COMMENTARY: We must change the culture of violence

Violence against women and children: It happens often, it happens far away and close to home. And sometimes it even happens to men.

Two football players are convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio; a grand jury will determine if more crimes were committed. Three teenagers, two of them football players, face charges for sexually assaulting two 13-year-olds, who have been the subject of cyberbulling, in Torrington. A restaurant co-owner is accused of raping waitresses in Bethel.

Women, and even men, are victims of sexual abuse every day. While most live to tell their stories; many others die at the hands of their abusers.

Child sexual abuse is also real and must be addressed, despite the taboo to talk about it. The conversation has to start and continue for however long it takes to stop it.

Rape and sexual assault affect all communities, but the greatest risk is to children, teens and young women. Nearly one in five women will be a victim of sexual assault during college, according to President Barack Obama’s proclamation for naming April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

The White Ribbon Campaign is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. In 1991, a handful of men in Canada decided they had a responsibility to urge men to speak out about violence against women after the Montreal massacre on Dec. 6, 1989, when 14 female students at the Ecole Polytechnique were killed by a lone gunman.

President Barack Obama recently signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, renewing and strengthening the law that first made it possible for the nation to address sexual assault in a comprehensive way. The act preserves critical services like rape crisis centers, upholds protections for immigrant victims, gives state and tribal law enforcement better tools to investigate cases of rape, and breaks down barriers that keep lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims from getting help. It expands funding for sexual assault nurse examiner programs and sexual assault response teams, helping states deliver justice for survivors and hold offenders accountable.

The president’s proclamation reminds the nation that sexual violence is an affront to human dignity that cannot be tolerated. He called on all Americans to offer their support to survivors of sexual assault crimes.

President Obama got it right when he said that sexual violence is an affront to human dignity and a crime no matter where it occurs. We can all play a role in changing the culture that enables sexual violence by lifting up survivors and breaking the silence surrounding rape and sexual assault.

The White Ribbon Campaign and Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act offer critical tools to prevent the violence. But they require the commitment of good people everywhere if we are to truly change the culture and give everyone a fair chance to live a happy life.

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