State push needed on sexual-assault prevention

  • Updated: January 24, 2014 - 6:49 PM

New report released by President Obama highlights the need to mobilize forces.

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton delivered his State of the State speech before a joint session of the Legislature at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Feb. 6, 2013.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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In an effort to combat the prevalence of rape and sexual assault, President Obama released the “Renewed Call to Action” report this week and established a task force on student sexual assault.

Over the past two years, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) has made repeated appeals to Gov. Mark Dayton and, in turn, lawmakers have called for executive leadership to mobilize state resources through a similar “Call to Action” by creating a cabinet-level working group on sexual-violence prevention. The time has come for Minnesota to act.

The numbers are stunning. Nationally, nearly 22 million women and almost 1.6 million men have been raped in their lifetimes. Eighty percent of the women were raped before age 25. Locally, more than 61,000 Minnesotans are estimated to be victimized by sexual violence each year. The overwhelming majority know their assailants; nearly 98 percent of perpetrators are male; repeat victimization is common, and only 12 percent of these crimes are reported. Astoundingly, half of all Minnesota women experience some kind of sexual harm in their lifetimes.

Creating these leadership groups at the state and federal levels is a critical step toward making primary prevention of sexual violence an urgent priority. The clergy-sexual-abuse cases and the challenges facing the Minnesota Sex Offender Program dominate the news. But these important issues are only part of the bigger story. When we invest our attention and policy resources in intervention-based strategies, we only do so to the detriment of creating a more balanced and comprehensive approach that includes prevention.

Women, children and men in Minnesota need the executive branch to provide leadership to set our state on a better course. Creating a cabinet-level working group on sexual-violence prevention is a critical first step. The public discourse, our policy deliberations and the investment of public dollars are overwhelmingly focused on acting only after harm has been done. It is way past time to change the conversation about sexual violence in Minnesota to how to prevent perpetration in the first place and to do our part to assure zero tolerance of any form of sexual violence.

DONNA DUNN, executive director Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

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