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Self protection, reporting assaults essential in curbing sex crimes
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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time during which our nation takes notice of the long-standing problem society has had with sexual assaults. Women, men and children can all be victims of sexual assault. Sexual Assault Awareness Month aims to educate the public in effort to reduce the problem, encourage reporting to the police and provide prevention information.

Sexual assault is less of a sexual expression than one of violence and power over the victim. Perpetrators of these crimes often have deep-rooted psychological problems and may have been victims themselves of some form of sexual crime at an earlier age. Regardless of the causative factors, there is no excuse or justification for these behaviors. Most people who have the propensity to commit sexual violence are aware of it and should seek psychological care and counseling before they victimize others.

The U.S. Department of Justice published a report stating that some six out of 10 sexual assaults are committed in the victim's home, at a friend's home, at a relative's or a neighbor's, with about half of these offenses taking place with a victim between the age of 16 and 21 years old. And while males are also victimized, 91 percent of these assaults involve female victims.

Among the many problems associated with sexual assault crimes, many victims are hesitant to report the offense for various reasons, especially if the abuser is a family member or family friend. Other reasons include their belief that the "system" will do nothing about it, that they will be viewed as having done something to cause the attack, or that they will be dragged through a torturous criminal trial if the defendant is caught and arrested. In fact, the criminal justice system does present an unpleasant situation for the victims, as it involves time, defense attorneys can be cruel and destructive as they try to defend their clients, and there are other challenges as well. And it is exactly for the aforementioned reasons why victims should follow through on their cases to the fullest extent, thus bringing about justice and encouraging other victims to step forward to help stop these criminals.

As long as sexual assault victims remain reluctant to report these crimes, the attackers will continue to victimize and remain empowered. It does seem easy to implore victims to do these things, which can, in effect, add to the hardships caused by the attack alone. Law enforcement and the justice system understand the problem and do what is possible to minimize any further trauma. Some victims, however, find comfort and a sense of closure with successful prosecutions of their attackers.

Self-protection goes a long way towards eliminating the potential for sexual assaults. Self-defense training is beneficial, and women should actively screen "friends," acquaintances, and casual encounters to weed out predators who intend to victimize them or their loved ones. Those who victimize need to address their problems and understand that any form of unwelcome touching, feeling, grabbing, or beyond, is illegal and totally unacceptable in our society. The police stand ready to investigate these crimes and will do all that is possible to achieve justice. We also recognize that the vast majority of sexual assault allegations are valid, so we investigate accordingly.

The fact that this nation recognizes sexual assault as a major societal issue is a good start. Nevertheless, victimization statistics indicate that we have a long way to go. The criminal justice system is an important component of the solution, but education, awareness and prevention are the best antidotes.