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Guest viewpoint: Sexual violence requires community attention

As the father of three girls and a police officer who has responded to and investigated many sexual assault cases over the years, I am concerned. If you follow the headlines, you know that sexual violence perpetrated against women and children is an all too common occurrence. This reality can be overwhelming, but it's important to understand that sexual violence can be prevented if we all play our part.

April is sexual assault awareness month. Communities across the country -- communities like Hastings -- are standing together to prevent sexual violence. So what are the ways we can help?

Learn/Teach/Model: By learning and talking about healthy childhood sexual development, adults are able to support the children in their lives. When adults support age-appropriate behaviors, model healthy boundaries and speak up to other adults, they are an ally to prevention. It's also our job to respect children, model healthy behaviors and boundaries, and confront adults when they act in ways that are not appropriate.

Don't Victim Blame - Start by Believing: Unlike almost any other crime, focus frequently goes to the victim and their actions or activities prior to being victimized In reality, the victim's actions never justify the perpetrator's decision to take advantage of another human being. To be clear, sexual contact without consent is always wrong and is a crime.

What can men do? The vast majority of men are not rapists, though it is true that most sexual assaults are committed by men. As men, we can help by examining our own attitudes, values and behaviors and by not being afraid to directly address friends or peers whose actions or beliefs contribute to the acceptance of sexual violence.

Everyone has a role. There remain strong cultural messages in our society that make sexual assault possible. If we learn more and speak out against these messages, we can create an environment where sexual assault no longer occurs.

Help is available: If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, seek help. Victims of sexual assault can access help in a variety of ways. Talk with an advocate. In Hastings, free and confidential sexual assault advocacy is available 24/7 by calling 360 Communities Sexual Assault Services Hotline at 651-405-1500. Seek medical attention. Sexual assault medical examinations are available at no cost at any local hospital and no police report is required. Call the police. The Hastings Department and all other law enforcement agencies are an immediate response resource - simply dial 9-1-1. We start by believing.

Paul Schnell is the Chief of Police in Hastings. He can be reached at 651-480-2306 or by email at pschnell@ci.hastings.