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Don't forget the heroes in sexual assault

STEVE SACK/THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
STEVE SACK/THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

We are surrounded by men who get it when it comes to sexual assault. Men who protect instead of prey. Men with moral compasses who would never touch a woman without her consent -- no matter how drunk she or he might be.

It doesn't take shining armor or a white stallion to be a hero. Just ask the two Swedish graduate students who were riding bikes, not horses, across the Stanford campus last year and spotted Brock Turner rutting around behind a dumpster with a young woman who was unconscious.

"The guy stood up, and then we saw that she wasn't moving," Carl-Fredrik Arndt told CBS News. "So we called him out on it, and the guy ran away. My friend Peter Jonsson chased after him."

They caught Turner and held him until the police arrived, which is how Turner, now 20, wound up being convicted of sexual assault.

The Swedes could have kept biking past and assumed that it was just a sex thing. Move along, not my business. Instead, they saw something, and they did something. And the woman they rescued was profoundly grateful.

"I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed," she wrote in a searing letter to the judge, "to remind myself there are heroes in this story.

When I posted the photos of the Swedes on my Facebook and praised them for being awesome, 1,400 people shared my post. We are hungry for champions like them -- role models for millions of young men and allies in the fight against campus sexual assault.

As a country, we're on a precipice of change when it comes to gender issues.

Although the Turner case is disturbing, the national outrage it has sparked is uplifting and encouraging.

This week, we saw an entire nation of men who get it condemn Turner, his light six-month sentence and his father's dismissive attitude about the attack.

And it happened in a week when a woman made history by becoming the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for president.

Yes, Hillary Clinton is already being demeaned and derided by the misogynist Donald Trump. And, yes, Turner's father, Dan A. Turner, epitomizes the men (and a depressing number of women) who still don't acknowledge that being drunk can never be an excuse for rape. Dan Turner's actual words to the judge in arguing that his son should get no jail time: "His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

But let's not dwell on his shameful behavior. Instead let's focus on John Pavlovitz, a North Carolina pastor, who gets it.

He wrote a letter to Dan Turner explaining why Brock isn't the victim in this case.

"This young woman will be dealing with this for far longer than the embarrassingly short six months your son is being penalized," Pavlovitz wrote.

"She will endure the unthinkable trauma of his '20 minutes of action' for the duration of her lifetime, and the fact that you seem unaware of this fact is exactly why we have a problem."

We do have a huge problem with the way we see rape. We continue to define it as a woman alone in a parking lot assaulted by a stranger.

The truth is that 8 out of 10 women who have been raped knew their attackers.

In last year's Washington Post-Kaiser Foundation poll, 20 percent of the women in college surveyed said they were sexually assaulted over the course of four years.

That's 1 in 5, the same number that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with for the entire population.

Their attackers aren't strangers lurking in the bushes or the dorm showers.

Sometimes that happens. But usually, the rapists on campus are smiling guys who made their folks and teachers back home proud. Maybe they are star athletes like Turner, who swam for Stanford and harbored Olympic aspirations.

But clearly, they were never taught that no means no. That fearful or drunken silence means no. That anything but yes means no.

The Stanford case and others like it have been especially disturbing to parents of girls.

And lots of them give their daughters advice on how to avoid being assaulted by the Brock Turners of the world.

But real change can only come from the advice being given to our sons.

President Obama acknowledged as much when the White House launched a high-profile "It's On Us" campaign two years ago.

He urged men to join the effort to end sexual assault on campus by condemning it and making it socially unacceptable.

Every day, there are more men who get it when it comes to rape. And we need them to teach our boys about consent, teach them the word no, teach them to admire Carl-Fredrik Arndt, Peter Jonsson and the many men around us who are decent and moral.

Teach them to be protectors instead of predators.

Contact Petula Dvorak, columnist for The Washington Post, at dvorakp@washpost.com

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