In Montana, people often feel shielded from some of the problems that plague larger, more populous areas. I grew up in a town where some people didn’t bother locking their cars and houses, and even when I was a student at The University of Montana, I hardly ever worried about my personal safety.

If there is one thing we have learned from the unsettling string of events at UM over the past few months, it is that no state, city or campus is exempt from the threat of sexual assault.

It’s a hard thing to accept, but the first step toward protecting the members of our community from this harsh reality is encouraging them to become informed. That’s the aim of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which runs through the end of April.

“The purpose of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is…to create awareness that sexual assault exists in our communities and our nation,” said NSVRC CEO Delilah Rumberg. “We need to think about it, and we need to educate people and engage them in the prevention of sexual assault and rape.”

According to information provided by NSVRC, nearly 20 percent of the population has experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime.

In its quest to lower that number, NSVRC has launched a campaign — titled “It’s time…to talk about it” — to promote an honest dialogue about healthy sexuality and safe, healthy relationships.

NSVRC has planned events throughout the month of April in an effort to spread its message. In addition to providing educational materials online, the organization will host live weekly conversations via its Twitter feed.

We can’t undo what has already happened in our community, but by starting an open conversation about what’s really going on with sexual assault, perhaps we can help prevent it in the future.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.