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April 8, 2012

Researchers alarmed by state’s high school rape rates

Hoosier high school girls reported higher rate of sexual assault than national average

BLOOMINGTON — A new report showing that Indiana females in grades nine through 12 have the nation’s second-highest rate of forced sex is spurring calls for more education and prevention efforts.

A national analysis of sexual violence conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 17.3 percent of high school-age females in Indiana reported having forced sexual intercourse. The national average was 10.5 percent.

Indiana University researchers asked to analyze the findings say the numbers may not reflect the true scope of the problem because up to 50 percent of sexual assaults never get reported. In addition, Indiana is one of just three states — Mississippi and New Mexico are the others — that do not require law enforcement agencies to report sexual violence to the FBI.

Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, told The Herald-Times she was “shocked” by the rate and worries that they underestimate the problem.

“This isn’t ogling at somebody. This is unwanted intercourse. This is rape,” she said.

Jonathan Plucker, director of IU’s Center for Evaluation & Education Policy, said Indiana “has a problem we need to take very seriously” but that determining why the problem exists is difficult.

“If you’d have told me beforehand Indiana would not rank very well, it would not have surprised me,” Plucker said. “But that we arguably have the worst data in the country — that hit me like a punch in the stomach. There are other more socially conservative states, more provincial states, certainly poorer states. But the data we have available to us just didn’t allow us to figure out why our figures are so bad.”

Toby Strout, executive director of Middle Way House in Bloomington, said 80 percent or more of unwanted sexual activity involves people who know each other and are either in a relationship, dating or acquaintances.

“We’re not talking about people jumping out from behind the bushes,” Strout said.

Heiman and Plucker recommend schools create more effective and age-appropriate programs and improve training of school staff. They also call for better ways to track, create and fund community-wide sex education programs.

Heiman said it won’t be easy.

“I think it’s going to take a bit of money to do this, and it’s not the best time out there financially,” she said. “But how can we say we’re not going to invest in our kids?”

Anita Carpenter, chief executive officer of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the issue is a public health problem of “epidemic proportions.”

“One in eight women are at risk of getting breast cancer. Yet one in seven, and some say one in five, are at risk of getting raped,” she said. “Clearly, we are not paying enough attention to this.”

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