By: Danielle Schmersal
NASW Ohio Chapter Membership Associate
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. After Steubenville, this is a particularly important year for Ohio to recognize this observance. What happened in Steubenville was a tragedy. But, much like Newtown, many times it unfortunately takes tragedy for society to start having the needed difficult conversations and to start taking necessary action.
We have had this difficult conversation about sexual assault before. In the 1990s, 13 sexual assaults occurred every minute in the U.S. THIRTEEN. Efforts increased to create safer streets, to establish more programs to prevent sexual assault and to provide services for survivors. Reports of rape have decreased by 60 percent since 1993. So, now, only one rape occurs every two minutes. But, that’s still one rape every two minutes.
An estimated 1 in 5 women become a victim of sexual assault at some point in her life. I have heard this statistic since I was in high school—almost ten years ago. And, this is still the number? As a woman myself and as someone with many women in my life I know and love, I am not satisfied with 1 in 5. As a social worker and as an American, I am not satisfied with 1 in 5. What about children? 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual assault before they reach age 18. Are we satisfied with those numbers? For men, it’s 1 in 33. With sexual assault and all the self-blame, humiliation, fear and shame that come with it, the real numbers are always higher. An estimated 63 percent of survivors never report the crime. We have to do better. We must do better.
A bright spot in the Steubenville tragedy is that—at least in Ohio—we have finally continued the sexual assault conversation. Representatives Nan Baker (R-Westlake) and Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) held a press conference on March 20, 2013 with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to announce the introduction of H.B. 108 as part of an innovative 5-year plan to establish and support rape crisis centers in all 88 Ohio counties (right now, only 27 programs provide services to 37 counties).
H.B. 108 sets aside $2 million for a trust fund to support rape-crisis programs. The bill also requires each person who registers as a convicted sex offender on the Sex Offender Registration and Notification database to pay a $100 fee, which is then deposited into the Rape Crisis Center Trust Fund administered by the Ohio Attorney General. Finally, the bill adds a representative of rape crisis centers as a member of the Safe Victims Assistance Advisory Committee.
The bill is not perfect. Further efforts to raise additional funding for rape crisis services are still needed. This legislation’s fee only raises $200,000 initially to be split by 27 programs. But, H.B. 108 represents an essential first step in helping both service providers and survivors get the resources they need. Let’s hope the conversation doesn’t stop there. Let’s not let the conversation stop there.
I will be collecting signatures in support of this legislation all month. If you would like to distribute the petition at work, on campus, and/or in your community, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.