According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 6 American women and 1 in 33 American men will experience sexual violence during their lifetimes. Out of these cases, only 1 in 4 will result in a police report. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, fewer survivors may file a report or seek help in situations they would otherwise, due to fears of contracting the virus.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Survivors
While the coronavirus pandemic is causing many cities across the United States to see a slight reduction in their crime rates, people are still continuing to experience sexual violence — and many more sexual assault victims may refrain from seeking help during this difficult time.
Many sexual assault victims’ advocates and resource centers are seeing a dramatic reduction in the survivors who reach out to them for support. According to the DC Forensic Nurse Examiners’ Executive Director Erin Pollitt, the nonprofit saw a 33% drop in calls for help during March 2020 alone.
The nonprofit also stated they experienced multiple days in a row where they saw no calls for help, which was unusual. Pollitt raises concerns that survivors may not seek help not only out of fear of the virus, but also due to forced social isolation with an abuser.
According to the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, COVID-19’s shelter-in-place rules may also reopen traumatic wounds for survivors, contribute to a loss of income that leads to reliance on abusers and survival sex, and create barriers to access resources that would normally be available.
Remote Sexual Assault Forensic Exams: A Potential Resource
In Northern California, some county authorities are allowing sexual assault forensic examinations to take place through a video call. Through this process, a trained nurse examiner will direct the survivor through the steps of collecting evidence over a video conferencing platform such as Zoom.
During this process, a police officer will leave a sexual assault forensic exam kit outside of the survivor’s home and wait for the process to finish. Both parties will join a Zoom call with a victim advocate and nurse examiner and interview the survivor. After which the officer and the advocate will leave the call and the nurse will guide the survivor through evidence collection, who will leave the kit outside of his or her door when completed.
These remote exams help protect both the survivor and the nurse examiner from contracting COVID-19, since these examinations typically take place in small rooms for long periods of time. However, not all cities offer this service and a survivor may still need to visit a hospital to take a sexual assault forensic exam. In addition, criminal defense attorneys may claim this evidence is cross-contaminated, which may harm the survivor’s case in court.
What to Do If You Experience Sexual Assault During COVID-19
If you experience sexual assault during this difficult time, you still have options for support and care available to you, even if a remote Zoom examination is not possible.
- Contact your local sexual or domestic violence advocacy organization and ask what resources they have available for survivors.
- You can still access a sexual assault forensic exam at your local hospital during COVID-19. Ask your local advocacy organization whether remote examinations are possible in your area.
- If you are the victim of domestic violence, shelters are available to you. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to find resources in your area.
You may also contact a sexual assault attorney to schedule a free remote consultation and discuss your case. Your attorney may also be able to connect you with resources you can access during this uncertain time.