While we set high goals for Arkansas, we also recognize that the achievement of these goals depends on the well-being of each of our citizens. Our nation’s health-care system has been in the spotlight for the past few years. We are taking historic steps in Arkansas to improve the health care of all of our people, but there are certain obstacles that go beyond the treatments that can be provided at a doctor’s office or hospital. There are health problems that have lasting consequences for Arkansans and that remain greatly underreported. This coming month, we work to recognize one such difficult problem: the terrible reality of sexual violence.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. An estimated one-in-five Arkansas women will experience such an assault or attempted assault at some point during her lifetime. Sadly, too many victims suffer alone, too many crimes go unreported and too many offenders elude justice. A single incident of sexual assault can destabilize every aspect of a victim’s life. This includes their health, employment, financial stability, as well as their personal sense of safety and well-being.
Aside from the deeply personal toll it takes, sexual violence costs all of us, regardless of whether we have personal connections to its victims. Like all forms of violent crime, sexual violence requires increased police and investigative costs, offender treatment programs, sex offender tracking and management, and, of course, health care for the victim. In fact, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence estimates that violence and abuse contribute to more than a third of all health-care costs in America.
Sexual assault is considered to be the most underreported violent crime in America. Victims hesitate to report these crimes for fear of skepticism or failure to bring the perpetrator to justice. We want our police, prosecutors, and courts to treat victims with the respect they need and deserve. However, anxiety causes many victims to never report the offense and leaves our law-enforcement and legal systems unable to provide necessary action and assistance.
The need for awareness is evolving in new directions with the continued saturation of social media into our lives. While online social networks help us better connect with friends across town or across the world, they may also open new potential outlets for harassment and unwanted sexual advances. Advocacy groups are expanding their education programs to address this growing problem, as well.
As we work in a variety of ways to improve our State, we can also rededicate ourselves to breaking all cycles of abuse, including sexual violence. For more information or help, you can contact the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or visit their Web site at acasa.us. All violent crime erodes our communities and hinders our ability to thrive. This April, let us stand more prepared to recognize and help survivors of sexual violence, brightening their future prospects and the well-being of our State.