – providing new business opportunities and creating more ‘green’ jobs
  • By 2030, global demand for water is expected to grow by 50%

How to reduce & reuse your wastewater

Instead of wasting wastewater, we need to reduce and reuse it. In our homes, we can reuse greywater on our gardens and plots. In our cities, we can treat and reuse wastewater for green spaces. In industry and agriculture, we can treat and recycle discharge for things like cooling systems and irrigation.

We’re all wasters when it comes to wastewater. Every time we use water, we produce wastewater. And instead of reusing it, we let 80% of it just flow down the drain. We all need to reduce and reuse wastewater as much as we can. Here are three ideas for all us wasters:

  1. Turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth or doing dishes or scrubbing vegetables. Otherwise you’re just making wastewater without even using it!
  2. Put rubbish, oils, chemicals, and food in the bin, not down the drain. The dirtier your wastewater, the more energy and money it costs to treat it.
  3. Collect used water from your kitchen sink or bathtub and use it on plants and gardens, and to wash your bike or car.

By exploiting this valuable resource, we will make the water cycle work better for every living thing. And we will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 6 target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase water recycling and safe reuse.

Want to know whether you’re a waster? Take this quick quiz.

Here is a short video on how wastewater is reused. Below is a video on how we can further reuse our wastewater:

The water passing through us and our homes is on a journey through the water cycle. By reducing the quantity and pollution of our wastewater, and by safely reusing it as much as we can, we’re all helping to protect our most precious resource.

Everyone involved in development cooperation is being urged by a UN expert to work together to ensure that the human rights of water and sanitation are available to all people around the world.

The appeal comes from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, on World Water Day and aims to shed light on the key role of development cooperation in the realization of the rights to water and sanitation. Read the full UN Human Rights article here.

Interested in learning more? Check out these stories!

 All information found from the World Water Day website. All credit goes to the authors. 

How do you plan on reducing and reusing your wastewater? Are there any other ways you currently take action to conserve our freshwater? Let us know by sending in work, comments, and questions to gvsufeministvoices@gmail.com

(Cis) Women’s Bodies Are Being Used to Further the Transphobic Agenda, and It’s Not Okay

Author: Ashley Benedict

Have you ever had to make the difficult choice of which public restroom to use? Probably not, because society has conveniently given us gender coded signs to show us where we should “go”. Men head towards the sign with the pants, and women head towards the sign with the dress. It’s all very… binary, and it can leave those who fall outside of society’s gender expectations feeling not only ostracized, but beyond stressed.

Under Title IX, the right of transgender students in public schools to use whichever bathroom coincides with their gender identities is protected. Except, not anymore. Public schools have now been “advised” to no longer adhere to this crucial right. And who are the ones being used as the scapegoat? Cisgender women.  Continue reading