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Guest Comentary: April is sexual assault awareness month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). This year's campaign focuses on ways that individuals, communities, and the private sector can help prevent sexual violence. Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men are victims of sexual assault, but all of us are impacted by sexual violence.

Everyone understands that sexual violence impacts victims and their families, but the effects of this violent crime on communities and society are less obvious. Sexual violence creates a climate of fear, anger and/or disbelief in the workplaces, campuses and communities that it occurs in. Additionally, sexual violence generates criminal justice, medical and crisis and mental health service expenses.

Perhaps most damaging are the lost contributions of survivors. Preventing such a far-reaching and prevalent social issue as sexual violence may seem overwhelming or even impossible. This mentality implies that there isn't a solution — or if there is, we can't achieve it. But we can and we are. There are many practical steps that are currently being taken in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, faith communities and workplaces. But there are many more things we can do to promote safety, respect and accountability.

Prevention starts with challenging victim-blaming and believing survivors when they disclose. Individuals can model supportive relationships and behaviors, call out harmful attitudes, and challenge the societal acceptance of rape. Communities and businesses can take action to implement policies that promote safety, respect and equality.

As this year's slogan declares, prevention is possible. Join us in helping everyone see their role in preventing sexual violence. You can learn more at www.nsvrc.org/saam.

Here in Lake County, all of our services are free at North Shore Horizons. We assist victims with legal advocacy such as filing Orders for Protection and restraining orders. We maintain a 24-hour crisis line for victims of sexual or domestic violence. Our trained advocates will meet sexual assault victims at Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors or in Duluth. If a victim does not want to report their sexual assault to law enforcement, victims have the option to report anonymously when they are examined. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) are sent out by PAVSA. If you would like to learn more about becoming a SANE here in Two Harbors, please call PAVSA at (218) 726-1442.

NSH advocates had 766 times of crisis intervention services in 2015. We have six trained advocates who have completed our 40-hour sexual assault and domestic violence training. Two of those trained are Finland Community Center staff and victims can receive services there, in addition we can meet victims in Silver Bay. NSH provides free ongoing advocacy support and we hold free weekly support groups in Silver Bay and Two Harbors. If you are in need of NSH services please call 1-800-834-5923 or (218) 834-5924, all calls are confidential.

To learn more about NSH visit www.northshorehorizons.org.

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