Sexual violence is a public health problem

Sexual violence is words and actions that violate a person sexually. Sexual violence recognizes no income, age, gender sexual preference or cultural boundaries. The effects of sexual violence go far beyond the victim, creating a public health problem that threatens the quality of all of our lives. Consider these facts:
ù In a national survey of women, 13 percent reported having been forcibly raped at least once in their lives.
ù In a recent survey of women in rural Minnesota, 20 percent reported having experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18.
ù Among Minnesota ninth graders in public schools, 14 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys reported being victims of sexual abuse.
ù Among ninth graders who have used multiple substances such as alcohol, marijuana, stimulants and other drugs, girls are five times more likely and boys 12 times more likely to have been sexually abused.
ù Victims of sexual violence may experience a wide range of serious health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, chronic pain and injury.
ù One fifth of Minnesota’s prison inmates have been convicted of criminal sexual conduct; average inmate cost of $30,000 per year.
The Minnesota Department of Health is supporting local communities and working together with the Minnesota Center for Crime Victim Services, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and other organizations to develop innovative strategies to prevent sexual violence.
The centerpiece of our effort is a dramatic television program that will engage people in a productive discussion about sexual violence. It is a videotaped town meeting, called, “A Community Response to Sexual Violence.”
The town meeting features very candid and compelling discussion of sexual violence from diverse perspectives, including victims, advocates, health care professionals, parents, students and community leaders.
This program will be aired on public television stations across the state over the next two weeks. Since all Minnesotans are concerned about the health of our communities, please watch and get involved.
In addition to the video, we are preparing a comprehensive tool kit that communities can use to launch constructive discussions and explore positive ways to prevent sexual violence. The tool kit–along with instructions for ordering copies of the videotape–will be available later this fall on the Internet at www.health.state.mn.us/svprevent. Or, interested Minnesotans can call the Minnesota Department of Health, at (612) 676-5274.
This groundbreaking project would not have been possible without funding from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and without the personal commitment of many valuable partners, including victims of sexual violence, those who work with victims of sexual violence, Pioneer Public Television and Minnesota public television stations, law enforcement officials, local public health agencies and community leaders.
Preventing sexual violence ultimately means not allowing it to happen in the first place. We simply cannot tolerate an environment–anywhere in Minnesota–in which sexual violence is allowed to continue. Instead, we must all work together to create an environment in which sexual violence is never encouraged, never overlooked and never considered acceptable.
If you or someone you know needs help with sexual violence, please call First Call for Help at 1-800-543-7709.
Anne M. Barry,Minnesota Commissioner of Health