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No April Fool’s joke

April is National Sexual Assault Month and in light of Eagle County’s No. 1 sexual assault case, I thought it appropriate to comment on the issue.

None of the dictionary definitions of rape conveys the horror of that crime. Nor do any give us a sense of the emotions the violated person feels. The effects of rape to an individual’s self-worth and self-esteem must be unimaginable to the non-victim.

I wasn’t certain how to approach this topic, so I thought a few words dealing with four salient aspects of sexual assault might serve as an overview: 1) prevention; 2) protecting children; 3) helping someone who has been assaulted; and 4) taking action after an assault.

Prevention: What can women do to reduce her risk of sexual assault? To begin with, women must use a little common sense and employ reasonable judgment, i.e. stay out of potentially dangerous situations. A woman must be aware of her surroundings at all times. She must never allow herself to be isolated with someone she doesn’t don’t know or trust. And when a woman does meet someone new or interesting, she should give some thought to the level of intimacy she looking for at that particular point in time and clearly state her limits.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that when a woman goes out socially she should go with a group of friends. Arrive together, watch out for each other, and leave together.

Next, never leave a beverage unattended or accept a drink from an open container. This may seem overly cautious, but unless a woman is in a gathering with close family, the by-word is “be aware.”

Protecting your children: Communicate, communicate and communicate. Speak to your kids using the proper names for their body parts. Armed with information, children are better able to report an abuse to you. Teach your children about safe and unsafe touches, as well as what is appropriate physical affection. Let your children know that respect for elders doesn’t extend to an adult who makes them feel uncomfortable. Kids must understand that it’s OK to say no and it’s OK to leave the situation.

But most of all trust your own instincts. If your instincts tell you that something is wrong, follow up. Finally, for information about Internet safety, download A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety from the FBI. The materials are available in English and Spanish.

Assisting a friend who has been sexually assaulted: First of all just listen and be there. Don’t be judgmental – that’s the last thing a rape victim needs. Encourage your friend to seriously consider reporting the rape to law enforcement authorities. A counselor can provide the information your friend will need to make this decision. Be patient. Remember, it will take your friend some time to deal with the crime.

Let your friend know that professional help is available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Encourage him or her to call the hotline, but realize that only the victim can make the decision to get help.

What to do if you’re sexually assaulted: The first thing a victim must do is to find a safe environment – anywhere away from the attacker. Second, ask a trusted friend to stay with you for moral support. Third, always preserve evidence of the attack – don’t bathe or brush your teeth. Fourth, write down all the details you can recall about the attack and the attacker.

Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, operated by RAINN, for free, confidential counseling, 24 hours a day: 1-800-656-HOPE.

Get medical attention. Even if there are no apparent physical injuries, it is important to determine the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Hospitals and emergency rooms should have rape kits, but always ask them to conduct a rape kit exam. If you suspect you may have been drugged, ask that a urine sample be collected. The sample will need to be analyzed later on by a forensic lab. Then report the rape to law enforcement authorities.

A counselor can provide the information you’ll need to understand the process. And remember, it wasn’t your fault! You’ll need to recognize that healing from rape takes time. Give yourself the time that you need. While this may seem counter-productive, know that it’s never too late to call. Even if the attack happened years ago, the National Sexual Assault Hotline can still help. Many victims do not realize they need help until months or years later.

The prevalence of rape in this country is appalling. But rather than detail statistics in each of the many categories of rape (youth rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, etc.), I thought I would offer one shocking statistic to bring this point home.

The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault tells us that 24 percent of Colorado women and 6 percent of Colorado men have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime. My sincere hope is that this brief commentary raises the awareness of this horrific crime in the community.

Butch Mazzuca of Singletree, a local real estate broker and a ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz@centurytel.net


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