To The Editor:

April is an important month for those of us who work to end violence against women; April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and for those advocating an end to rape and sexual assault.

April is a time to focus our energies on dispelling myths and on offering new direction for ending the violence.

Sexual violence, including all forms of rape, incest, and sex trafficking, is criminal behavior.

By definition, we are talking about unwanted and nonconsensual actions and conduct that are of a sexual nature and that are enforced through threat, coercion, exploitation, deceit, force, physical or mental incapacitation and/or use of power and authority.

It isn’t pretty. It isn’t fun. It isn’t about mutual sexual interest and excitement.

For the victim, it is about shame, powerlessness, fear of death or great injury, shock, distress. It is about having the very most private part of one’s being exposed and stolen away, at least in the moment. For some victims, those stolen private places are never regained, and they suffer with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other problems in much higher percentages than the general population.

When public figures make victim-blaming and false statements about sexual violence, and when popular culture consistently links violence, women and sex in order to generate revenue, we give permission for rapists to step up their game, and we further shame those who have been on the receiving end of rape and abuse. We make it OK to dehumanize the bodies of certain people so some can use them for their own gain

This year’s SAAM is focused on creating a healthy sense of sexuality. We want the general public and the potential rapists and the unfortunate victims to understand the value of the privacy of our bodies, and to celebrate the sacredness of a healthy, shared and consensual sexuality.

For the public, it is about talking early and often about what it means to have a healthy sense of our own bodies.

For potential rapists, it is about understanding how much more there is to be gained by asking and receiving than by taking.

And for victims, it is so important to know that they can regain what was taken and that they can choose to celebrate their sexual bodies through a healthy, shared, and truly consensual relationship once again.

Turning Point provides emergency services and support for victims of sexual and domestic violence for the east central counties of Missouri.

The hotline is 888-873-7322, completely free, anonymous and confidential.

Talk often — talk early.