The issue: Sexual violence is becoming a topic more people are talking about.

Local impact: Local resources are available for those who are looking for help.

“Me too.”

These two words when put together in recent months have opened up a dialogue many have argued has been closed for far too long. That phrase is being used by women across the world who are calling out those who have sexually assaulted them and are fighting back to regain a sense of control.

For generations the topic of sexual assault has been kept under wraps just because it is a topic no one wants to talk about, but for the victims simply knowing there are people who will listen provides them with the courage to speak up – some for the first time in their lives after years of perpetrated violence.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the theme for 2018 is “Embrace Your Voice.”

“Every victim of sexual violence must be believed, supported and heard,” states an official proclamation signed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

So, what is sexual assault?

According to Caroline Palmer, public and legal affairs manager for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA), sexual violence is “any sexual activity in which a person is forced, coerced or manipulated without her/his consent.”

That, added Palmer, can include rape, assault, child sexual abuse, prostitution, sexual exploitation, stalking and harassment. While any act that meets the definition of sexual violence in Minnesota is a criminal activity, the legal name for that crime is different.

In Minnesota it is called criminal sexual conduct, and there are five different levels, or degrees, of criminal sexual conduct that vary based on the seriousness of the crime as well as the age of the victim involved.

MNCASA is one of a number of organizations in Minnesota that is dedicated to providing resources and education regarding sexual violence, as well as serving as an advocate for victims helping them to speak out about what has happened to them.

“It can still be very difficult to report sexual assault for a variety of reasons – fear of not being believed by the justice system and the public, feelings of shame and embarrassment, fear of the perpetrator, concern about getting in trouble for engaging in illegal activity at the time of the assault (i.e. underage drinking, drug use, engaging in prostitution),” said Palmer.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in six women and one in 33 men reported experiencing sexual violence in the form of rape at some time in their lives. In Minnesota, there are, on average, 60,000 plus children and adults who experience sexual violence each year, reports the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Minnesota Center on Health Statistics conducts what is known as the Minnesota Student Survey every three years, which it has been doing since 1989, asking students in Grades 5, 8, 9 and 11 a variety of questions.

According to its data, by the time they graduate one in four girls reported they have been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.

The Minnesota Department of Safety crime survey indicates that 33 percent of women have experienced some form of rape crime in their lives.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that approximately 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police, which means two-thirds of the sexual assaults taking place in the United States go unreported each year.

According to Palmer, one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the United States is happening to Native American women and girls, adding that is also the case in Minnesota.

In his proclamation, Dayton recognizes that fact, as well.

“Minnesota’s Native American populations are among the communities most heavily affected by sexual violence,” states the proclamation.

Palmer said MNCASA is extensively engaged at the state and federal level in legislation, adding it is closely watching the progress of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Palmer encouraged others to talk with their legislators at the state and federal level as well to ensure the issues related to sexual violence remain at the top of their agenda. She added it is also important for the public to show its support for victims of sexual violence, because they are in all of our lives.

The CDC has offered a variety of fact sheets that offer information and guidance related to a number of issues surrounding sexual violence. One can find them on the CDC Web site at www.cdc.org.

On a local level, there are various organizations and entities that are focused on helping victims of sexual violence. One such entity is the New Horizons Crisis Center, which has an office in Redwood Falls. Desiree Otto is serving as the program coordinator, which is a role she began this past October.

Otto said she was working in the healthcare industry, and as time went on she was seeing less of her time was spent actually interacting with people in need of care. So, she opted to make a career move, and she has found the work she is doing through New Horizons to be very rewarding, because she knows the efforts being made are making a difference in people’s lives.

Whether Otto is advocating for an individual who needs assistance in filing a restraining order or she is educating eighth graders on healthy relationships, the bottom line is that her time is dedicated to helping people who have been harmed and to prevent it from happening in the future. The reality is that sexual violence is happening in the community.

Otto said when she first started her role as coordinator for Redwood County she met with local healthcare staff to talk about the prevalence of sexual violence locally. She was told that there are approximately three to four rape kits done annually in the area. However, in the few months she has served that number has already been surpassed.

To find out more about what New Horizons can do for you, contact Otto at (507) 637-5570, or stop by the office on Second Street in the basement of Redwood Alliance Church. Otto said typically she is in the office Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

To learn more one can also visit the New Horizons Crisis Center Web site at www.newhorizonscrisiscenter.org. Otto said there is a 24-hour crisis line that is available seven days a week. Call (800) 881-7493 for help any time of the day.

While the emotional and mental impact of sexual violence is dramatic, the National Sexual Violence Resources Center has put the issue in an economic perspective.

According to its statistics about sexual violence, annually rape costs the United States more than any other crime ($127 billion each year), and each rape costs approximately $151,423 over the lifetime of the victim. While many would argue the bigger concern is false reporting,

Palmer stated the issue of false reporting is one of the most significant myths that has to be overcome. Research has shown a 2 percent rate of false reports.

The impact of an incident of sexual violence can be devastating, but, according to MNCASA, help, information and reassurance can aid a victim/survivor to heal.

Naturally, it takes time for that process to unfold, and no two victims will have the same experience. What is important is for those who are victims to admit they are changed because of the experience, but then to believe that it won’t defeat them.

Learn more about sexual violence on the MNCASA Web site at www.mncasa.org.

Ways to prevent sexual violence

• If you see something, say something

• Boycott media that depicts sexual violence

• Be a caring adult in the lives of family, friends and neighbors

• If you think someone you know may be a victim, gently ask if you can help

• Contact your local sexual assault advocacy program to see how you can help them in their efforts

• Talk with your state and federal representatives, and be aware of legislation that is being debated

• Refuse to tell or laugh at jokes that are sexist and speak up when you hear

Understanding the difference

• Consent: Words or actions by a person indicating a freely given and present agreement to perform a particular act at the time it is performed

• Force: The threat of bodily harm which causes the individual to reasonably believe that the threat could be carried out, or the infliction of bodily harm is real, causing the individual to submit to an unwanted behavior.

• Coercion: Words or circumstances that cause an individual to fear that the other will inflict bodily harm, or will confine the individual; the use of physical strength or size which causes the person to submit to an unwanted act – Courtesy of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

– Courtesy of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Image courtesy of the Internet Public Domain