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April is 'Sexual Assault Awareness Month'
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Sexual assaults, particularly the ones that do not rise to the level of rape or attempted rape, are far too common in today's society. Statistics generated within the criminal justice system do not necessarily reflect the magnitude of the problem, but the mental health community and other organizations that provide assistance and support to persons who have been victimized are quite aware of what really goes on. These behaviors, no matter how seemingly prevalent or acceptable in some segments of our population, are totally unacceptable and must be stopped. It appears to me that society is becoming desensitized to this issue, perhaps because of popular culture and the commercialization of sex. We all need to be aware of the toll sexual assault takes on victims and take an active stance against it in our communities.

According to the U.s. Department of Justice, the definition of "sexual assault" includes a wide range of offender behaviors. Rapes and attempted rapes fall within their own categories and are the most recognized as obvious criminal acts. Sexual assaults, however, are in a category of their own and include a wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Assaults of this nature can also include verbal threats to qualify for criminal prosecution.

The sexual assault victimization studies suggest that a significant number, at least 13 percent, of adult women have either been raped or were subjected to attempted rape. At the same time, sexual assaults are among the most underreported crimes for a myriad of reasons, so any published statistic is certain to under represent the actual occurrences. Sexual assault victims are often afraid to report these crimes because of assumed criticism, feeling that they somehow invited or deserved the attack, that they dressed provocatively or that they did not do enough to thwart the attack. Victims tend to feel stigmatized so they avoid revealing anything about what happened to them. They end up living with awful memories, guilt and shame, which is how the victimization of the original crime continues on even years after the attack.

Of course, sexual assault is not only limited to women as victims, but statistically, male victims suffer many fewer assaults of this nature. Regardless, both sexes are prone to lasting psychological damage which, if not dealt with through counseling and therapy, can marginalize their lives, affect their productivity and generally lead to social dysfunction.

To be sure, sexual assaults are a significant problem in our society. And unfortunately, the resources that have existed to provide care for sexual assault victims, the private ones like women's help centers in particular, are suffering from dwindling revenues as a result of the faltering economy of this nation. They need the public's support to continue to provide services at the necessary levels, and at the same time, there needs to be increased public awareness of the problem. Persons with a proclivity towards sexual assault need to seek help to get their problems under control and thereby reduce the likelihood of their committing sexual assault crimes. Help for victims of sexual assault and other crimes can be found at the Family Justice Center, located at 1625 "I" Street in Modesto. They partner with agencies throughout the county to bring much-needed assistance to people in our community and be reached by calling 525-5130.

A recent White House proclamation reads: "During National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, we rededicate ourselves to breaking the cycle of violence that threatens lives, erodes communities, and weakens our country. As we reflect on the progress we have made and the distance we have yet to go, let us recommit to empowering survivors and fighting for a safer future for every American."