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Speak up to prevent sexual violence
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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), in recognition of a serious and continuing problem within our society. According to the U,S, Department of Justice, sexual assault in its many forms includes "any unwanted sexual contact, including rape, attempted rape, and child sexual abuse. It can affect people of any gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability."

To be clear, anytime someone touches another person without their consent in an inappropriate manner, whether it is over or under their clothing, it is considered sexual battery. This includes grabbing someone's buttocks, crotch, or breasts, intentionally rubbing against someone in a sexual manner, and the more obvious forms of unwanted sexual contact. If the victim is under the age of 14, it is child molestation and similar deviant behaviors include people who expose themselves with the intent of sexual arousal.

Rapists who await women in dark parking lots, enter homes to perpetrate their crimes or look for women to attack in random places are, indeed, a threat, but are far less common than assaults that take place in the social milieu. These acts of violence occur far less often than the sexual assaults where the victim knows the attacker. With proper awareness, some advance planning and training, the threat from these kinds of attacks can be greatly minimized.

Sexual violence statistics are staggering: one in six women and one in 33 men in the US has experienced a rape or attempted rape. Not all sexual assaults occur in a violent context. In fact, a large percentage of the assaults occur during dates, in the employment environment and in other settings where there is an atmosphere of trust between the involved parties. According to one study, for example, "84 percent of women who were raped knew their assailants." Fifty-seven percent of rapes occurred during dates. The majority of rapes occur in living quarters-60 percent in the victim's residence, 10 percent in a fraternity, 31 percent in other living quarters. Victimizations also take place in bars, night clubs and work settings.

Also, according to the same study, college women in a four-year program stand an approximate 20-25 percent chance of being assaulted during that time frame. These statistics reflect an attitude of disrespect, in some cases the perpetrators have mental problems and in general, our society has not evolved to a level of sophistication that would pre-empt such behavior. Again, in the study referred to, a whopping 50 percent of high school boys said that "there were times when it was acceptable for a male to hold a female down and physically force her to have sexual intercourse." Clearly, there must be an ongoing failure within our society that allows such a large percentage of school-aged males to believe that there are instances when rape is acceptable. To be clear, rape is never acceptable, it is a barbaric and dangerous act that leaves victims both mentally and physically injured. These behaviors are learned and we as a society must take steps to end this preventable violence.

Date rape is frequently carried out with alcohol or drugs as a facilitating agent. Many of the victims are incapable of making sound decisions, as are the rapists, when alcohol or drugs are involved. Many different drugs are used on potential rape victims. Rohypnol is used by unscrupulous persons who will drop the drug into a victim's drink. The drug affects a person's normal inhibitions, may cause them to black out and affects the victim's memory after a rape event. Alcohol is the most common intoxicant used, whether the intent to rape exists or not. A person who is intoxicated to the point of losing their ability to reason, and especially when they enter altered levels of consciousness (or if they become unconscious), a person wishing to have sex with them should assume that consent cannot be given, and the act therefore becomes rape - a felony that will surely fetch a harsh penalty when prosecuted.

Sexual assaults arising out of social interactions require much attention, especially in bar room settings and at parties where there is a measure of anonymity. Women, in particular, have the burden of needing to be cautious and alert to possible physical harm, owing to the predatory nature of some males who actually believe that rape is acceptable.

This year's SAAM campaign is, "It's time ... to get involved," which encourages people to speak up to prevent sexual violence, especially if you are a bystander who is unsure of what do to or afraid to speak up.