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it’s hard to talk about. it’s important to give it a voice

October 18, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

It's Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

There are teal ribbons and balloon releases, denim days and carnivals.

Our newsroom is going to dive into statistics and possible reasons and ways the community can help in a short series to run later this month.

There are lots of arguments:?is it about how we raise our sons??Is it about the sexual revolution of 50 years ago??Is it about more openness in society about sex??

There were plenty of sexual assaults years ago, but survivors were silent, so we thought they didn't exist.

Women are given mixed messages of abstaining from sex outside marriage but not being prudish if someone desires her.

I?don't pretend to know how it works with people who are LBGTQ.

I get it. It's hard to talk about sex in public. It's hard to believe that a person we raised could get enmeshed in something so dark. So painful.

What survivors are telling us is this:?it takes time, a long time to heal from sexual violence.

Self worth, being in control, feelings of safety and security, believing that you deserve good things, ability to be in a positive relationship -- all those things are taken away by a sexual assault.

Experts don't know what goes through a person's head who commits an assault. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, there are common misconceptions and stereotypes of people who commit sexual violence.

Not all offenders are the same. There are different motivations for offending. They can be male or female and span a variety of backgrounds and ages. Some individuals are married with stable relationships, employment and a lack of prior criminal history.

Often it is committed by someone the survivor knows - a family member, partner (or ex-partner), coworker, classmate or acquaintance.

Our newsroom was approached by a survivor earlier in the week. She is from here, and was very open about her story of healing over a number of years since she was assaulted.

She has a goal of empowering other survivors to come forward, if not to the public, then to a counselor or other person who can help, because denying it, pretending it didn't happen, doesn't work, she said.

Why would someone hide something so important??

People joke about rape.

Because there are some reports of sexual assault that turn out to be in question, all survivors seem to be in question.

Because defense attorneys, doing their jobs, put a survivor through questions about everything in their lives just to sow the seeds of doubt.

Because it's scary to see yourself as one person before the assault happened, and have doubts about who you are afterward.

Because some people confuse sexual assault with sex, and talk about a survivor as though they did something wrong.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a movement to end sexual violence.

How fitting that the 2017 SAAM?campaign is Engaging New Voices. The focus is on involving coaches, faith leaders, parents, college leaders and bystanders with preenting sexual assault.

I?think most of us know about sexual assault and believe it is a problem, but it's hard to know how to help.

Because of confidentiality regulations that keep the identity of a person who has experienced sexual assault private, we don't know who the survivors are unless they come forward. This makes it difficult to be at all helpful on a personal level.

This year's poster says, "Use your voice to change the culture."?

We can tell others that jokes about sexual assault are not acceptable.

We can have a culture of respect in our homes and workplaces. We can steer a conversation if it's going to a place of pushing something non-consensual.

We can believe those who report a sexual assault, tell them sexual assault is not their fault.

Maybe we see a social media comment like, "What did she expect?"

A culture-changing reply might be, "Sexual assault is never the victim's fault."??

To all the survivors:?you're not alone, it's not your fault, and as a community we want sexual violence to stop.



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