As an emergency medicine physician I have seen and treated too many victims of sexual and physical abuse. I have had to bear witness to the loss of innocence more than I feel comfortable with.
I would estimate I perform an average of 1 to 2 rape kits a year. Frankly, any number of sexual assault patients that I have seen that is greater than zero is too many. And if we are talking numbers, then we should start with some real statistics.
According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some point their lifetime — that could mean somewhere around 25 million women and 1.2 million men have been victims. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 98 seconds a sexual assault occurs.
To further our mathematics, according to a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, in 2007 there were over 26,000 board certified Emergency Physicians in the United States. Some sources say there are currently anywhere from 40 to 45K emergency care providers in the United States when taking into account advanced practice providers and non-emergency medicine board certified physicians who provide emergency care.
I work in a busy, urban emergency department. So what does all this math and statistics tell me as an emergency physician who performs 1 to 2 rape kits a year when there are millions of sexual assault victims out there?
I’m not performing enough rape kits. None of us are.
Sounds horrifying to say I know. While I wish we lived in a world where rape kits and sexual assault resources were not necessary at all, the dark reality is that I should be seeing more victims and performing far more than 1 to 2 rape kits a year. Clearly this is because too many victims feel unsafe in reporting their abuse. As is well known, there are just too many reasons for why this is true. They still feel voicing their trauma will stigmatize them. Or that it will make it more real. Or that it will get someone they know in trouble. Or that they are afraid their abuser will retaliate.
Or the worst result of all: that their report will lead to nothing at all. That their gut wrenching exposure of their trauma will not lead to change, conviction or vindication. That it will not save another victim from the same fate.
Recent events make me fear that our future victims will retreat to the dark recesses. That even when the unimaginable occurs, victims will stay at home. Or when they do present for medical care, they will decline our services and assistance. I’m concerned the rape kits will collect dust on the shelfs, our Rape Victim Advocates will leave work frustrated about their inability to help and that a predator will move on to the next victim.
As an emergency medicine physician, I want to take this opportunity to beg my past, current and future patients who are victims — please come to us for help. I know the events of the world seem disheartening. It may seem today like the world doesn’t care but this is not truth. I care. The emergency medicine profession cares. The healthcare community cares.
One day, victims will be heard and believed. Until then use us as your backers and your record keepers. Come to us so there is a record — so even if you don’t want the rape kit, but want the option to come forward some day, you have the ammunition you need. Come to us as your secret keepers. Come to us so we can at least hold your hand, comfort you, and find you the resources you need to put one foot in front of the other. Come to us so we can take care of you medically and ensure your health is safe.
We do not want you to suffer alone. We will be your advocate. We will listen. We will help.
We believe you. Please believe this too.