Data from MDH shows decrease in hospital-treated sexual violence

The report, released last week, highlights significant data trends from 2010 to 2014 on sexual violence in Minnesota.

Olivia Johnson

While sexual assault is already underreported in Minnesota, a new report found that only about a quarter of sexual violence victims seek medical care.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health released a Sexual Violence Data Brief of information it collected from 2010 to 2014. The report, compiled by University graduate student Melanie LaPlant, will be used by sexual assault or violence prevention services to help meet victims’ needs.

LaPlant, a second-year epidemiology master’s student, helped gather and sift through the data this summer while working as an intern at MDH before the report was released Nov. 3.

“We worked on it with [the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault],” she said. “They were really helpful in developing the reports.”

LaPlant said she found significant trends in the data that’s categorized by age, gender and roughly by geography.

“They use this data as … [an] indicator as to what’s happening in the state in terms of sexual violence,” she said of the organizations who will use the information.

The brief outlined that almost half of hospital-treated sexual violence cases happen to those between 15 and 24 years old.

Meanwhile, patients aged 15 to 19 showed a significant decrease in hospital-treated sexual violence. According to the brief, this age group went from 339 patient visits in 2010 to 276 visits in 2014.

“We don’t know why this age trend is happening,” LaPlant said. “We could try and interpret it as some of our preventative programs are working, but we don’t know exactly what. Hopefully this means that prevention can work.”

Jon Roesler, epidemiologist supervisor in MDH’s Injury and Violence Prevention program, said preventative work done with this age group may have contributed to the drop.

“This is the age group where we do a lot of our intervention education work,” Roesler said. “It may reflect all the activity going on.”

He said most sexual violence cases go unreported, and the brief only looks at about one-fifth of all incidents in the five-year period.

Still, the brief may play a role in encouraging future sexual violence victim-survivors to go to the hospital for an examination, Roesler said.

Caroline Palmer, public and legal affairs manager at MNCASA, said this is also her hope now that the brief has been published.

“First of all, we want to make sure that victims know that the hospital is a resource for them, that they can obtain a kit,” Palmer said. “And that they also know that a kit is accessible to them at no cost.”

She said MNCASA also wants people to know they can go to the hospital without reporting their case to the police.

“Sometimes people are afraid and not sure they want to do that yet,” she said.

Palmer said MNCASA looks at numbers from reports like LaPlant’s with skepticism because many factors lower the number of cases reported.

“Oddly, in our world, if we see crime reporting going up for sexual assault, we see some positive in that because it’s an underreported crime,” she said.