Fox Valley sexual assault program sees increase after #MeToo movement

APPLETON, Wis. - April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and leaders with a program in the Fox Valley say they've seen more victims come forward after the nationwide #MeToo movement. 

The SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program is based at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton. The program is made up of registered nurses who have advanced training in medical forensic examination, as well as psychological and emotional trauma. The nurses work with law enforcement as well as other local agencies. They help victims develop a plan of care.

“They don't need to make any decision when they come to us. All we do is educate them and offer them options and we just want them to know they have these options available in their community. It’s not something they have to sit and live with in silence,” said Meghan Van Heertum, SANE program coordinator.

According to Van Heertum because of the #MeToo movement, their numbers have increased. The movement began when actress Alyssa Milano asked women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed to share their “Me Too” stories. 

Van Heertum says from October 2016 through January 2017 compared with October 2017 through January 2018, the number of people reaching out to the ThedaCare SANE program more than doubled. She adds the numbers are up 75 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. 

“Sexual assault is the most underreported crime. Less than 20 percent of victims report their crime so I don't necessarily know the numbers mean that it's happening more often, I think that it’s more, I'd like to think more people are seeking services and treatment for it,” said Van Heertum. 

ThedaCare expanded its SANE program last year to create a place of safety for victims of violence. The SANE suite is at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton. 

If you need care, or know someone who is a victim of sexual assault or abuse, contact the SANE program at 920.738.6300.

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