Sexual assault.There it is, typed out and bolded for your convenience. Uncomfortable yet?With 1 in every 5 women and 1 in every 71 men having experienced it, sexual assault should be a discussion present in all communities. We should take every chance we can in order to support all victims.Unfortunately, the topic of sexual assault is a taboo in popular culture. Despite its proximity to us and its very real implications, sexual assault is not talked about nearly enough.Community conversations normally give it a wide berth, and when forced to confront it, we freeze with a sense of acute and helpless discomfort. Perhaps we are so unwilling to have conversations about sexual assault because it seems so close to us. We experience a form of survivor’s guilt, so to speak, because that 1 in 5, that 1 in 71 could have been us- somehow, we feel as if we are getting away with something. Or perhaps it is the opposite. Distancing ourselves from the problem is easy when we cannot ever imagine ourselves or those we know to be connected with sexual assault. In our minds, the boy we nod to passing through the hallway could never sexually assault anyone. The girl we sit next to during art class could never be a victim of sexual assault; she doesn’t drink at parties or wear revealing clothing. Unconsciously, we dissociate those close to us from the monsters and the sluts we see on the news. Our friends are never rapists, and we react with defensive outrage upon being confronted with reality, instinctively protecting those close to us. In reality, though, over 90% of assaults are committed by those close to us. Another part of our discomfort comes from ideas drilled into our subconscious by a society that promotes misogyny, sexual objectification, and hypermasculinity. The social norm inadvertently sends dangerous messages which later dictate our actions and influence our mindsets. Well-meaning adults comfort little girls by saying that if a boy is mean to them, he likes them. Schools condemn leggings and tank tops as distractions for boys, creating the stigma that girls are sexual objects that should be held responsible for the actions of men. Children are taught that “big boys don’t cry.” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” reaching the top of music charts in 25 countries, contains phrases like “you know you want it” and “he don’t smack the ass and pull your hair like that.” Eminem uses phrases like “slut, you think I won’t choke no whore ’til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?” High schools and colleges concern themselves with maintaining an unblemished public image rather than with obtaining justice, brushing off entreaties from victims of sexual assault. Only 2% of perpetrators ever spend a day in jail, with most walking free with an intact college scholarship and a clean conscience. Men, our current president included, display their masculinity through debasing and degrading locker room talk, and their unacceptable actions are dismissed with the phrase “boys will be boys.” There is an overwhelming presence of disturbing ideas made acceptable in casual conversation. Though we are entering a new age of social progress, hidden parentheses of caution follow every conversation we have. Women are independent and strong (but make sure to remember your pepper spray). Freedom of choice for all (but don’t talk to strangers; don’t drink anything you didn’t buy for yourself; don’t show too much skin)! Anyone can change the world (but sometimes, your “no” sometimes doesn’t sound like “no” to others). But we are helpless in our hypocrisy. While in an ideal society, all would be free to follow the principles we so ardently advocate, today’s society necessitates the occasional breaking of these principles in the name of safety. All of this adds up to a culture where sexual assault is complicated. Children are told that sexual assault is wrong, but the metaphorical parentheses give room for exceptions and justifications. We remain willingly oblivious of our culture that trivializes things that are clearly unacceptable. We play the blame game, choosing to criticize victims for wearing the wrong clothes or drinking too much. We make martyrs out of criminals and lying whores out of victims. It is clear why 68% of rapes are never reported. The reality is that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. She was not asking for it when she put on a dress she felt pretty wearing. She was not asking for it when she smiled or when she invited him in to play Scrabble. And no, she never asked him to take away her right to have control over her own body, she never asked him to take away her right to say yes and no and be listened to, she never asked him to leave such long lasting emotional scars that it takes her a year just to talk to a man without flinching. There is very little we can do to change the countless stories never gotten justice for. But we are the future, and we hold the responsibility of changing the tales of the countless stories that have not yet been written. We can make sexual assault less complicated. Be conscious of the messages you absorb and spread. Remember that behind every body is a person. Raise awareness. Educate, educate, educate. Ask questions. Have conversations where discomfort is okay because discomfort means rebelling against the social norm. Push back. Be the change.