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Actions speak louder than words. But words create the environment and world in which we live.

Our actions and words matter greatly — and the actions and words of the Montana State Legislature in the 2019 session were clear: Montana will not allow sexual abuse, especially abuse of children, to continue. We removed the statute of limitations allowing for criminal prosecution of sexual abuse against children and established a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Day.

Sexual assault, including crimes such as rape and incest, is a cancer in society that for too long has gone inadequately addressed, unnoticed, and blatantly ignored. This has happened unfortunately at all levels, including within our schools, our families, and our court systems. The Centers for Disease Control estimate 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18.

A unified Montana made a statement with our actions and our words. We want to change the cultural norms that allow sexual assault and abuse to occur. During the 2019 legislative session, the Legislature came together in a bipartisan way and sent a clear message that we value the safety of children and do not tolerate children being sexually abused. By removing the criminal statute of limitations, this means that when an adult sexually abuses a child, they can never escape criminal liability. Every day for the rest of that adult's life they are at risk of being arrested, having criminal charges filed, and being put in prison after they are convicted in court of the crime against the child.

The Legislature set the bar even higher, leading the nation by being the first state to establish Sexual Assault Survivors' Day, occurring on the first Thursday in April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month). This day will not only honor survivors but, in addition, raise awareness of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and discrimination. It is a chance for communities to raise awareness and increase education about these problems and how to prevent them. I was honored to carry House Resolution 4, cosponsored by many Democrats and Republicans, establishing this special day.

We as Montanans are fiercely independent and we require accountability from all individuals. This session, our collaborative actions made a statement: Montana will not allow sexual assault and sexual abuse to go unnoticed. Unreported. Ignored. We hold other members of society accountable for their actions and will work to make our community safer.

No child should have to fear she or he will be sexually abused by anyone. No perpetrator of this crime should be able to mark a day on a calendar knowing they have no more responsibility after that date because the criminal statute of limitations has ended.

Montana has emerged as the national leader by declaring Sexual Assault Survivors’ Day. Hopefully other states will follow suit, learn a little from Montana law, and the rest of the nation will look a bit more like Montana.

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State Rep. Kimberly Dudik, a Democrat from Frenchtown, has worked four legislative terms on improving child protection laws and championing criminal justice reform as well as having served as a deputy county attorney and assistant attorney general. She is running for the position of  attorney general.

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