April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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Written by Niema Broadnax

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Sexual violence is the use of sexual actions and words that are unwanted by and/or harmful to another person. According to the MN Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA), nearly 1 in 5 women (almost 22 million women) have been raped in their lifetimes and 1 in 71 men (almost 1.6 million men) have been raped during their lives. Approximately 30 percent of female victims were first raped between the ages of 11-17 years old and 28 percent of male victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger. Here in Minnesota, by the time girls graduate from high school, 12 percent report a date-related sexual assault. By the time they finish college, 29 percent have been sexually assaulted and by mid-life, 33 percent of Minnesota women have experienced a rape crime.

The Minneapolis Sex Crimes Unit investigates cases involving adult and most juvenile suspects for the crimes of sexual assault, non-familial child molestation, indecent exposure, luring and stalking cases other than domestic related. The unit also maintains a database file on registered sex offenders.

In 1991 the Minnesota Legislature enacted the first version of Minnesota’s Registration law and established the Sex Offender Registration Unit at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA)  (por.state.mn.org). In 1993 Congress enacted the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, which requires all states to implement a sex offender registry. This law is named after Jacob Wetterling who was abducted and killed in 1989, in St. Joseph Minnesota.

Minnesota is ranked # 12 for having 16,111 registered sex offenders, and according to the Star Tribune, it costs Minnesota taxpayers more than $120,000 per year to confine each of the 715 sex offenders currently incarcerated. Overall sexual violence costs Minnesota almost $8 billion dollars annually.

Currently, out of the sex offenders we know about, there are 13 registered sex offenders living in our 55412 zip code area according to the Public Registrant search at coms.doc.state.mn.us. Approximately half of these offenders were unknown – verses- known to their victims.

As a parent, this tells me that we have to watch out for the children in our neighborhoods. The stranger danger is very real and although we can sign up for community notifications at minneapolismn.gov, this does not give us a full perspective of predators in our community.

As an advocate, I have seen many reasons for concern and conversations: Unknown predators that were convicted of sex crimes prior to the reporting act; on the registration the BCA used to identify if sex offenders were in compliance with the current location of their whereabouts and now it’s not stated and offenders can easily change locations after confinement; community notification, in my opinion is negligent in disbursing hard copy notices and safety education; community programs that work with children, from my experience, neglect to train their staff on the profiles of sex offenders (for example, profiles that state “offender approaches children in public places, using a ruse to isolate them to a separate area”); and according to M.S.243.166 there are no provisions which prohibit registered offenders from having contact with minors.

Restricting contact with minors is usually a condition of probation or parole; after those conditions are met the restrictions are no longer effective. Even when there are restrictions, sex offenders have a right to utilize parks, libraries, community events/programs and churches. In the eye opening words of retired U.S. House of Representative Mark Foley, “In this country, we track library books better than we do sex offenders.”

Support for survivors of sexual assault in the Camden area can be found at the Sexual Violence Center, 3757 Fremont Ave. Info: 24-hour crisis line at 612-871-5111, sexualviolencecenter.org or the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1800-656-HOPE.