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Freedom from Sexual Violence

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An Open Letter to Colorado

By Michelle Spradling, Guest Blogger

Dear Colorado,

You finally want to talk about rape.  How timely.  Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is around the corner, and the 2013 theme is perfectly fitting: “Let’s talk about It! Colorado Communities Coming Together.”

Sexual violence has become one of the hottest topics at the epicenter of the gun debate in Colorado, with common arguments like:  Victims need guns to protect themselves. Guns can backfire in sexual violence. Guns are the key to protecting women which of course means that anyone against guns is against women!

Suddenly, our community is taking notice of sexual assault, which is the ultimate goal for all anti-sexual assault activists. However, instead of welcoming this change, I want nothing more than for everyone to just stop talking

Within the Colorado gun debate there hasn’t been any real talk about sexual violence, only personal attacks on representatives and political agendas cloaked in a flashy and radiant disguise of rape.

After Representative Akin was subsequently voted out of office for his infamous comment alluding that it was physiologically impossible to be impregnated from rape, I had high hopes. Perhaps legislators would see sexual violence as an important issue to their constituents. Perhaps legislators and the public alike would seek education on the realities of the crime and learn about how they could make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, it seems there was a nastier lesson to be learned: rape is the golden ticket to political gain.

Instead of learning the facts about how sexual violence can overlap in the gun debate, time and attention has been spent on ousting members of the opposite political party.  Any comments made about sexual violence by legislators have been molded in to ammunition to target the other side.  The right is declaring that Democrats don’t care about rape victims, and the left is affirming that it’s the Republicans who don’t care about rape victims.

Shame on all of us. No political party owns the issue of rape. Republicans are raped. Democrats are raped. Anyone can be raped, and both parties can and have come together to support meaningful legislation on sexual violence.  I am proud to call many republican and democratic representative allies for sexual violence. Just yesterday, national legislation, the Violence Against Women Act, was signed in to law with bipartisan support from our Colorado representatives and senators. Last month, I had the honor to testify as a survivor in front of the house judiciary committee about the SAVE Bill—HB 1163, which will create an emergency fund for victims seeking medical care after a sexual assault. It passed with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats alike—just as it should have.

My biggest fear is that the ugliness of the gun debate will spill over in to other bills impacting sexual assault survivors; that bills like HB 1163 will get lost in a fight straight down party lines.  Sexual violence is a bipartisan issue, and in the spirit of the SAAM theme, it’s time for Colorado communities (and their representatives) to come together and fight sexual violence.

I’m urging you—representatives and activists on both sides of the gun debate—it’s time to disarm your sexual violence weapon and have discussions based on facts and the reality of rape. There will undoubtedly be survivors on both sides of this issue, and we need to honor their voices and allow them to be a part of the conversation, but these personal attacks for political gain need to stop. These strategies are at the expense of survivors, and it’s offensive. Period.

Michelle Spradling, 29, is the chair of the CCASA Policy committee, a local sexual assault response coordinator and a survivor of sexual assault who speaks locally about the impact of violent crime

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