Sexual Assault Awareness Month focuses on education

Katherine Ranzenberger

When Emily Huggins and Tracy Hunter started as sexual assault forensic examiner nurses, or SAFE nurses, with WellSpan in 2001, the two helped process fewer than 100 abuse and sexual assault kits.

Fifteen years later, more than 500 forensic abuse and sexual assault testing kits were taken by SAFE nurses in York and Adams counties.

However, Huggins and Hunter said they know they're still missing a lot of sexual assault cases. Less than one third of those who experience a sexual assault actually report it to someone, according to the nurses.

"It's the most under-reported crime," Huggins said. "We have as much value to pediatric abuse cases as we do to sexual assault cases."

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and colleges around York County have been working to educate people on the issue that happens on college campuses around the nation.

SAFE nurses are available at WellSpan York Hospital, the York County Children's Advocacy Center and at the Adams County Children's Advocacy Center. The nurses are specially trained to work with victims of sexual assault or abuse through specific education and clinical preparation.

BLOG: I am a survivor, and that's OK

Tracy Hunter, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Nurse

Hunter said there are five full-time and two part-time nurses on staff at WellSpan York Hospital who have the training. There are also five nurses who can come help when necessary.

"All of our nurses have specialized training in this field," Hunter said. "Four hold dual certifications in this field, adult and adolescent and pediatric, and we have a fifth nurse with a single certification in adult and adolescent."

In Pa.: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf launched the "It's On Us PA" campaign at the end of January. The program is intended to shine light on sexual assaults on college campuses through education about what sexual assault is and how it can affect a survivor.

The program is in conjunction with the national "It's On Us" campaign started by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Students across Pennsylvania and the nation can take a pledge to recognize that nonconsensual sex is sexual assault, intervene in situations where consent has not been given, identify situations where sexual assault may occur and to create an environment where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

In 1990, the Clery Act was passed, requiring all colleges and universities to disclose crime statistics on campus to receive federal funding. According to the Clery Report provided by York College, there was one case of fondling reported in 2012, two cases of rape reported in 2013 and three rapes reported in 2014. All of these cases were reported as happening on campus in residential facilities.

A sexual assault forensic kit has many steps and can take anywhere from six to eight hours to complete, according to Tracy Hunter, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner nurse at WellSpan York Hospital.

Dating violence was reported on campus more often in 2013 and 2014, with three cases reported in 2013 and six reported in 2014. One of the dating violence reports happened in a residential facilities in 2013, while three occurred in residential facilities in 2014. Statistics are not available for 2012 because it was not reported separately before 2013.

The Clery Report numbers for 2015 at York College are not available yet.

No cases of sexual assault or dating violence were reported at Penn State York in the past three years.

On Us: "It's On Us PA" released a statement March 31 after Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine met with students, faculty and administrators at Bucks County Community College. In the statement, it noted "an estimated 12,875 students enrolled in Pennsylvania postsecondary institutions experienced sexual assault" in 2015. That's about one in five college women and one in 20 college men, the news release reads.

According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, there were 3,828 total rape offenses reported by Pennsylvania police agencies in 2014, the most recent data available. This comes to an average of 10 each day, or one every two hours and 7 minutes, according to the UCR.

"This is an increase of 1.1 percent from the 3,787 offenses reported the previous year," the report reads.

This is a lot lower than the estimated number of women and men on college campuses alone who experienced sexual assault. The "It's On Us PA" campaign said even though its number is strictly an estimate, it was made using 2014 Clery Act data from all Pennsylvania postsecondary institutions.

A note at the bottom of the campaign summary states, "The total number of reported on-campus, non-campus and public property incidents of sex offenses for 2014 was 515."

The Pennsylvania Department of Education said it conservatively estimated those 515 reports to campus officials and/or law enforcement represented 10 percent of sexual assault cases. The summary also states 60 percent of sex offenses take place off-campus, in property that would not meet standards for reporting to for the Clery Act, leading to the estimate of nearly 13,000.

"Importantly, this number is an estimate only, and may be conservative given that only 21.5 percent of PA postsecondary campuses reported any sex offenses in 2014," the note in the summary reads.

Reporting: If the logic behind the "It's On Us" report applies to all campuses equally, an estimated 75 of the 4,663 students enrolled at York College could have been sexually assaulted in 2014. However, Mary Dolheimer, assistant dean for the Office of Communications at York College, said this might not be true for the campus here in York.

"There is a discrepancy of the reports filed and how many occur," Dolheimer said. "You really don't know because of how people can report it or if they choose not to go forward with the report. Very often we have students who file a report and then don't follow up."

Dolheimer said a lot of survivors might be scared or embarrassed to come forward because of the situation and the stigma behind sexual assaults. These are stories someone might choose to go to a friend or loved one with rather than a mandatory reporter on campus.

Most faculty, staff and administrators at York College are mandatory reporters, meaning they have to go to campus safety with a report of sexual assault if a student or other faculty member tells them. This doesn't mean that charges will be filed, though, Dolheimer said. This only means an initial report is filed for the Clery Report.

Two types of staff members are not mandatory reporters. Certified licensed counselors and religious advisers are exempt from reporting an act of sexual assault, so students still have the option to remain anonymous while getting help from someone else.

Not every case of sexual assault is going to result in prosecution, according to Hunter. Some survivors choose not to go forward with charges or some sort of disciplinary action.

"There's about 18 different ways it could play out," she said. "It depends on what the survivor is comfortable with and the scenario for how it happened."

Hunter and Huggins both emphasized that it's about the safety and comfort of the survivor. They said they don't want to add any other pressure to someone who has already gone through something traumatic.

Getting help: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact your local law enforcement.

For victims and survivors or for more resources on how to talk to your friends about consent and sexual assault, visit or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at