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Column: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The issues of sexual assault and harassment have never been more in our nation’s focus.

The #MeToo movement has swept the country, showing just how far the problem has spread. Across the United States, actors, politicians, musicians, and others have either come forward as victims or been exposed as perpetrators.

Powerful men like Harvey Weinstein have been fired, and others, like Minnesota’s own Al Franken, have resigned. It seemed that each passing week, more and more prominent men faced allegations ranging from inappropriate behavior to rape.

Empowering survivors

Although the noise generated by the movement has diminished somewhat since its peak, we must not allow the other news stories and issues to overshadow the importance of empowering survivors. April is the perfect time to recommit ourselves to ending the pandemic of sexual harassment and assault.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “Embrace Your Voice.” This theme encourages survivors of sexual assault to speak out.

However, equally important is what the rest of us do with our voices. When survivors share their story with friends and family, our response is extremely significant.

Survivors who are believed, supported and respected have a clear path toward recovery, being empowered to take back those aspects of their life which have been taken away. Survivors whose loved ones question, blame, and criticize may end up spiraling into self-doubt, shame, and fear.

Acknowledge pain

It’s imperative that those of us who know someone struggling with the aftermath of an assault offer our support. We need to believe those who come forward, acknowledge their pain from a posture of solidarity, and not blame the victim for the perpetrator’s actions.

The #MeToo movement is an undertaking of solidarity and action, in which thousands of women and men have come forward to identify themselves as someone who has experienced sexual violence and harassment.

The purpose is not to discredit certain powerful men, but rather to empower victims and give them the courage to share their stories.

Recently, some people have asked if the movement has gone too far, whether “less serious” allegations merit terminating someone’s employment. We must acknowledge the fact that offenses with different severity carry commensurate weight.

Each case should be dealt with on its own merit, but no case should neglect to consider the impact the offense has upon the victim.

Sexual assault is everywhere

National media has focused on specific men, but we cannot forget that for every Weinstein, there are hundreds more ordinary people doing equally awful things.

Sexual assault is everywhere: college campuses, homes, parties, churches and schools. Yet when survivors come forward, they are often met with doubt, ridicule, or even an unwillingness to accept their accounts. The perception is that false reporting is common with rapes and assaults.

However, according to rapevictimadvocates.org citing a published study, only 2 percent to 8 percent of rapes are falsely reported, a rate consistent with or lower than other general crimes. People simply are not lying about their experience. Sharing stories of sexual assault can be painful and traumatic. Let’s be people of empathy and stand with survivors rather than questioning their motives for coming forward.

In conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in observing Denim Day. On April 25, we are invited to wear as much denim as possible to stand together to say that there is no excuse for sexual assault. Go to denimdayinfo.org for more information. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, please call the Southwest Crisis Center at (507) 376-4611 or go to mnswcc.org to find out more. We believe and empower survivors through supportive services and advocacy.

David Ewert works in the counties of Cottonwood and Jackson as an advocate with the Southwest Crisis Center, a nonprofit organization which serves victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking in southwest Minnesota.

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