Kvols: Sexual violence report leaves questionsThe “mixed news” in a newly released 2008 report on sexual violence in Minnesota comes as little surprise to Kris Kvols, program director for the Goodhue-Wabasha Sexual Assault Services.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
The “mixed news” in a newly released 2008 report on sexual violence in Minnesota comes as little surprise to Kris Kvols, program director for the Goodhue-Wabasha Sexual Assault Services.
Among the findings:
- Hospital care for people who experienced sexual violence increased
- Arrests were up slightly
- Reports to police remained constant
- Self-report community services show a decline
“How do you reconcile that,” Kvols asked?
A major stumbling block for sexual violence studies is there aren’t standardized rules for data collection.
“Clearly, we need that,” she said, because without standardization, too much is left to interpretation.
The Minnesota Department of Health report acknowledges, “The difference among the data sources may be attributed to varied definitions of sexual violence and measurement of different experiences among people who seek medical care, those who report to law enforcement, and those who respond to surveys.”
State epidemiologists suggest that the increase in the numbers of people being treated in hospitals is becuase of better recognition and documentation by hospitals and to people’s greater willingness to go to the hospital after an assault.
Still, national statistics suggest that only 16 to 22 percent of victims report assault.
State officials also suggested that the increase in arrests may be attributed to awareness of a variety of offenses in addition to rape, for which arrest rates are down.
“Self-report surveys are considered the most reliable indication of actual occurrences of sexual violence,” state officials said. “Although the Minnesota surveys appeared to show slight declines, statistical tests on the data do not confirm either an increase or a decrease.”
Kvols pointed out that the state report cited five data sources — “Each with differing definitions of sexual violence and differing methods of collecting information. It is difficult to extrapolate information and analyze it when there is no standardized format.”
“Locally,” she acknowledged, “we have no standardized way of collecting data here in Goodhue County, although it is a topic that the SMART team has discussed.”
Kvols is a part of the group known as Goodhue County SMART — Sexual Assault Multi-Disciplinary Action Response Team, which was put in place two years ago with a grant from the University of Minnesota.
That group’s information suggests that the state department’s report may not be on target when it comes to regionality. The health department study said urban areas have rates of victimization that are up to three times higher than in rural areas.
Her experience and conversations with colleagues have convinced Kvols, “Sexual assault does occur in our rural counties at a very high rate.” However, she added, the incidents may be less frequently reported, possibly because of the potential consequences.
“National statistics show that about 84 percent of victims know the perpetrators,” Kvols said. The SMART team believes that in rural areas, that rate may be closer to 90 percent.
There are different barriers to reporting in smaller communities, she explained. Victims may fear losing their jobs, community impact, or damage to the family reputation. They also are susceptible to threats to family members if they go to authorities.
“It’s much harder to report someone you know,” Kvols said. The assault could involve an incestuous relationship, or someone in a line of authority, such as a coach.”
“I believe that sexual violence remains hidden in rural communities because of the high rate of interconnectedness amongst individuals and a strong fear of retaliation or backlash for reporting,” Kvols said. That means self-report community surveys are not necessarily the most accurate.
The team has been focusing on three goals, she said:
• Identify existing services; pull that information together.
• Conduct a victim experience survey including the victim’s experiences with law enforcement, prosecutors, the medical community, advocates, mental health personnel and counselors, and even “the system.”
• Take all that data into consideration in creating a community needs assessment with recommendations.
“In the next two years we will develop protocols” and create a formal agreement documenting the ideal process, she said. The ideal, she added, will be a “victim-centered response” with standardized care that focuses on victims and their needs.
On the positive side, Kvols noted, a recent legislative change allows a victim to go to a hospital and get a forensic examination to collect possible evidence whether or not they choose to report the incident to police. And, she added, the exam is paid for by the county, not by the victim.