For those of you who may not know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)! The goal of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to raise awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.
How did SAAM start?
SAAM has its origins in the women’s movement from the 1970’s. In the late 1970’s Take Back the Night marches were organized in England to protest recent incidents of violent acts committed against women while walking in the streets at night. During it’s conception, Take Back the Night marches were women-oriented protests aimed at empowering women to “take back the night” and reclaim their right to be out at night. Over time such initiatives became more organized and coordinated; they evolved into movements to raise awareness about violence against women and soon spread to the United States in the late 1970’s. In fact, the first Take Back the Night events in the United States were held in San Francisco and New York in 1978. Over time, such initiatives expanded–they became more inclusive of men as allies in ending violence against women as well as raising awareness regarding violence against men.
Over the next decade there was increased support and coordination of activities aimed at addressing violence against women. Through such initiatives, October was designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As a result, sexual assault advocates sought out a separate time to focus efforts towards sexual assault issues and thus April was designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Why should I care about Sexual Assault Awareness Month?
Sexual assault continues to be a problem in the United States. In the 1970’s, the feminist movement started to raise awareness about the frequency and severity of sexual assault among women. And young, college women most frequently experience sexual assault. About one in four women will be sexually assaulted during their life times and this risk is not evenly distributed. During the time women spend in college, there at an increased risk of experiencing sexual assault. Unfortunately, those statistics have not changed since the beginning of the feminist movement nearly five decades (or 50 years!!) ago. Needless to say, sexual assault continues to be a problem, especially among college students. For those of us who happen to be women, this is a personal threat to our welling being and to those of you who happen to know, like, or love women or have women friends, family members, partners etc. I would imagine you have a vested interest in their safety and well being as well. Additionally men are also victimized, although less frequently, but these experiences often go un- or under-reported just like experiences of violence against women tend to.
Given that acts of sexual violence tend to go un- or under-reported for both women and men, I think any initiative where we shed light on this issue is beneficial. According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “the April 2011 Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign focuses on everyone speaking up to prevent sexual violence in our neighborhoods, communities, workplaces and schools.” The campaign, entitled “It’s Time…to Get Involved” focuses on exploring “common, everyday behaviors and offers individuals viable, responsible ways to intervene.” I believe that everyone should take ownership over this issue as sexual assault has a tremendous impact in our society. By increasing awareness about how common sexual assault is, perhaps people may feel more comfortable reporting assault and increased efforts can be made toward providing financial resources to support victims of assault and increase prevention efforts.
What can you do?
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “this year’s campaign, “It’s time … to Get Involved,” incorporates a bystander approach to sexual violence prevention.” What does a bystander approach to sexual violence prevention mean? Well, a bystander, or witness, is anyone who observes a situation that may look like it could head toward a potential sexual assault. This person may or may not know what to do, may think others will act or may be afraid to do something. However, as a third party, we can look out for our friends; this is an especially good tactic for college students when engaging in partying and drinking alcohol. Both men and women can have a “buddy system” in which they party in groups and one member of the group may remain sober in order to look out for other members of the group. If they notice some of their friends getting too intoxicated to make decisions about consenting to sex, they may help diverge the situation so that it does not escalate to a sexual assault.
I recognize this is easier said then done. But having networks of friends who trust each other can help people look out for one another. And, being a bystander does not always mean stepping in when we think we see a situation that may result in an assault. Being a bystander can also mean challenging those around us to take sexual assault seriously. If we hear a rape joke or see something publicized that condones sexual assault or rape, we can speak out against it. We can boycott media figures who have committed acts of sexual assault and tell our friends, family members, or whoever else why we are doing so. After all, research shows that engaging bystanders in intervening may aide in the prevention of sexual violence in communities.
You can also engage in the dialogue. I think an important part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is the awareness aspect. Sex in general remains a taboo subject in contemporary American culture. In my opinion, sexual assault and rape are even further removed from our dialogue, except in jest. But I think the more we talk about such issues in a serious way, and the more we talk about and recognize underlying factors within our culture that contribute to the occurrence of sexual assault, the closer we are to addressing ways to end sexual assault and violence.
You can also participate in the Thursdays in Black Campaign. During the month of April, people wear black on Thursdays to support victims of sexual violence and to raise awareness. Here at Indiana University student groups like RAISE (Raising Awareness of Interactions in Sexual Encounters), the Women’s Student Association and the Indiana University Student Association have sponsored a black t-shirt campaign for the Thursdays in Black initiative. If you can get your hands on a one of their t-shirts, wear it! If you can’t, wear black and be sure to tell people why you are wearing black…help spread the word and raise awareness!!
Take Advantage of SAAM
I might suggest that you take some time this month (or any of the other 11 months) to learn more about sexual assault in general, in the United State specifically, among college and university students, learn about sexual assault legislation or education, or any other issue that may have remote interest to you surrounding sexual violence. Educate yourself, talk about it, acknowledge the occurrence of sexual assault. To me, the bottom line is, in whatever way you can….”it’s time to get involved!”