Springing forward and raising awareness

Let’s bring sexual assault and abuse out of its long-standing freeze and into the sunlight.

by Abby Bar-Lev

As this Women’s History Month comes to a close and gives way to April in just a few days, spring (for the moment) is arriving in Minneapolis. Whether it is the longer days, the melting snow or the smell in the air after the rain, life in Minnesota is creeping out of its winter freeze.

It is not just the weather springing forward. Fittingly, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; a time for a too-often stigmatized, shadowed and pervasive problem to creep out from its own freeze of sorts and be acknowledged, discussed and prevented. The Minnesota state Legislature is making important advances for assaulted women, and pending events in the Cities offer Minnesota citizens opportunities to unite for safer communities.

The state Legislature is making some exciting advances for women’s health. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, SF 1266/HF 1442, the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act “would require all Minnesota hospitals to offer emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infection treatment to all victims of sexual assault that turn to them for help.” A full 50 percent of all Minnesota hospitals do not provide “easy access to Emergency Contraception to survivors of sexual assault.” And a recent NARAL study found that a mere 40 percent of Minnesota emergency rooms offer EC to sexual assault victims on a regular basis.

It is difficult to fathom a woman just sexually assaulted being denied easy access to EC from the very institution she turns to for help and health care following a trauma. The Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act was introduced in the state Senate at the beginning of the month and was recently approved for a full vote in the state House. This bill is not partisan; it is humane and it is rational. Everyone should write to their legislators to urge them to approve this legislation. Sexual assault is a rampant problem too often kept in the shadows – despite its pervasiveness.

According to the Aurora Center’s National Relationship Violence Statistics, a shocking one of every four women in the United States “will experience violence by an intimate partner sometime during her life.” More so, women ages 16-24 are the most likely to be to be victims of violent partners. In fact, nationally about one in 36 college women “experience a completed or attempted rape during a single academic year,” according to information on the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) Web site. And sadly, in Minnesota in 2002, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, more than 80 percent of domestic violence victims never reported abuse to law enforcement authorities.

With all the progress women have been making in the social, political and economic realms, it is all too obvious from statistics and testimonials that abuse and sexual assault still often remain in the private realm cloaked from view.

Awareness of sexual assault is a first step towards preventing sexual assault. Take Back the Night annually provides a forum to unite communities nationwide to raise awareness of sexual assault and abuse.

This year’s Twin Cities Take Back the Night, organized as it is annually by MPIRG, takes place April 26. Speakers are yet to be confirmed, but the rally will take place at Loring Park at 6 p.m., followed by a march at 7 p.m., and a speak-out at 8:30 p.m.

Take Back the Night is an easy way to get involved with an immensely important issue. But it is still a month away. Less than one week away, however, Al’s Breakfast will serve as a venue to raise money for Take Back the Night. Al’s Breakfast, the renowned Dinkytown diner, will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 6 with a special menu. All proceeds go to Take Back the Night. Bring a friend and enjoy quality food with quality people for one of the most worthwhile causes there is.

It is refreshing to witness our state Legislature looking into emergency contraception for sexual assault victims in all Minnesota hospitals. But we cannot just sit back and entrust the issue to the lawmakers. Write to your legislators, call their offices and lobby them. Eat at Al’s Breakfast the night of April 6 and rally with your community on April 26.

Wherever you are, look at the first three women you see. If you are a woman, take a look in the mirror. That is what is at stake. Let’s make this season one of springing forward for bringing sexual assault and abuse out of its long-standing freeze and into the sunlight.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected]