Victim advocates: Pandemic isolation limits sexual assault reporting

Coronavirus

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — We’ve heard about the rise in domestic violence cases during the pandemic with people confined to their homes. But there’s another serious issue that also needs attention: sexual assault.

Eight out of ten victims know the perpetrator–typically a friend or relative. 45 percent of forcible rapes in South Dakota happen to children under the age of 14. However, COVID-19 may be preventing sexual assault victims from getting the help they need.

As schools and playgrounds sit empty, many of the most vulnerable remain behind closed doors during the pandemic.

“There’s a cause for concern for children at this time. The period of isolation is hard on families. Families may be responding to stress at different levels,” Carrie Sanderson said.

Sanderson runs the Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment in South Dakota. She says this time away from familiar routines can be problematic for some children.

“Very similar to how after a summer break or winter break—child protective services and law enforcement have an increase in the number of reports of child maltreatment. We expect there will be an increase of reports once social distancing has ended,” Sanderson said.

Jen Canton is a sexual assault nurse examiner for Avera. She says the number of victims of sexual assault coming to the emergency room is down.

“There’s been a lot of information out there about staying home, don’t come to the hospital—And I don’t want them to think that applies to them. They definitely should be coming in to the ER to see us and receive care,” Canton said.

Canton says emergency rooms have protocols in place to protect people from COVID-19. She is worried that victims in rural areas are not utilizing eCare options either.

I’m definitely concerned the rates are going up—we’re just not seeing people come in for services—so I’m concerned there’s people being abused and assaulted and they’re not doing anything about it.

Jen Canton, Avera Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner

The South Dakota Department of Social Services typically gets 16,000 calls a year reporting potential cases of abuse against children. KELOLAND News asked DSS if the number of calls has gone down since the pandemic hit, but we have not received a response.

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