April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

BY SARA ROTTGER '19

Since 2001, April has been nationally observed as Sexual Assault Awareness Month and marks a time of campaigning for the prevention of sexual violence. Organizations on the national, state and collegiate levels are preparing resources and projects to accomplish this goal. Sexual assault is a major public health issue that affects every portion of the population.

Particularly in universities and colleges, sexual violence is pervasive. According to data from the Association of American Universities, 23.1 percent of female students in the U.S. experience rape or sexual assault. Transgender and gender-nonconforming U.S. students face higher rates of sexual assault, 21 percent having been sexually assaulted. However, 20 percent of U.S. female students who were victims of sexual assault do not report sexual violence to law enforcement due to fear of repercussions, the belief that it was not important enough to report, fear of identifying the perpetrator, or because they believed they would not receive help, among other reasons. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice identifies rape as the crime that is most underreported.

All members of the LGBT community, not only students, face a higher risk of sexual violence. According to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health: “While 13 percent of heterosexual adults report unwanted sexual contact at some time in their lives, the prevalence rate increased to 26 percent for gay/lesbian adults and 37 percent for bisexual adults.” Resources can be found on the GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project website, although the Cambridge- based project ended in 2015. The Trauma Informed Care Research Project, available online, is a comprehensive document of approaches to working with LGBT and sexual assault survivors from the perspective of transformative justice. Transformative justice is grounded in holistically addressing not only cases of sexual and other types of violence, but the causes behind them as well.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, SAAM stems from the national Take Back the Night marches of the 1970s in the United Kingdom and major U.S. cities such as San Francisco and New York City. In the 1990s, activists selected April as a month of awareness for sexual assault issues, distinct from — but related to — October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While the campaign began with the primary goal of raising awareness, 2005 marked the beginning of the NSVRC focus on prevention. This shift led to a more “action-oriented” agenda and the creation of the Toolkit, which includes resources for the workplace, social media awareness tips and fact sheets. It is available online.

The NSVRC has also had a yearly theme since 2005, with past themes of “Prevent Sexual Violence ... in our communities” and “It’s About Time to Prevent Sexual Violence. Speak Out.” This year, the theme is “Engaging New Voices.” The organization hopes to broaden the impact of SAAM by identifying culturally influential leaders, such as members of Greek life and faith leaders, and involving them in prevention efforts. Suggested ways to get involved include sending letters to editors of local newspapers and attending local SAAM events. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network offers a guide for responding to survivors that focuses on establishing trust and support.

In the Pioneer Valley, the YWCA of Western Massachusetts, provides services and awareness for survivors all year at its headquarters in Springfield, but also participates in SAAM. On campus, Active Minds, Planned Parenthood Generation Action and MoHealth Peer Health Educators are sponsoring an open mic titled Our Story: Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Cassani Lounge on April 13 at 6:30 p.m. This space is open to Mount Holyoke students only.

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