I have been planning Take Back the Night with a group of wonderful, active and intelligent women for the past eight months, and now our week of events is just around the corner.

The whole time I kept in my mind why I chose to put so much energy into this fight. Becoming wrapped up in the planning process, the issue we are fighting against can sometimes leave one’s mind, but today that chord of pain, anger and frustration brought about by this sick disease of our culture hit home. A dear friend came to me with a troubled mind. As she confided in me and said she had been assaulted recently, her beautiful clear eyes beginning to well with tears, I just grabbed her. I held her so close, fighting the imagery of someone with so much grace being so brutally violated. She did not come to the realization that it was sexual assault until she was really able to process it with another friend.

Let’s get something straight; sexual assault is not a byproduct of sexuality but a product of POWER. Sadly, most victims go through a process of blame. “What did I do? How could he assume that this was okay?” The healing process should not even be comprised of this type of self-deprecating questioning.

Too many rapes go unreported for fear of the retribution that might come with the report. The victim is troubled with feelings of guilt, shame of one’s body and constant questioning. Eighty percent of victims know their attackers. They have a relationship with that person, in whom they have invested time and trust into the relationship. Rapes are not committed by a poor person of color in a dark alleyway (the most common and prevailing myth of sexual assault) but instead by our fathers, brothers, friends, partners, professors, dates, grandfathers – people who you should be able to trust.

What does that mean? It means that in this lovely culture of ours we accept that sexual assault, as a form of control, is okay. That we can turn our backs and assume that it will not happen to you or anyone you know. One in four women are sexually assaulted by the age of 20, in the college community it is one of three. Think of three women in your life. Imagine one of them assaulted. That affects you. Most assaults happen by someone in your same social class and cultural background.

You might be thinking, “No, rape is not okay.” Then ask yourself, “What am I doing to stop perpetuating this rape culture?” You can become more aware about the facts about sexual assault in your community. Also, you can stop using words and actions that perpetuate rape culture, degrade women and reward males for abusing their power in society.

It is important to know what constitutes sexual assault. For myself, I think it occurs when a person does not consent to sexual actions taken on their body, whether they are able to say “no,” or they cannot consent due to age, intoxication or fear. You must ask! Do not assume that silence means consent.

Seventy-five percent of victims need medical attention after they are assaulted. Twenty percent – that is one in five – college males ADMIT to having used enough force for sex that the women cried, fought, screamed and pleaded them not to. If that does not upset you and get you thinking, what will? Those are the men who admit it, which is scary because there are many men who don’t.

Take action. Sexual assault should not be tolerated. Take Back the Night and Sexual Assault Awareness week is April 15-19. The schedule is posted at www.tbtnucsb.9f.com. If you have any comments or questions for me you can leave them in the Women’s Center.

Stephanie Molen is co-chair of Take Back the Night.