MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Government health experts say one in six women and one in 33 men are victims of sexual assault. And those are the ones who report the attack.

Collecting evidence, especially DNA, is critical to a police investigation. Victims’ clothes are often taken as part of that collection, leaving them with nothing other than scrubs to go home in. A group of women is committed to restoring the dignity of victims.

“We wish we didn’t have to do this, but we also know it helps,” Assistance League Assault Survivor Kits Chair Dee Dee Preiss said.

The Assistance League of Minneapolis/St. Paul began packing Assault Survivor Kits in 1992.

“They’re taking sweatpants, putting a t-shirt inside, rolling it up, adding underwear and socks, and then we also put in a kit of toiletries, hygiene items — bag them, box them together,” Annette Anderson, the Assistance League’s president, said.

The effort to provide clothing to victims after a sexual assault is the main focus of the non-profit volunteer organization, which has an all-female membership.

“We are always amazed and saddened at quantity of clothes we do two times a year,” Preiss said.

The statistics are staggering. Roughly 61,000 people in Minnesota are a victim of a sexual assault each year. The most recent numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health show more than 1,500 sexual violence victims received hospital care.

“Here at Hennepin, we see roughly half of those patients,” Kristi Jarvis, an RN, said.

Jarvis is the Program Coordinator for the HCMC Sexual Assault Resource Service, which serves victims at 13 hospitals. She is also a SANE, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. She has specialized training to collect evidence critical to a case, like DNA.

Jarvis said most patients arrive at the hospital wearing the clothes they were assaulted in. SANEs ask them to leave the outfit to be tested for evidence.

“So they’ve already had their choice, their decision, sort of taken away from them when they were sexually assaulted,” Jarvis said. “For us to not only collect their clothing, but then send them home in paper scrubs, it just seems a little demeaning to me.”

The assault survivor kits offer victims an alternate outfit to wear home.

“It gives them a little bit of their dignity back,” Jarvis said. “It makes them feel like they’ve been taken care of as well.”

The women who pack the kits for a crisis yet to happen hope it offers comfort, and helps begin the healing process for the victim.

“It’s important we’re able to make a difference to women who are in a crisis situation,” Anderson said.

The Assistance League kits are distributed to 127 hospitals state-wide with the help of the Minnesota Hospital Association. Most are made for women, but they have started putting together kits for men, and they’ve been told there is a need for kits for children.

Volunteers from the group man a thrift shop to raise money for them, and they also take donations.

Since 1992, they’ve made more than 33,000 kits. Click here for information on the Assistance League and where you can donate.

There are several resources for victims. Here are a few:

Advocacy Agencies

Sexual Offense Services (SOS – Ramsey County)
Sexual Violence Center (SVC – Hennepin County)
Aurora Center (U of MN)
360 Communities (Dakota County)
Hope Center (Rice County)
Canvas Health (Washington County)
Alexandra House (Anoka County)

General Sites for information related to sexual assault and resources throughout Minnesota
Rape Help Minnesota
Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

General Sexual Assault Websites
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

 

Jennifer Mayerle

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