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For Release:  April 24, 2008
Contact:  Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

 Sexual Violence Affects 12,000 Oklahoma Women Annually
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

An estimated 12,000 Oklahoma women are affected by sexual violence each year. This nearly unimaginable number emphasizes that sexual violence is a much greater problem than crime statistics suggest. Nearly 1,500 forcible rapes were reported in 2006 to Oklahoma law enforcement agencies. 

According to national survey data, more than half of women reporting completed or attempted rape were younger than 18 years of age when the rape occurred. In a 2006 random telephone survey of Oklahoma women 18 to 34 years of age conducted by the University of Oklahoma Public Opinion Learning Laboratory, 31 percent of women reported they had been raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime; 1.2 percent had been raped or sexually assaulted in the past year. Three-fourths of these women were less than 18 years of age when the first incident occurred.  Assailants were intimate partners (30 percent), relatives (28 percent), acquaintances or friends (27 percent), and other persons known to the victim (7 percent). Only eight percent of assailants were complete strangers.

“These findings are consistent with other national and state survey data which found that the majority of rapes are committed by a person known to the victim, and first-time victimization often occurs before adulthood,” said Sheryll Brown, epidemiologist for the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) Injury Prevention Service. “If we want to prevent sexual violence before it occurs, we need to begin by working with our youth.”

Increasingly, public health prevention strategies are being used to address sexual violence. Funding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being used by the OSDH to conduct Rape Prevention and Education Programs (RPE). Currently, four RPE projects have been funded to provide training to develop, implement, and evaluate sexual violence prevention activities.

“Our goal is to reduce sexual violence by increasing the state’s capacity to provide sexual violence prevention. Ultimately, we want to have a state without sexual violence where human rights and respect are given to all persons,” Brown said.

In 2006, Oklahoma’s Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (OCADVSA), the state Attorney General’s Office and the Oklahoma State Department of Health met with leaders from various disciplines to develop a comprehensive state plan for sexual violence prevention.  The group identified factors believed to contribute to sexual violence in Oklahoma including victim-blaming, which protects the perpetrator and places the blame on the victim, a media environment where violence is portrayed as entertainment, children growing up without positive male role models, and a limited understanding of what sexual violence really is. 

Protective factors identified included a positive self-esteem and understanding of body issues among girls, positive female role models, equal expectations for girls and boys in schools and greater understanding of sexual violence prevention among the public.

The media, educational systems and faith communities play critical roles in sexual violence prevention. These systems were identified as priority areas in which to focus prevention efforts. For example, prevention efforts in the media should focus on greater media engagement of local media outlets in sexual violence prevention. Prevention efforts in schools grades pre-K through 12 should promote respect for self and others and healthy relationship skills among children and youth. In colleges and universities there is a need for sexual violence prevention training for faculty, staff, students, athletic departments, and Greek organizations on responding to and preventing sexual violence on campuses.

In addition, Oklahoma’s strong faith communities are seen as a valuable asset and are important in sexual violence prevention for modeling and promoting healthy relationships free from sexual violence.

For more information about sexual violence prevention and to see what services are available in Oklahoma, contact the OSDH Injury Prevention Service at (405) 271- 3430 or call the OCADVSA at (405) 524-0700. 

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