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Many a month has a cause attached to it. We wear ribbons, organize walks and post a meaningful social media status update about the important cause. While these efforts may seem trivial to some, make no mistake about it—one month of organized activism can make a difference in someone’s life.
While raising money for research, advocacy and other types of help is certainly an important aspect in these months, simply recognizing survivors of disease or trauma can help these individuals feel less alone in their difficult fights. And, in the case of domestic violence and sexual assault, these months may help other survivors feel emboldened to step forward and disclose abuse or assault, report a perpetrator to authorities or seek help in healing from what they’ve endured.
History of SAAM
This April, you may see an increase of teal, the color representing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, or SAAM. The purpose of SAAM is to elevate the public level of awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent this crime. SAAM has been recognized each April for the last two decades, though protests against sexual violence started in the ‘70s. During Take Back the Night marches in England, legions of women protested the violence they were experiencing as they walked the streets at night. The movement soon headed over to the U.S. and Take Back the Night protests appeared in San Francisco and New York City. The first rape crisis center in the U.S. was founded in San Francisco in 1971.
The history goes back even further—Black women and women of color began speaking out on the intersectionality of violence against women and racism-fueled violence in the ‘40s and ‘50s on the cusp of the civil rights movement.
Sexual Assault, Harassment Affects More of Us Than Not
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey of 2015, the last time the data was compiled, 1 in 5 women have been the victim of rape. An astonishing 81 percent of women have endured some form of sexual harassment or assault, while 43 percent of men can say the same. In our Survivor Stories series, many brave women (and men) have come forward to talk about surviving sexual assault and domestic violence, like Marielle, Ron and Amy. Recently, a billboard debuted in New York’s Times Square, the impetus of which came from Caroline Hammond, who started a nonprofit after surviving suspected sexual abuse perpetuated by her fiancé. You can also check out the Survivors Spaces platform on the End Rape on Campus (EROC) website to hear first-hand from survivors.
Speaking Out is Important, Disclosing is Optional
While we need to talk about the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in order to make sure it’s not tolerated, disclosing one’s own experience with this is a personal decision and is not required, as Kenyora Parham, Executive Director of EROC puts it, “in order to be seen, heard and believed.
“For those who do not wish to speak out, it’s imperative to understand that it does not invalidate their experience or their voice.”
When a survivor does choose to speak out, they are helping others to not feel alone, even though no two experiences of assault are alike.
“As we see more student survivors and allies – especially those coming from historically marginalized communities – decide to come forward and speak out … the diversified perspectives and experiences contribute to the much-needed representation in this space,” says Parham. “It allows survivors who may have felt alone and isolated at first to see that there is someone who looks like them who has gone through a similar situation and recognize the community that can be built through that.”
How Can I Help?
Wondering how you can help raise awareness during SAAM? We’ve got you covered.
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1. Believe Survivors.
Many survivors won’t disclose sexual assault or sexual harassment out of fear of not being believed or of facing victim-blaming or negative repercussions from the perpetrator or others. However, the number of cases of false reporting of sexual assault is so low that believing survivors shouldn’t even be a question. Statistics show the prevalence of false reports is between 2 percent and 10 percent. In 2018, it’s estimated only 25 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police. Read “10 Ways to Validate a Survivor” for ideas on how to respond to someone who discloses abuse or assault, and check out End Rape On Campus’s survivor resources that provides a breakdown of various ways to show up and support survivors based on your role.
2. Learn About Sexual Assault.
You can better support survivors of assault and sexual harassment by becoming educated on what these tactics of abuse look like, how they affect survivors and who is most often targeted. DomesticShelters.org has over 2,000 articles on all topics of abuse and assault that can help kickstart your immersive education. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center also provides a wealth of information and resources on sexual violence. “Share what you learn on your social media or other community platforms to help increase awareness within your own network,” encourages Parham.
3. Take Action.
There are lots of opportunities to get out into your community and participate in an awareness-raising event for SAAM. Visit one of these site’s events pages below:
Take Back the Night
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
End Rape on Campus
And if there’s not an event near you, consider creating your own. Hold your own fundraiser, rally or educational night. Pick a relevant documentary (here’s one list) and hold a screening. Gather friends and call or write lawmakers to change a law or support VAWA. Collect and build dignity kits for survivors of sexual assault.
For college students, Parham encourages wannabe activists to check out It’s On Us and learn how to start a chapter of the student leadership group to change campus culture around sexual assault.
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