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If I say it’s about Dan Forest, will you read the whole thing?

This is about sexual assault. It’s in the news – unlike Dan Forest – and I want people to pay attention. Sexual assault in the military, to the tune of as many as 19,000 cases a year, is an important topic in North Carolina because of the large military presence in our state. Sexual assault on campus is a huge issue at our state’s flagship university right now. While overall rates of sexual assault are down in our country, sexual assault is still too common, even in North Carolina.

“Data collected by the North Carolina Council for Women (N.C.Department of Administration 2012) indicate that in the 2010–2011 State Fiscal Year, the … 92 sexual assault programs funded by the Council served 13,881 clients.”

In other words, we have a problem.

Teaching girls and women how to avoid rape is the usual answer. But it isn’t the only answer, and too often that’s where the discussion stops. Teaching boys and men not to sexually assault people is imperative. Teaching them in schools, in colleges, in basic training, and at home is the ounce of prevention we need. Creating a culture that doesn’t tolerate misogyny is the way to prevent sexual assault. The last woman to point this out has since received threats of the most hideous kind, but I know we can be civil here. I hope we can be sensible too, because we definitely have the power to change the statistics. Let’s stop all the ridiculous talk about what does and doesn’t happen in a woman’s body when she’s sexually assaulted. Let’s stop arguing about whether a single case is true or not true. Let’s stop pretending that discussing all of these events as though they’re unconnected makes any sense whatsoever. In a thoughtful report on violence against women, Rebecca Solnit wrote:

“We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible. …

‘Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,’ writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly. …

Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence. …

Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together. …

We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident. We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.”

How empowering is that? For all of us. Let’s use this Women’s History Month to start looking at sexual assault as a problem we can solve together, not an unfortunate reality about which we can do nothing. Or, worse, as a problem for which the only solution is to buy guns. We’re better than that. Let’s start acting like it.

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