Feb 22, 2023
A recent story in U.S. News & World Report highlights a significant increase in the number of sexual assault survivors who are seeking treatment in emergency rooms.
A University of Michigan research project confirmed that between 2006 and 2019, a 15-fold increase was seen in sexual assault survivors visiting U.S. emergency medical departments. Moreover, data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) indicates a troubling spike in the number of rapes and other forms of sexual assault which occur annually.
As the FBI notes, rape and various additional types of sexual violence occur approximately every 68 seconds in the United States. And the number of recorded sexual violence incidents rose substantially in recent years:
“The increase in people seeking emergency medical care after sexual violence, however, is greater than the growth of those turning to the police for help,” the authors of the University of Michigan study said.
Researchers also noted that while there are more sexual assaults occurring nationwide, “greater awareness and hospital coding changes are also contributing to the spike.”
“Overall destigmatization – whether that’s due to the #MeToo Movement or other social-political movements – have made people feel safer coming and seeking care,” lead researcher Emily Vogt, a University of Michigan (UM) medical student, said.
However, Vogt also told U.S. News & World Report that is was unclear whether survivors who go to the ER after a sexual assault incident are not going to the police. Perhaps, Vogt noted, survivors “feel like that’s the only place they can go.”
According to U.S. News & World Report, Vogt and her colleagues from UM compiled data from millions of emergency room visits. The report – Trends in U.S. Emergency Department Use After Sexual Assault, 2006-2019 – was published in October’s JAMA Network Open.
The report’s findings included:
Vogt also confirmed that the number of hospital admissions dropped due to a variety of factors, including:
“Patients who were admitted tended to be poorer and have Medicaid. Victims aged 46 to 65 were also more likely to be hospitalized than younger people, possibly because the assault exacerbated other medical conditions,” Vogt said, per the U.S. News article.
Additional sexual assault statistics confirmed through the University of Michigan study include:
Vogt asserted that ERs across the nation can do a better job of assisting sexual assault survivors.
“The emergency department, even though it’s a better place to go than nowhere, is probably not the best place. We need better kinds of outpatient care,” she said.
Furthermore, Vogt indicated to U.S. News that the number of sexual assaults will likely continue to increase from year-to-year.
“We didn’t even get to look at the years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which we already know from other studies has certainly increased rates of sexual assault,” she explained to U.S. News.
“A lot of these patients are getting sent home, and it’s unclear whether they are getting the attention they deserve,” Vogt added. “We know these patients are at higher risk for [post-traumatic stress disorder], substance abuse, and psychiatric problems as a result of the trauma they’ve experienced.”
U.S. News & World Report spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Miller explained why sexual violence remains a “significant public health concern.”
“Sexual violence reporting and care-seeking is not evenly distributed across populations, and inequities persist,” Miller told the media outlet. “The health consequences of sexual violence remain underrecognized by our health system, especially among survivors who are marginalized because of sexism, racism, heterosexism and ableism,” Dr. Miller, who co-author an accompanying journal editorial, added.
Miller also agreed that there is both increased awareness of sexual violence and growing incidence, according to U.S. News.
“As a result of lots of community campaigns to make the experiences of sexual assault more visible, more people appear to be seeking care. But it does appear globally, we saw an increase in interpersonal violence, including childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault and intimate partner violence during the pandemic,” she said.
Miller also noted that certain marginalized groups experience higher incidences of sexual violence:
Miller further expressed the importance of survivors of sexual assault being assured that they will be treated with respect by law enforcement and by emergency room staff.
“They should know that they can also ask for a trained sexual assault nurse examiner, and they can also ask for a victim services advocate to be present during a forensic exam,” she said to U.S. News.
In addition, Miller noted that much more progress is needed to improve sexual assault survivor-centered care in ERs throughout the nation.
“We need to understand how best to provide meaningful support for survivors and to not contribute to retraumatizing individuals who have experienced an assault,” she said.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year uncovered troubling findings related to the costs incurred by rape survivors who seek treatment in the nation’s emergency departments.
The study – Uncovered Medical Bills After Sexual Assault – confirmed the following statistics:
Survivors with private health insurance also incurred significant costs:
“Emergency department charges may discourage the reporting of rape and seeking of medical care for both short-term and long-term sequelae of sexual assault,” the study’s authors warned.
“Incurring such charges may further harm survivors – even those with full insurance coverage – by serving to disclose a potentially stigmatizing event to parents, partners, or employers. Moreover, such bills may further traumatize survivors by suggesting that they are personally responsible for their assault.”
The negative impact of such substantial medical care costs after undergoing a traumatic sexual assault can be long-lasting for survivors, according to the study’s researchers.
“This can be re-traumatizing for many survivors,” said lead researcher Dr. Samuel Dickman, a physician with Planned Parenthood of Montana.
Sexual assault survivors may choose to file civil lawsuits in an effort to recover much-needed financial compensation for various types of damages:
Adult survivors of sexual assault currently have a three-year window to file claims that would otherwise be barred due to an expired statute of limitations. California AB 2777 offers survivors an unprecedented opportunity at securing justice for past crimes.
To speak with a Los Angeles sexual assault attorney or to file your claim, contact a member of Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) dedicated team today at 818-322-4056 for a free and confidential case evaluation.
For more information on California AB 2777’s limited window affording survivors the option to file civil claims for damages, please click here.
DLG is a top-rated Los Angeles-area sexual assault and abuse firm led by former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian. Dordulian has spent his more than 25-year career fighting for justice on behalf of survivors, obtaining over 100 jury trial victories and recovering in excess of $100,000,000.00 in settlements and verdicts for clients like you.
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