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Editorial: It’s time to talk about sexual assault

If you’ve turned on a TV in the last few weeks or spent a few minutes scrolling through social media, you’ve probably seen the countless sexual harassment and assault allegations shared recently.

From Rose McGowan to Reese Witherspoon to Molly Ringwald, numerous public figures have come out of the woodwork to give a face to the true epidemic of sexual assault across our country.

Another American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and over 321,500 Americans aged 12 and older are sexually assaulted each year, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

As important as it has been to give a face and a name to this crisis, it’s time for our country to do more than just give a name and a face to the problem — it’s time for our country to really start discussing what sexual assault looks like in our country and how to best fight the problem head on.

Discussions on sex shouldn’t be confined to the week or two after news like this breaks. We should be having these discussions year round, focusing on important issues such as the meaning of consent, what to do following a sexual assault and how to cope with the trauma that follows.

These conversations are important not only in gaining vital knowledge, but in allowing discussions to take place that otherwise may not.

I didn’t learn about consent until my freshman year at Belmont, during the dreaded conversation between administration and new students about sexual assault and how to report assaults on campus.

As awkward and uncomfortable as that talk was, it was the first time I’d ever heard that you can’t give consent when you’re drunk. It was the first time I’d ever heard that consent is an enthusiastic yes, not the absence of a no. It was the first time I’d heard anything other than not to have sex.

I didn’t grow up in a family that talked about sex. My church only talked about sex to tell you never to have it outside of marriage. My school didn’t teach us about consent or what to do when your boundaries are breached.

And I’m not the only one who’s had this experience.

According to a national survey done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, less than a third of people were taught anything related to consent, sexual assault or healthy relationships in middle or high school.

Even students who were taught about consent were most likely to have been taught how to say no to sex in middle or high school, and least likely to have been taught how to ask for consent, according to the same survey.

Belmont’s own sexual climate survey results even stated that slightly more than half of respondents responding to the question knew how to report a sexual assault, and that’s even after hearing it once during orientation.

These conversations are vital to our understandings of healthy sexual relationships and how to respond if our boundaries are violated. If we continue to ignore these discussions until the media brings them to our attention, we fail the next generation every day by leaving them the same confusion we inherited.

Until we, as a society, start talking to both our boys and our girls about consent, assault and harassment, we won’t see the change our country needs. If we can only talk about topics like these in the wake of tragedy, we are perpetuating the same ideas of shame that talking about these tragedies is meant to dispel.

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