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EDITORIAL: It's important to share stories of sex abuse

Missy Erickson's allegations of sexual abuse as a teenager came as a shock to the Alexandria community.

But what should not be shocking is that it took her years to come forward with her story. It shows how incredibly difficult it is for victims to fully realize the trauma they experienced and then have the courage to share what happened with others.

Sexual abuse is not initially reported for a variety of reasons, including the fear of not being believed and the fear of retribution by the abuser.

Erickson, who gained notoriety as a top-level U.S. cyclist after growing up in Alexandria, detailed her allegations in a first person account for www.bycling.com and with the online news outlet HuffingtonPost.com, with a blogger who had written about her comeback from a devastating injury.

Unfortunately, the kind of abuse she described is not uncommon.

According to statistics compiled by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network:

• Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

• Every 8 minutes, that victim is a child.

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

• Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

There is some good news on the sexual abuse front.

• According to RAINN, the rate of sexual assault and rape has fallen 63 percent since 1993, from a rate of 4.3 assaults per 1,000 people in 1993, to 1.6 per 1,000 in 2015.

• There is less of a stigma and more support for people who report being the victim of abuse as more people become willing to share their stories.

• Laws have been changed in Minnesota to extend the time period for prosecuting sex abuse cases.

But the cases still must be reported to be prosecuted.

According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to the police.

Combatting sexual abuse takes courage by the victims, support from their family and community, and patience and understanding for a justice system that will never be perfect and can be a painfully slow process.

Prosecuting a sexual abuse suspect can be traumatic for the accuser and is rarely a slam dunk win for the prosecution.

But the earlier a case is reported, especially if DNA evidence can be collected, the more likely it is that a case can be successfully prosecuted.

For all sexual abuse victims out there, we hope you have the courage to come forward, as quickly as possible.

In Douglas County, support is available for sexual assault victims through the Someplace Safe Douglas Advocacy Office at 700 Cedar Street, Suite 237, in Alexandria, or information is available online at www.someplacesafe.info/ or call 1-800-974-3359.

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