News and Tribune

May 4, 2014

Study on the way on underreported sexual assaults in Indiana

Organizers plan to map out all reported assaults have taken place in last decade

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

— The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute has agreed to fund a comprehensive, statewide study to better understand the extent of sexual assaults against young people, the degree to which they are underreported and why they are underreported.

Last week, a committee of the ICJI board approved $65,000 for the study, proposed by Rep. Christina Hale, D-Indianapolis. The study was an amendment to Senate Bill 227, which expands Indiana’s Lifeline law.

A 2008 CDC study ranks Indiana among the worst in the nation when it comes to high school girls saying they’d been forced to have sex. Other studies also indicate Indiana has a problem when it comes to sexual violence against women.

But more research is needed to better understand what is happening in Indiana, Hale says.

The study will take place this summer and fall “to try to figure out why we have a higher percentage of sexual assaults against young people compared to other states and what we can do to address it,” said Jennifer Thuma, ICJI chief counsel.

The Global Health Communications Center of IUPUI will conduct the study, under the direction of John Parrish-Sprowl, who expects it to be completed by the end of October. He has expertise in such studies and had done similar ones in other countries.

“We are really enthusiastic about it,” Thuma said. “We hope the results of the study will help us make policy decisions that can help young victims of sexual assault.”

The study will seek to better understand why people don’t report sexual assault, Parrish-Sprowl said. Through better reporting, the goal is to get them the services they need, he said.

Results of the study also can aid with prevention efforts.

“One thing we will do is a GIS mapping of where [sexual assault] reporting has occurred in the last 10 years,” he said.

The data exist at the local level but not statewide to show areas of high and low reporting.

For those areas that have higher reporting, a team will look at whether it’s because of a particular problem in a community, suggesting more resources might be needed. But it also could indicate “good mechanisms” in place that encourage reporting and that possibly could be used in other communities.

There will be two surveys, he said.

One is designed to look at adults who were abused as children to try to understand the long-term impact of sexual assault on physical and mental health.

If adults acknowledge they were sexually assaulted when they were younger, “we can look at those numbers compared to what’s been reported,” he said, and it may be a way to find out about how much underreporting is occurring.

That survey will be anonymous. Those surveyed “may be willing to report as adults what they wouldn’t report to parents or law enforcement when they were younger,” Parrish-Sprowl said.

Another survey will be used to gather information from people who play a significant role in adolescents’ lives, including teachers, coaches, clergy, school bus drivers and pediatricians. Questions will be asked to gain a better understanding of underreporting.

The study also will include focus groups and individual interviews.

When data are gathered and reviewed, a team will write a report of its findings and provide them to the Criminal Justice Institute. The findings also will go to legislators.

Parrish-Sprowl said he is already “busy getting things lined up,” and the goal is to have it done by the end of October so that legislators could use it to craft legislation.

Hale, who lobbied for the study, said Wednesday, “I’m thrilled we can finally get started. … I’m so grateful to the ICJI for funding this.”