Study: Child sexual assault ‘far too common’ in Indiana

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A report by the Global Health Communication Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis states that adolescent sexual assault is “far too common” in the state.

The report, “An Investigation into Adolescent Sexual Assault Underreporting in Indiana,” was made public Wednesday at the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana’s meeting.

“It confirms a lot of what we thought we knew and raises a lot of questions about things we still need to know,” said Democratic state Rep. Christina Hale of Indianapolis, who advocated for the study and presented its findings to the commission, along with professor John Parrish-Sprowl, who directed the study.

According to the report, one in six high school girls in Indiana had been a victim of sexual assault by the time she reached age 18. About 25 percent of adults surveyed said someone had touched them in a sexual way before age 18, and 86 percent of those cases were unsolicited.

Hale said the state now needs a strategy to respond to the problem. She believes further study is needed to factor in social media, emerging technology and sexual exploitation of young people.

The review highlights areas of concern, including unreported incidents and the lack of a comprehensive, statewide data collection system and central database, the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star reported. It also recommends educating students about healthy relationships and training teachers about how they should respond and assist students who are victims of sexual assaults.

Another thing the report determined is that “a good deal of sexual assault occurs within the home and within the family” or extended family, said Parrish-Sprowl, who also serves as the director of the Global Health Communication Center. Victims in those cases may be less likely to report the assault because they don't know who to turn to, it states.

But the solution could come from outside the family, especially in the form of a school or after-school program, Parrish-Sprowl said.

“That’s where adolescents spend a lot of time around adults who can hear them and help connect them with services,” he said.

About 75 percent of the adults who reported being sexually abused under the age of 18 said the abuse involved a family member, friend or another person they knew who didn't live in their household. Among those sexual assault victims, the average age of the initial abuse occurred was just over 9 years old.

“This is an extremely complex issue to address,” Hale said. “We’re supposed to learn about things from family, but when family is perpetrating the crimes … that cuts off a lifeline.”

Indiana also must change its approach to sexual education, which now focuses on abstinence, so children can learn not all sex is consensual and those who are sexually abused can realize they’re victims, she said.

“We absolutely need more education for students so they understand what consent is and understand how to report when they need to,” Hale said.

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