As published in the Times Villager, April 11, 2018 April has been designated as Sexual Abuse Awareness month in the United States. Is it a coincidence that it is also child abuse prevention month? Sexual abuse of children continues to be a major part of child abuse across our nation. Sexual abuse is any sort of non-consensual sexual contact and can happen to men or women of any age. Childhood sexual abuse includes any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other by forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act This also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or internet. I want to share some statistics with you – not because statistics are what we should base our understanding on, but rather to give us a better view of the scope of this important issue. Sexual assault statistics are difficult to nail down because of the nature of the crime. You may hear different statistics from different sources. The deeper you dig into sexual assault issues, the more variation you will find on numbers. The basic statistics surrounding sexual assault in the United States is that one in four women will be sexually abused in their lifetime. Statisticians believe that the number is closer to one in three, and globally the number is believed to be one in two. Many sexual assault victims never report their abuse. I was thirty before I even realized that what happened to me was considered sexual assault. So the statistics, as any counselor would tell you, are very low and inaccurate. The estimated reporting rate for female victims is only 21%. Women are not the only victims of sexual assault. Current statistics state one in six men have been abused. Statistics tell us that sexual abuse crimes against men are rising at an alarming rate. Most sexual assaults among men occur before age 17. These include violent acts towards men, sexual abuse of men from a non-family member, and familial molestation of men and boys. A more accurate statistic is probably closer to one in four men who have been assaulted. Men dealing with an assault often feel ashamed, guilty because of the pleasure, and afraid of being discovered. The number given for men who report their abuse is less than 10%. Another statistic that affects our understanding is 60% of men who have been assaulted become perpetrators themselves. This statistic does not hold true for women, although more women who have been abused are becoming abusers themselves. Another number that should grab our attention is three out of four people have witnessed or have first-hand experience with a friend or family member who has been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. During a one-year period, 60.6% of them are children from birth to 17 years of age who experienced at least one direct or indirect (as a witness) victimization – 60% is over half of the population. I hope you see from these statistics that sexual abuse and exploitation affect all of us. Once you start thinking of these numbers in terms of children you know, it gets very real, very fast. Most people want to push these ugly truths aside because if we really try to grasp the concept of these statistics relating to actual people we know, it can be overwhelming. We can’t wrap our head around that much violence or that much pain. But we have to – as a society, we are a hurting people. And hurt people, hurt people, especially vulnerable young people. So what can we do to make a difference during this sexual abuse awareness month? Consider these Take Five Action Steps to see how you can get involved and be part of the solution to raise awareness and push back the darkness of sexual assault. Get informed. In order for individuals to begin to push back the darkness of sexual abuse, we need to be informed. Make a personal commitment to be informed and invest the time and resources you need to become an individual advocate around this topic. Visit advocacy websites like www.rainn.org, or www.nsvrc.org for more information about sexual abuse and being part of the solution. Visit www.d2l.org(statistic source for this article) for more information, specifically on childhood sexual abuse. Start healthy communication. Armed with knowledge, start having honest and open conversations about sexual assault, especially with your children. Use the statistics in this article to start a new dialogue. Bringing this topic into the open is a first step to healing and hope for victims and those who love them. Embrace respect. At its root, sexual abuse is not about sex, it is about domination and control over another human being for personal gain. Be willing to shift cultural norms that disrespect others, especially women and children. If you hear demeaning language, be willing to stand up and push back. Visit www.voicesofmen.org for some great education and training on this subject. Understand consent and boundaries. In a culture where LOL and JK are normal responses to hurtful joking, bullying, and teasing, it is important to define consent and personal boundaries such as insisting that privacy is respected, personal space is not violated, and people have the right to accept or deny any physical contact at any time. Sex without consent is not sex – it is sexual assault. Consent must be freely given and sustained and drugs and alcohol always prevent clear consent. The absence of no does not mean yes. Past consent does not mean current consent. Be part of the solution. You probably can’t do much to change the cultural tide of sexual assault in Hollywood, but you can make a difference in your workplace, school, community and family. Start by using advocacy language in your own circle of influence. Be the change you want to see around you. Rekenekt with Trish Propson is a monthly column devoted to raising awareness between parents and teens and helping people reconnect with hope across generations. Trish Propson is a local author, speaker, and family advocate committed to reconnecting families, one conversation at a time.