Every year, 14,000 Mainers experience sexual violence. If they stood hand-to-hand, the span would go from the base of Mount Katahdin to the top almost 15 times.

With dismal numbers such as these, it seems as though it is impossible to end sexual violence.

And yet, prevention of sexual violence is possible. Raising awareness about sexual violence is important, but we need to do more as individuals and as a community; we need to take action. It’s time for all of us to prevent sexual violence.

Here’s how individuals can make a difference.

* Believe you can have an impact. You can be part of the solution by talking about consent with your partner, by believing sexual violence survivors and by talking to people about sexual violence.

* Understand sexual violence affects us all. Sexual violence affects entire communities. There are emotional, physical and mental costs to survivors and their loved ones, but few people realize there is also an economic impact. Each time someone in Maine is raped, the cost to Maine communities is $120,910 in lost work time, long-term health costs and mental health problems.

* Educate yourself and others. Spread the word through resources online and off, including local newspapers, organizational newsletters, community bulletins. Post prevention tips, including talking about consent, why you refuse to support a company that glamorizes sexual violence, noticing and talking about violence in the media, or pledging to never condone an act of violence. With more than 500 million people on Facebook, word travels fast and quickly gains support.

* Talk to your children about healthy relationships and boundaries. The conversation doesn’t have to be about sex or sexual violence for your children to learn and understand respectful behavior toward another person. Model behavior that helps them understand that violence is never the answer and that it is OK to say “no” in situations where they don’t feel safe.

* Be an active bystander. Sexual violence does not occur as an isolated incident; it begins with behaviors that may seem harmless. If you hear a sexist joke or comment directed at someone, stand up and say that it’s not OK. If you’re at a bar or a party, and it looks like someone might be too intoxicated to consent to sex, politely check in with them and ask.

* Get involved. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and many fun and interesting events are happening across the state designed to raise awareness and encourage prevention, education and community involvement. Ask a friend, family member, or neighbor to attend with you; the more people involved the better.

To find out more about sexual violence or an event in your area, email [email protected] or call 626-0034.

Sexual violence doesn’t have to be an inevitable fact in our communities, but prevention takes work and community responsibility. It is time for all of us to prevent sexual violence.

Cara Courchesne is the communications and outreach coordinator at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Contact her at [email protected] or by calling 626-0034.

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