April 4, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and I would like take this opportunity to speak with my constituents and all my readers about the national problem of sexual violence.  I understand this will be a sensitive topic hitting close to home for some members of my audience, and I will try to keep my as commentary as direct and respectful as the subject demands. 

Nearly a century after the Nineteenth Amendment attempted to claim the right to vote for every woman, sexual violence remains a major issue in the United States.  Every year over one million women are still forced to deal with the immense emotional trauma resulting from a rape or sexual assault. 

Studies have shown that one in five women will have been the victims of a rape at some point in their lives.  That statistic may seem shockingly high; I know that I find it deeply disturbing.  But this is no dated statistic left over from the bad old days of male chauvinism.  No this number came from a national survey completed in 2010, and it represents the difficulties we face moving forward on the protection of our women and girls. Shame on the nation that allows such tragedy!

Women often feel ashamed or deeply afraid when they face victimization.  Too often, women feel the need to stay silent.  Women can face feelings of guilt, confusion, and even sympathy for their victimizer, especially when the perpetrator happens to be an acquaintance or a once-trusted friend.  So many women don’t feel as if they have a space in which to discuss what has happened to them.  Often times, loved ones and close friends attempting to provide support feel nearly as confused and lost as the victim.

But we are not powerless before the pressing weight of violence done to our friends, neighbors, mothers, or sisters.  We can stand up and assert ourselves, refusing to crumble in the wake of destruction following a rape or molestation. 

We as a society can do much more in the area of sexual violence prevention.  For example, we can hire better prosecutors to ensure that all valid cases are pursued, and that all blatantly false accusations be dismissed.  After all, few occurrences worsen the public’s misperceptions of sexual violence like an irresponsible false accusation. 

Education is also crucial to this mission.  The SAAM motto for this year is, “It’s Time…To Talk About It,” and I could not have written with a better slogan myself. Frankly, if we are afraid, either as a community or as individuals, to address the very real problems faced by so many of our closest friends and family members, we will never be able to rise above the hurtful chaos of self-doubt and post-traumatic stress that results from sexual violence.  Worse, we will never establish a thoughtful dialogue in which all our young men may learn the respect for women most already display every day of their lives. 

We must above all things communicate with one another.  Talk to your children and your spouse about the very real nature of this problem.  Help create an environment in which your loved ones feel they can tell you anything.  None of us are alone in this endeavor.  We are a community here in Milwaukee, and by helping to bring this dialogue into our Churches and Schools, we can help foster understanding and positive.  Through community, even the most horrifying concerns come face to face with solutions.