Parker: Jan. 28, a new day of hope

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State Rep. Tan Parker

Sexual assault is a devastating crime that is happening far too often throughout our society.  What makes this even more difficult to understand is the victims of this heinous act and the justice that they should receive is all too often non-existent. Why? Because sexual assault victims often tragically feel guilt and shame and don’t feel comfortable coming forward.

In 2017, more than 18,000 sexual assaults were reported in Texas alone. This number is absolutely sickening to think about, and even worse knowing there is a great number of assaults that are not reported. Although the statistics surrounding this crime – both known and unknown – are very grim, the individuals that have been impacted by sexual assault deserve to be known not as a number, but rather as the courageous survivors that they are.

That is why I authored House Bill 2298 during the 86th Legislative Session to establish January 28th as Sexual Assault Survivors Day in Texas. I chose this day to signify hope in the new year. Romans 5:3-4 states “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. In honoring these survivors specifically and focusing on the hope and healing that is available through community and greater awareness, we have the opportunity to create a supportive place that allows them to overcome the actions committed against them.

Jenna Quinn, a constituent, dear friend, and survivor of nearly a decade of sexual abuse, made a decision at 17 years of age to speak out, but she did so as a victor, not as a victim. This courageous commitment to shine a light on the darkness eventually led to our ability to work together to tackle this issue through stronger public policy and awareness. Jenna’s Law, which I authored and passed in 2009, mandates that schools provide information to students and parents, and also training for employees as to the signs of sexual abuse. This first of its kind legislation has now been passed in over 25 states, and just recently, Senator John Cornyn introduced Jenna’s Law on the federal level.

Ultimately, justice is stronger when a victim can come forward and report an assault immediately after it happens. Unfortunately, however, far too many victims do not tell anyone, including law enforcement, what has happened to them due to numerous inhibitors such as shame, confusion, and fear.  However, just because they are not verbally communicating their trauma, it doesn’t mean that the signs aren’t there. Someone who has been sexually assaulted, especially repeatedly, can often be identified by their behavior, their appearance, and their actions.

That is why Jenna’s Law has been so instrumental in empowering others to recognize these warning signs and to be prepared to take action to help and empower someone who is at grave risk and danger. By educating people about the signs of sexual assault, my hope is that others will make the request for help when victims are convinced that they cannot.  Jenna’s Law has proven just how instrumental each of us can be in the fight against sexual crimes when we are willing to address the reality of sexual assault.

Sadly, across America, 42 million people have been forced to overcome sexual assault and to become survivors. This horrific crime clearly demands constant attention, so please don’t wait to talk openly about this topic as education is one of our best tools to stop it from ever occurring. While Sexual Assault Survivor’s Day will take place every January 28th starting this year, let us make a commitment to continue the conversation all year round.

Despite this being a crime that is often hidden in the midst of darkness, there is hope. Observing Tuesday, January 28th in 2020, is a calling for Texans to come together in unison to uplift those who have been affected by sexual assault and join them in spreading hope.  As we work to prevent sexual assault, let’s embrace these courageous survivors and let them know they are never alone.

As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives. If you would like to share a thought, please feel free to contact me at my Capitol office of 512.463.0688 or by email at [email protected].

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