Sunday, April 15, 2012

Letter to a Home Town - April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

This is the 'Letter' that was published in last week's Gouverneur Tribune Press. Sometimes I write about serious stuff... 

Last week’s headline overshadowing my designated corner of page 4 read in bold font “Sex... It’s time to write about it!” I am taking it as a sign. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
It went through my mind several times that this could be the subject of my next column. I shied away from it. It is too personal. It is too political. It is potentially inflammatory. It isn’t dinner table conversation.  But we should be talking about it. We should be admitting it happens. We should be taking steps to prevent it. We should be actively creating a culture where it is not acceptable or expected behavior. All too often we don’t. Today I am.
The trajectory of my life has been intrinsically impacted by sexual abuse. This is something that I am neither proud nor ashamed of. I am not inviting judgment. It is simply a fact. I would venture to say that your life has been impacted too. Sexual assault is a persistent issue in our culture, urban, rural and everywhere in-between. Though the experience may not be first hand, rarely, if ever, does someone escape the influence.
We are surrounded by images of sex; in commercials, in movies, on TV, in music, in video games, on the internet, in magazines, on billboards. In contrast sex isn’t something we are comfortable talking about. We dread the day we have ‘the talk’ with our kids (as if the knowledge and moral boundaries we hope they will exercise could be passed on in a single conversation). Education is often limited to the mechanics peppered with some vague concepts called love and commitment.
When it comes to sexual assault, the conversation is most often framed as how to protect yourself and what to do if it happens to you or someone you care about. Conversations are overwhelmingly aimed at women (and girls). Words like ‘victim’, ‘guilt’ and ‘blame’ come up a lot. These conversations are important. They reinforce the fact that it is not okay for someone to use sex as a weapon of dominance against you.
It is also not okay to wield the weapon, but how do we have that conversation? How do we teach the potential offender not to be? How do we define the line between sex appeal and objectification? How do we encourage and award a show of respect and self control? How do perpetuate the setting, communication and respect of personal boundaries? How do we define consent? How do we create an atmosphere in which the act of sex is expected to be a mutual decision guided by accurate information and personal moral boundaries?
I don’t have an answer, but I do know that no problem is ever solved by denial and silence. Sexual assault is a persistent issue in our culture. We have a lot of differing opinions about sex and sexuality, but most everyone will agree: a weapon of dominance is not what it should be. It shouldn’t be awkward to talk about that.
I hope that this letter has found you and yours in good spirits and good health. Until I write again…

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