It’s truly amazing how things change over the years.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of posting a short story about the special patches officers with the Arizona State University Police Department will be wearing during the month of April – Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

(Source: Arizona State University Police Department)

(Source: Arizona State University Police Department)

Those patches are meant not only to raise awareness about sexual assault – which is still far too prevalent, particularly on college campuses – but also to serve as a message of support for those of us who have fallen prey to sexual assault.

Yes, I said us.

Since coming clean — that’s how it felt – a couple of years ago about what happened to me when I was freshman in college, I’ve been fairly open about my experience. It’s not like I lead with it when I meet people, but I don’t hide it. Actually, I think it’s more accurate to say I do not hide from it.

It happened in 1991 in my dorm room. There were no drugs or alcohol or involved and I was with my boyfriend, somebody I mistakenly trusted.

At the time, the mentality was “these things sometimes happen to girls.” I was encouraged to get over it, or better yet, “forget about it” and “pretend if never happened.” There was no point in doing anything “official” because nothing was going to come of it.

⇒ My original blog post: Becoming invisible (July 14, 2015)

It was a dirty little secret that I thought I had to bear alone. Although I did not know it until years – decades — later, I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

Although Sexual Assault Awareness Month has its roots in the Take Back the Night events of the late 1970s, SAAM as we know it today did not exist until 2001, a decade after I was raped.

If only I knew then what I know now.

Sexual assault is a problem as old as time itself, but it’s only relatively recently that women are being encouraged – empowered – to come forward and name their attackers. I say “women,” but the truth is men are victimized, as well.

Things a much different 2017 then they were in 1991, and although sexual assault is still a major issue, the way we, as a society, deal with is it is drastically different.

It’s no longer a taboo topic. We talk about it openly and honestly. There are organizations at every level – local, state, national, international – dedicated to putting an end to sexual violence and supporting those who have had to endure it.

SAAM is not just about justice for victims of sexual violence. It’s about prevention.

Regardless of your gender, regardless of to whom you are attracted or how you identify yourself sexually, it’s up to every single one of us to be part of the solution.

(Source: NSVRC.org)

(Source: NSVRC.org)

“We can all use our voices to change the culture to prevent sexual violence,” explains NSVRC.org. “Prevention requires addressing the roots causes and social norms that allow sexual violence to exist.”

Like or not, we live in a rape culture. Even in 2017. The difference today is that victims – I cannot begin to tell you how much I hate that word – can easily find support. We’ve collectively gone out of our way to let these women and men know that they are not alone and that no matter the circumstances, they are not to blame for what happened to them.

(Source: NSVRC.org)

(Source: NSVRC.org)

The message is not just for girls and women, warning them not to put themselves in potentially dangerous situations. (Seriously? Any situation can be potentially dangerous.)

And the “boys will be boys” school of thought just doesn’t fly.

The message today is about consent – and it’s directed at everyone.

Consent to sexual activity must be freely and expressly given. And a yes can become a no at any point for any reason. No questions asked. No explanation owed. No repercussions.

Nobody is entitled to sex. But everyone is entitled to a relationship that is healthy and respectful.

Perhaps one day that will be the reigning mentality. That is my fondest hope.

That’s why the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) is focusing on educating young people.

While I would not wish my experience on my worst enemy, I know that while I’ve been writing this, some woman – or maybe a man – has been sexually assaulted. Probably more than one. That makes me indescribably sad.

We’ve made amazing progress, but we’re not where we need to be. Not yet.

But back to the ASU Police Department. Their teal patches might appear to be a meaningless gesture. Good optics. But they’re not.

(Source: NSVRC.org)

(Source: NSVRC.org)

By having its officers wear those patches, ASU P.D. is sending a clear message, both to perpetrators of sexual violence and to those who have been violated in one of the worst, most humiliating ways imaginable.

That message in my mind? It’s twofold.

To everyone: “Sexual violence is not acceptable. Ever. There is no excuse and certainly no reason. Nothing makes it OK.”

And then to survivors: “I am a safe place for you. We are here for you. We will not shame you or blame you. We will not judge you. We will listen to you, take you seriously and support you any way we can. We are here to help. It’s what we do.”

Those are important messages. Big ones.

(Source: Arizona State University Police Department)

(Source: Arizona State University Police Department)

Not bad for a humble little patch.

P.S. If you like, you can have one of those humble little patches and support a great organization called Winged Hope. If you’re out of state, I’d be happy to pick one up for you. Just let me know.