Sexual assault is a crime that, to a large extent, has been kept quiet. Perpetrators, victims and members of society at large all have reasons for not bringing this matter into the open.

This needs to change. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away; rather, it keeps it in place.

In our previous editorials on sexual assault, The Torch called for colleges and universities to adhere to the requirements of the Clery Act. Our purpose, of course, was to assist in making college and university campuses safe places for students.

Safety is not the only issue at hand, however. This is also about women reaching their fullest potential and this goal, indeed their birthright, is unattainable when women’s lives are governed by fear. The danger of being sexually assaulted exists beyond the boundaries of institutions of higher learning — it exists for women everywhere.

Everyone in society loses when 51 percent of its population fails to reach its highest potential.

What heights might women reach if they lived without fear of men? Perhaps the answer to this question begins to uncover the real reason why women and girls are terrorized. Rape and sexual abuse is not about sex; it is about power.

Women live every day of their lives with the knowledge that they are prey. Most know this from what they hear and see around them, usually in the media. An alarming number know from personal experience, some from childhood. The girls of yesterday are the women of today, and many bear the scars of sexual abuse.

Rarely is sexual abuse of young girls an isolated incident. It is not uncommon for them to be raped or even beaten for years by men in their families or by friends of the family. Shame and threats prevent them from speaking up.

Consequently, young girls are made prisoners of their own bodies and psyches.

Historically and into the present, a taboo has existed against speaking about this unpleasant subject. This societal prohibition, sadly, reinforces the fear planted in women’s psyches by their abusers. Yes, this subject is unpleasant to speak about; however, it is far more unpleasant to endure.

It takes courage for women, let alone little girls, to tell the truth about what happened to them. Scars run deep and the original pain, whether old or recent, remains. Added to that, many women carry the burden of shame which belongs, not with them, but squarely on the shoulders of their abusers.

When women do speak up, tears often accompany their voices. Fear of being labeled as stereotypical, overly-emotional females is another reason why they remain in silence. This is a deeply emotional matter; only a person blind to the seriousness of this crime and the damage it causes would judge a woman for telling the truth and crying when she does.

The only sane response is compassion and respect.

Interestingly, both men and women are caught in this web of silence about rape and sexual abuse. Both sexes fear exposure and possible consequences. Silence keeps this crime in the dark and, therefore, keeps it going.

All voices for truth deserve to be heard and respected.

This problem is not an abnormality; it is endemic to cultures the world over. The responsibility of bringing it into the open rests with everyone.