More than 73,000 cases of sexual assault occur in the United States each year. This year, Heart of Grant County would like to focus on ways to build healthy, respectful relationships in our families.

Violence is never OK. Intentional violence is never the victim's fault. Violence doesn't always mean physical abuse. Abusive relationships can occur any time someone intentionally attacks you physically, sexually, or psychologically. Abuse is never OK. Never make light of abuse or try to justify or excuse violent behavior by blaming the victim.

Below are points to help you with discussions to talk about sexual assault prevention in the context of healthy relationships with your family or organization.

Relationships are not perfect: Feeling angry, hurt or upset at times is normal. But feeling scared, humiliated, pressured, or controlled is not the way a relationship should make you feel. Instead, you should feel loved, respected, and free to be yourself.

Action Step: Support your significant other through the language you use and the actions you take. Respect your partner and your partner's decisions, including those involving intimacy. Never force someone to engage in sexual activity. This is sexual assault, whether you are dating, married, living together as a couple, or are just friends.

Talk with each other: Communication is essential in healthy relationships. Couples should take time to talk with each other - respect each others opinions, and feel comfortable asking each other questions, even about sex.

Action Step: Take time to talk and listen to your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. Express your thoughts and feelings clearly and directly, without intentionally hurting or disrespecting each other. Even if you disagree, never pressure your significant other about sex.

Family matters: Families are an important part of everyone's lives. Family members help shape beliefs, provide support, and can serve as role models. But sometimes families can reinforce violent behavior. Actions with intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade another leads to unhealthy relationships. Children learn what they see and hear. Without healthy relationships from which to learn, children can grow up to act out and be in sexually abusive relationships (American Psychological Association, 1996).

Action Step: Simple changes in the way you act in front of your children can prevent sexual violence. For instance, speak up when you see your son or daughter mistreat others physically or emotionally. Talk to your children about what it means to be in a healthy relationship where couples do not hurt each other physically, sexually, or emotionally (American Psychological Association, 1996).

Friends count: Friends are an important source of support and advice. Friends play a powerful role in shaping attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about rape and sexual violence. Friends should speak up when they know of or see a friend insist on sex. Talk with each other about what it means to give and receive respect.

Action Step: Friends should not accept excuses for violent acts committed by people they love. Confront the abuser - only if you can do it safely. Let the abuser know you don't approve of the behavior; and discuss changes that can be made to have more productive, healthy relationships (Golding, Wilsnack, and Cooper 2002).

Building Blocks: Trust, honesty, and respect among friends, family, and others play critical roles in healthy relationships. Respect your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife's wishes when it comes to their body. Never ignore protests and respect your partner's right to say "No" to things that cause discomfort.

Action Step: Treat your wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, friends, and family with the same trust, honesty, and respect that you would want. Respect your husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend's rights to refuse sex and sexual contact.

If you or someone you know is being abused either sexually, emotionally or physically, call Heart of Grant County at 575-4335 or the 24-hour hotline at 620-1342 for help and resources. If it is a life-threatening emergency, dial 911.

• Mary Ann Stutzman is the coordinator for Heart of Grant County.

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