Uniting to end sexual assault

On the Saturday before the annual State of the Union address, President Barack Obama avoided divisive chatter and concentrated on a nonpartisan abomination, the menace of sexual assault.

“Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity,” the president said. “And it’s about all of us — the safety of those we love most: our moms, our wives, our daughters and our sons.”

For generations, just like domestic violence, sexual assault was the great unspoken. There was a cultural and religious element, a consent based on patriarchal entitlement, even an it’s-the-girl’s fault social nod. Today, nonprofits, law enforcement, the health care community and government work in concert to curtail sexual violence.

Remedies center on education for families, victims and teachers. But properly trained police also play an essential role.

“We’ll keep strengthening our criminal justice system, so police and prosecutors have the tools and training to prevent these crimes and bring perpetrators to justice,” Obama said. “We’ll keep reaching out to survivors, to make sure they’re getting all the support they need to heal. We’re going to keep combating sexual assault in our armed forces, because when a member of our military is attacked by the very people he or she trusts and serves with, that’s an injustice that no one who volunteers to protect our nation should ever endure.”

The White House Council on Women and Girls just released a report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” that underscores the scope of the problem. The data are sobering, especially for parents with college-age children (20 percent of women are sexually assaulted at college, Obama noted.)

Ninety-eight percent of perpetrators are men, although men and boys are still at risk: The report notes that 1.6 million men have been raped during their lives. Vulnerable populations include people with disabilities, the homeless, prisoners (of both genders) and women of color.

In response, the president is establishing the “White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault” to address one aspect of the crisis. But ultimately the solution rests with each of us.

“We’ve got to teach young people — men and women — to be brave enough to stand up and help put an end to these crimes,” Obama said.

In Snohomish County, services include the Providence Sexual Assault Center at 425-252-4800 and Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County at 425-25-ABUSE(425-252-2873.) Don’t be silent.

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