May 02, 2007 11:00 pm

Somewhere in the United States a woman is sexually assaulted an estimated every two and a half minutes. There is no boundary for who might be raped. Almost 18 percent, or 17.7 million women, in the United States have been victims of rape or attempted rape sometime in their lives. One in six adult women living in Oregon have been victims of forcible rape at some point in their lives. Of the estimated 1.3 million adult women living in the state, about 230,000 have been raped at least once in their lifetime.

One in 10 men have also been victims of sexual assault. According to 2005 statistics, more 34,000 males over the age of 12 reported being the victim of rape or sexual assault. Incidence of forcible rape increased by

4 percent in 2002.

In that same year, cities of less than 10,000 people had a 7.1 percent increase in rape. Rape and sexual assault are approaching epidemic levels in our state and country alike.

In Union County a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) exists offering female and male victims of sexual assault their choice of free services, including victim advocacy, medical attention, forensic evidence collection and reporting options. The Union County SART would like to introduce the team and the services they are able to offer victims of sexual assault within our community.

Many people may be unaware or unclear about exactly what SART is, who is involved and how it can be activated.

In 2004 SART was fully established in Union County. The team served one victim that first year — last year, the team served 15 victims.

The team is composed of trained sexual assault advocates, registered nurses with specialized training, known as SANE's (sexual assault nurse examiners), and, when the victim chooses their involvement, law enforcement and Victim's Assistance through the office of the district attorney.

In a collaborative effort, the team works together to provide victims with advocacy and competent care to assist them through the complex and frightening aftermath of a sexual assault.

One of the primary objectives of the program is to reduce the trauma victims experience by providing individual and institutional advocacy assuring victims will receive quality and comprehensive services.

The team works within the philosophy that all services are "victim-centered" — this means the victim determines which services to accept and whether or not to report the assault to law enforcement. The team can be activated 24 hours a day and provide services to victims 15 years of age and older.

With a team approach, the victim has access to a wide variety of information and a network of services. Some of the medical services offered are forensic medical exams, where the victim is assessed for any injuries, and evidence can be collected at the victim's discretion. STD (sexually transmitted disease) medications and emergency contraception can be administered by the nurse examiner.

Advocacy team members are there to provide the victim with general support, reporting options, access to counseling and referrals.

Law enforcement is fully available, but only at the victim's request. If reporting is chosen, the law enforcement agent can aid in the legal process by investigating the sexual assault and preparing a report for the prosecuting attorney.

Again, the victim chooses which services he/she wishes to receive.

Union County SART is facilitated through Shelter From the Storm. To activate SART, call the Shelter From the Storm 24-Hour Hotline at 963-9261 or dial 911.

And please, pass the word — victims have support at whichever level they are comfortable with.

Chris Martin is a trained sexual assault advocate. She works with Union County's Shelter From the Storm, providing comprehensive service to female and male victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence.