Report On Sexual Violence Reveals Mixed News

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A recent review of five sources of data on sexual violence in Minnesota revealed mixed news. While hospital treatment and criminal arrests have increased in recent years, reports to law enforcement of sex offenses have remained stable, and two self-report surveys indicated a decrease in victimization.

The data are included in the new report, Violence Data Brief: Sexual Violence, 2002-2007, from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

"Sexual violence is a major public health issue, resulting in significant and rising costs to our health care system," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan. "While MDH is helping to coordinate statewide prevention efforts, everyone can contribute to the solution. Creating policies at work and school, engaging in discussions with family and friends, and making sexual violence prevention a priority in all communities are a few of the strategies that will help reduce the problem."

Hospital care for sexual violence

MDH analyzes hospital data on the treatment of people who have experienced sexual violence. In 2007, more than 1,500 Minnesotans received such care, an age-adjusted rate of 29.6 per 100,000 population. During the study period of 2002-07, the annual rate of increase was 6 percent, or about 68 additional cases each year.

Although only a small percentage of people who experience sexual violence are treated in hospitals, the data provide useful detail about victims, circumstances and health care costs. The vast majority (93 to 94 percent) of patients were female. Seventy-six percent of females and 61 percent of males were under age 30. Urban areas had rates of victimization that were up to three times higher than rural areas.

Nearly all (98 percent) of sexual violence patients were treated in emergency departments and released, rather than being hospitalized for one or more days. Of those who had more serious injuries, brain injuries were among the most disabling. Those admitted to the hospital for one or more days were ten times more likely to be diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (3.24 percent) than those who were treated in the emergency department (0.3 percent) in the six-year period.

The median charge billed by a hospital for emergency department care of a person treated for sexual violence ranged from $803 to $909 during the six-year period, and inpatient charges ranged from $6,567 to $12,997.

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A previous MDH report showed that the overall cost of sexual violence in Minnesota in 2005 was $8 billion, including long-term services to victims, treatment and incarceration of offenders and loss of productivity.

Arrests for sexual-violence related offenses

Arrests increased between 2002 and 2007, from 23.4 to 30.4 per 100,000 population, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). More than half the arrests were for sex offenses other than rape; those specifically for rape declined.

Reports to law enforcement

Police reports about sexual violence remained relatively constant between 2002 and 2007, at about 125 events per 100,000 population, based on data from DPS. Most of the reports (72 percent) were for sex offenses other than rape. About half the reports resulted in arrest of the offender.

Community surveys about past experience

Self-report surveys of past experience with sexual violence showed a decline between the early 1990s and 2007 in the percentage of respondents who reported they had experienced sexual violence. Reports of experiencing sexual violence in the Minnesota Student Survey, which is administered to 6th, 9th, and 12th graders, decreased from 9.2 to 6.5 percent. The Minnesota Crime Survey, a random statewide mail survey that includes questions on perpetration as well as victimization, showed a decline in similar questions from 2.6 to 1.5 percent.

Interpretation of differences

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. MDH epidemiologists suggest that the increase in the numbers being treated in the hospital is due to better recognition and documentation by hospitals and to people's greater willingness to go to the hospital after an assault. Similarly, the increase in arrests may be attributed to awareness of a variety of offenses in addition to rape, for which arrest rates are down.

National crime surveys showed declines in sexual violence for a number of years, then an increase each year from 2004 through 2007. Self-report surveys are considered the most reliable indication of actual occurrences of sexual violence. Although the Minnesota surveys appeared to show slight declines, statistical tests on the data do not confirm either an increase or a decrease.

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