PA’s District Attorneys are Committed to Helping Victims of Sexual Assault
By District Attorney Seán M. McCormack
April is a month dedicated to crime prevention and awareness. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, recognizing the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. April also is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness of a crime that is often underreported and one where its victims often suffer in silence unsure where to turn for help. Finally, the last week of April is annually designated as National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
While a single month is officially designated to raise public awareness of crime, every day across Pennsylvania prosecutors carry on the fight to bring justice to the vulnerable victims of these crimes. Prosecutors, along with their law enforcement partners, victim advocates, child welfare workers and medical professionals, are well aware of the stark reality of the statistics:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Many children wait to report or never report child sexual abuse. Therefore, these numbers are likely an underestimate the true impact of the problem.
- 63% of women who had suffered sexual abuse by a family member also reported a rape or attempted rape after the age of 14.
- Children who had an experience of rape or attempted rape in their adolescent years were 13.7 times more likely to experience rape or attempted rape in their first year of college.
Pennsylvania’s district attorneys are committed to helping victims of sexual assault seek justice in the legal system while, at the same time, working with a team of health professionals, police, and advocates to ensure the health and safety of sexual assault victims. Pennsylvania’s prosecutors have supported many positive changes such as the encouragement of medical examinations conducted Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). SANEs provide compassionate medical examinations of sexual assault victims. These specially trained forensic nurses collect crucial evidence that prosecutors will use if the victim chooses to proceed with an investigation.
Victims who want a medical exam but are unsure if they want to involve the police have the option of having an evidence collection examination (Rape Kit) performed anonymously protecting their identity. This prevents the loss of valuable evidence should the victim later decide to come forward and report the assault to the police. Stronger evidence leads to stronger criminal cases.
Pennsylvania’s district attorneys have embraced the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) approach to investigating and prosecuting child abuse and sexual assault crimes. Coordinating investigations between law enforcement, Children and Youth Agencies, sexual assault/victim advocates, Child Advocacy Centers and medical professionals has improved our ability as prosecutors to hold perpetrator accountable for their crimes. Utilizing a team approach reduces many of the hardships victims in the past encountered when navigating the criminal justice system. It is important for victims to know that, if they come forward, they will be treated with compassion, respect and understanding.
During the month of April, we encourage you learn more about the services and options available to victims of child abuse and sexual assault. If you or someone close to you has been sexually assaulted, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association urges you to seek help. Call 911 or go to nearest emergency room. You also could contact the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) helpline at 1-888-772-7227.
To find a Rape Crisis Center near you – https://pcar.org/help-pa/locations
Seán M. McCormack is the district attorney of Cumberland County.