#MeToo — The silence must end

The social networking campaign #MeToo has stirred the discussion about sexual harassment and assault once again.

Within days of actress Alyssa Milano’s encouragement to post the hashtag to social networking sites, hundreds of thousands of women have spread their #MeToo  personal stories of sexual harassment and violence.

Those narratives included incidents as seemingly mundane as cat calls, and what some may consider “innocent joking,” all the way to accounts of violent rapes.

This isn’t the first time that sexual assault and sexual violence has become the focus of national discussion in this country and our communities.

The number of women, and men for that fact, who’ve experienced sexual assault and sexual harassment is astonishing.

Several years ago our paper published a series of articles highlighting rapes and sexual assaults. It was shocking to have conversations with so many people in our community as they recounted their stories of sexual violence.

Rape on college campuses has, in recent years, taken the spotlight. According to the film “The Hunting Ground” a documentary about sexual assaults on college campuses, one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college.

Ironically, this film was distributed by Harvey Weinstein’s company. He is the Hollywood mogul who has recently been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by dozens of women. The number of accusers grows on a daily basis.

A 2016 study release by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that the rate may be even higher — one in four women in college.

Black Hills State University has reported one case in both 2015 and 2016 of a forcible sexual offense. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology does not post the Clery Report, which documents crime on college campuses, online.

South Dakota State University provided more specific information. In 2016, there were six reports of rape on campus and four in 2015. There were four reports of fondling on campus in 2016.

Northern State University reported eight rapes in resident halls in 2016.

At Dakota State University, one incident each of rape and fondling was reported in 2016.

At Augustana University, there were two reported rapes in 2016.

Southeast Technical Institute reported once case of fondling in 2015 and one rape in 2014.

The University of South Dakota did not report any sexual incidents from 2013-2015, nor did the University of Sioux Falls, Dakota Wesleyan University, Lake Area Tech, or Western Dakota Technical Institute.

A Clery Report could not be found online for either Mount Marty College or Presentation College.

Only a fraction of sexual assaults and rapes that occur to college students are reported to university or law enforcement officials.

It is despicable enough when adults are sexual harassed, assaulted, and raped, but that horror compounds when children are the victims. Many bear silent witness to those crimes. Butte County has an astonishingly high number of sexual assault cases among children. And a sexual assault task force has cracked down on those perpetrators.

So where is it in our psyche that it OK to sexually harass or assault people?

The silence must end, and so must our old way of thinking, “boys will be boys.” There can no longer be shaming of victims. It doesn’t matter if she dressed provocatively. It doesn’t matter if you were drunk. No means no.

Parents, talk to your children. Tell them why it is not OK to verbally or physically sexually harass people. Explain to them it is OK to have personal boundaries and it is not their fault if they are victimized. Explain to them the meaning of consensual interactions.

If someone tells you that they are being or have been sexually harassed or assaulted, believe them. Assist them with the help that they need. Resources are out there.

And if you see somebody sexually harassing another person, male or female, speak up. Tell them their actions are not OK.

Don’t stand idly by. We must no longer be silent.

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