Hart Beat

Sexual assault must be brought out into the open

This topic is not one I find easy to discuss. I don't believe anyone, even those who deal with it on a daily basis, is comfortable with casually discussing the devastation of sexual assault.

In order for the evil that is sexual assault, or rape as it is more commonly known, to end it must be brought out into the open. It won't go away because we wish it so. It is topic which can't remain behind closed doors.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and during the week of April 11-15, Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services staff will be inviting community members to join them at the Mid Valley Mall to create a mural of what healthy relationships look like.

What is scary to me and is a reality for many is that few people know what a healthy relationship looks like. There are so many broken people in our community. So many people who have been victims of all manner of sexually assault.

How can we hope to know what healthy relationships looks like if all we've ever known is violence in our homes, verbal abuse, physical abuse, pain and humiliation?

Trying to figure out the theme of this month's awareness effort, "One State of Mind Can End Sexual Violence," is a tough concept for me. It's tough to understand when one of four women I know has been sexually abused. It's tough to understand when one out of every seven men I know has been sexually assaulted. They don't talk about it and I can't ask.

I ought to be in a unique position to discuss it. After all, I serve as a board director for Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services, a cause I have supported for most of my 30 years in journalism. I've written stories about date rape, supported and even underwent advocate training. I've urged people to support crisis center fund-raisers and even written about the experiences of child abuse victims.

I know firsthand that thinking or writing about sexual assault is never easy, even though, and perhaps particularly because it is a topic which damages so many people.

As Jan Walh, a counselor at the Sunnyside-based agency, tells me, it's an issue which remains pressing. Unfortunately, the number of sexual assault victims just keeps growing.

A recent survey conducted by the Washington State Office of Crime Victims Advocacy found that one-third of all women in the state have experienced some form of sexual assault.

It's sad. It's disheartening and most of the confusion continues to center on the totally false notion that the victim is at fault. They bring it on themselves, according to the myths surrounding sexual assault crimes.

When someone says it's the victim's fault, I want to ask how can a college girl, like the beautiful Katie Koestner, who spoke to Sunnyside students recently, who told her boyfriend "no" 12 times but was still raped, be at fault? Is it because that most think like her boyfriend, who felt that because she didn't say "no" a 13th time, she must have wanted sex?

Tell me how it can be the victim's fault when a drunk father crawls into bed with his 10-year-old daughter and violates her? Who's at fault there?

I could spent hours regaling you with the statistics surrounding sexual assault.

I could tell you that in the amount of time it takes you to read this article, a rape is occurring in our community.

I can alarm you by telling you that 95 percent of the time, the rapist is never caught.

Worse, I can tell you that 35 percent of all sexual assaults occur within the family and most rapes occur at home. National figures reveal that incest occurs in 14 percent of all families.

The statistics and the facts are endless. But those are just numbers.

Even as you sit with this paper in your hand, if you think hard, you'll realize that you know someone whose life has been damaged by this form of violence.

It's more deadly than murder. The victim doesn't die. He or she has to live with the reminder of the violence, eating at his or her insides killing from within, especially in those cases where the subject is never discussed.

So, if one mind is made up to stop committing sexual violence, if one person says no more rape, then maybe the one mind will be convinced to end sexual violence.

And maybe that is what this month's theme means.


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