My View: All our efforts are needed to make Oregon safer, change lives

In honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, every year we dedicate the 30 days of April to showing people how to prevent sexual violence.

We should start with a hard look at this issue in Oregon. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, reveals we have a long way to go.

According to the survey, we have the second-highest incidence of rape in the nation. An estimated 409,000 Oregon women have been subject to rape at some point in their lifetime, and 837,000 Oregon women have been victims of other types of sexual violence.

These statistics are staggering, and it is incumbent upon all of us, especially elected officials, to stand up, stay vocal and continue to insist that there is no place for domestic and sexual violence in our society.

To stop this epidemic of sexual violence, we need to understand it and create programs to prevent it. The same CDC survey showed that nearly 80 percent of female rape victims experience rape before the age of 25, and 42 percent of those victims were raped before the age of 18. The teenage years are formative ones in which attitudes regarding relationships are established.

Last year, we made great progress by passing House Bill 4077, also known as the Healthy Teen Relationships Act, which I was proud to sponsor, along with many of my colleagues. Now by law, Oregon school boards are required to develop a plan to educate students and school officials about dating violence.

When Oregon’s children learn about what constitutes a healthy relationship and when they are able to identify dangerous behaviors, they are less likely to encounter domestic and sexual violence as adults. The policies developed by school boards under the Healthy Teen Relationships Act will help impart these critical lessons while offering victims of teen dating violence support and advice from trained professionals.

School boards have designed their policies in close collaboration with the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, which is serving on the frontlines of domestic and sexual violence prevention. With generous support from the Verizon Wireless Foundation, the coalition is working with schools to ensure they have the tools and training necessary to help Oregon teens understand what constitutes healthy relationships.

This is a long-term investment that can help prevent domestic and sexual violence, and will promote a future in which Oregon teens are more likely to develop healthy relationships as adults.

National Sexual Assault Awareness Month encourages us all to focus on the real problem of sexual violence, as it exists now in our communities, as well as how we can and must do more to prevent it. The Healthy Teen Relationships Act was a step in the right direction.

The policies being crafted by the coalition and Oregon school boards are another strong step. However, Oregon still has a long way to go. Reducing sexual violence starts with awareness, continues with conversations, and succeeds through collective action.

I urge all Oregonians to join us in a concerted effort to reduce domestic and sexual violence. The work of legislators, citizens and society is just beginning.

Jules Bailey represents Oregon House District 42, which includes

inner Southeast and Northeast Portland.

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