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Echo Press editorial: Facing the facts of sexual assault

Understanding a problem — facing up to the reality of it — can be the first step toward conquering it.

Such is the case with sexual assault. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an opportune time to learn more about the issue, realize just how pervasive it is, and deal with the problem head on.

Someplace Safe, which has a location in Alexandria, provides eye-opening context about sexual assaults:

• Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

• One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

• One in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

• In the past year, Someplace Safe, which serves a nine-county area in West Central Minnesota, helped nearly 350 adults and child victims of sexual violence, exploitation or sex trafficking.

It's clear that this is a widespread danger that shouldn't be swept under the rug or shamed into a dark corner, out of sight, out of mind. Confronting the issue should not only involve victim advocacy groups but entire communities, the state, the nation, the world.

So what can be done? How can sexual violence be prevented?

Someplace Safe advocates say that changing the "norms" that foster a sexually violent culture is one way. "Changing the culture is possible when we work together, engage new voices, and rally allies," Someplace Safe noted in its spring newsletter.

How can you help? According to Someplace Safe, residents can create change in their community by making these small changes in their life and inspiring others to do the same:

• Building healthy and supportive relationships.

• Speaking up when you hear harmful comments.

• Creating supportive policies in workplaces/schools.

• Spreading the word on social media.

Another way to get involved: Contact your legislator and let them know that crime victim services and the continued funding of these services are critical for victims of abuse and crime.

Also, support local survivors of sexual violence by joining an awareness event or fundraiser. One opportunity is Denim Day on Wednesday, April 26. Wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol against the misconceptions about sexual violence. Anyone can participant just by wearing their jeans to work, school or wherever you go that day. People can also collect "Dollars for Denim" and bring the proceeds to their local Someplace Safe Office. Fundraising packets are available at the office or by emailing newsletter@someplacesafe.info.

If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault or another crime, call the Someplace Safe office in Alexandria at (320) 762-1995. For additional information and resources for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, visit www.nsvrc.org.

If statistics aren't enough to change people's attitudes about sexaul assault, perhaps these words from a survivor in Someplace Safe's Safe Harbor program will:

"Just because I'm a sexual assault victim, I'm not an object. I'm not easy. I'm not something you can make fun of. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean you can degrade me, doesn't mean you can take advantage. I'm not being rude when I say 'no.' I have my own rights."

• • •

Echo Press editorials represent the opinion of the Echo Press Editorial Board, which includes Jeff Beach, Editor; Jody Hanson, Publisher; and Al Edenloff, News/Opinion Editor.

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