Awareness shouldn’t end in April.
This is a response to “Sexual Assault Awareness Does Not End in April.”
This semester, I’ve been taking a class about interpersonal violence and the different types of family violence. Sexual assault and abuse continues to be a major issue around the world and in the United States, with over one half of women and almost one in three men experiencing sexual violence involving physical contact throughout their lifetimes. Although it’s great that the month of April is established as a time to raise awareness and share resources about sexual assault, it’s crucial that we support survivors all year round. Here is some history about sexual assault awareness month (SAAM) and some ways that you can support survivors throughout the year!
As noted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, as long as there have been people who care about making the world a better place, there have been individuals advocating for sexual assault prevention. Shortly after the resource center was created in 2000, seven years after President Bill Clinton’s Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed, the organization officially recognized April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In 2009, President Barack Obama officially proclaimed the month as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Despite having a month dedicated to raising awareness on the issue, the social norms that have been established for centuries, even thousands of years, continue to prevent survivors from receiving the support and resources they need and deserve through victim blaming and shaming. Here are some ways that you can advocate for those impacted by sexual assault:
Believe them. The stigma around sexual assault leads many victims to think that no one will believe what happened to them. Assure the survivor that you believe them and that what happened was not their fault. Many victims will blame themselves for what happened. Be sure to tell them that they didn’t do anything to deserve the assault.
Try to remain calm. Listen to what your loved one has to say without threatening the perpetrator or having an outburst of emotion, which can cause more stress.
Empower them. When someone you know (or don’t know) has been assaulted, they were stripped of their control in the situation. Encourage them to make a decision about what steps they would like to take next.
Keep the situation confidential. This is not your story to tell. Allow the survivor to decide who they want to tell about the assault.
Educate yourself. Learn about your community’s resources and provide your loved one with the information. Learning about the issue will help you feel a source of empathy and understanding for how the survivor may be feeling.
It’s important to remember that you can be an advocate and ally for sexual assault survivors in any month, whether it’s April or December. You can help raise awareness to the issue by sharing resources on your social media and standing with survivors, rather than avoiding the issue. You can make a difference!