More than 52,000 sexual assault cases treated in Ontario hospitals during 15-year period
Approximately 3,500 survivors of sexual assault are treated in Ontario hospitals each year, according to a new study led by researchers at ICES, The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa. The researchers used a broad set of codes to help identify sexual assault cases that may have otherwise been missed when counting cases treated in Ontario hospitals.
The study published today in the American Journal of Public Health, examined sexual assault cases treated in Ontario hospitals from 2002 to 2016. The researchers used five different health care databases housed at ICES and a combination of ICD-10 and OHIP billing codes used to document sexual assault in patient charts, including details on injuries, examinations, and factors that are suspicious of childhood sexual assault, like sexually transmitted infections in young children.
“By combining several codes, we were able to identify thousands of cases that would have been missed by standard documentation. The results show that even the most commonly used code, when examined independently, only captured 30 per cent of cases,” says Dr. Katherine Muldoon, lead author on the study, fellow at ICES and senior research associate at The Ottawa Hospital. “Our findings show that sexual assault is a pervasive problem. It was documented across all age groups and sexes and continued funding for prevention and care is critical.”
The researchers assert that accurate documentation of the burden of sexual violence is a prerequisite for better allocation of health resources and services for survivors. It is a public health imperative to have a strong system in place to document and monitor the prevalence of patterns of sexual assault in the population.
The study found approximately 90 per cent of sexual assault cases treated in Ontario hospitals were among females, with the highest rates observed between the ages of 15 to 19 years (187 per 100,000). The researchers identified more than 7,000 cases of sexual assault among males, with the highest rates seen in male children 0 to 4 years (41 per 100,000) and 5 to 9 years (29 per 100,000).
“Boys and men are often overlooked in violence prevention and care programs and there is very little known about sexual assault in this population,” says Muldoon.
The researchers add that sexual assault is often a stigmatizing experience that has historically been under-reported and under-estimated. “It’s important to highlight that we identified only those cases that are documented in hospital. The majority of sexual assault survivors never access care in the hospital setting,” says Muldoon.
Author block: Katherine A. Muldoon, Glenys Smith, Robert Talarico, Melissa Heimerl, Cheynne McLean, Kari Sampsel and Douglas G. Manuel.
The study “A 15-year population-based investigation of sexual assault cases across the province of Ontario, Canada, 2002-2016,” is published in the July 18th issue of American Journal of Public Health.
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