Supporting Survivors, Spreading the Word
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While it can seem almost futile simply to dedicate a page on the calendar to such a serious issue, designating a month to a social problem like this does increase its public profile and raise awareness.
When people are informed about how prevalent sexual violence is, it helps us to support each other and find ways to end the problem.
A Foundation for Action
Activism to bring attention—and find solutions—to sexualized violence has existed in the United States for decades. The first people to speak publicly on the topic in any organized way were female civil rights workers, mostly women of color. The movement gained widespread support throughout the 1960s, and the first rape crisis center opened in San Francisco in 1971. Seven years later the first Take Back the Night event occurred in the same city. Over time, similar annual events began in cities across the country (and outside the U.S. as well). Scroll to the bottom of this post for information about our local event this month.
In 1993, the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law. (VAWA lapsed in February 2019. The current House Resolution 1585—introduced on March 7, 2019—attempts to reauthorize the act with minor modifications.) In 2001, April became Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Take Back the Night events are organized on a Thursday in April. In 2019, Take Back the Night is set for April 18.
Why Awareness is Necessary
Sexualized violence is an epidemic worldwide. In the United States, one out of three females will be assaulted in her lifetime. One out of six males will be assaulted. Rates of assault are higher for women of color, and transgender women face the highest risk. In the U.S., 98% of the perpetrators are male. Worldwide, that statistic is 99%. Everyone is affected by sexualized violence, whether it’s directly—as a secondary survivor (someone who has a loved one directly impacted)—or indirectly.
While all forms of violence are insidious, sexual violence is especially distressing because it targets our most intimate selves. Survivors experience high levels of post-traumatic stress, and often develop unhealthy coping mechanisms such as addiction. They experience difficulty establishing intimate relationships, leading to depression and even suicidal ideation.
Debunking the Myths
Misinformation about sexual assault pervades our culture. The three most problematic myths are that:
- Sexual predators are strangers who leap from the shadows;
- People lie about being raped;
- Victims instigate the attack.
In reality, about 90% of the time, people are assaulted by someone they know. Sometimes, that person is their romantic partner.
Furthermore, rape is falsely reported at the same rate as other forms of violent crime: about eight percent. These low rates of false reporting confirm that at least 92% of victims are telling the truth.
Finally, no one wants to be raped. Ever. The idea that a victim could be “asking for it” is the worst sort of damaging stereotype. No sexual act should ever take place without the partners’ explicit permission.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the #metoo movement, and events like the Women’s March and Take Back the Night are designed to raise awareness, offer support to survivors, and foster conversations about ways to end sexualized violence. Initiatives include:
- Education around consent;
- Spreading awareness about local organizations that can help;
- Creating safe spaces for the stories of survivors.
Want to find out more and get involved?
What: Take Back the Night
When: Thursday, April 18
Where: Front Range Community College’s
Boulder County Campus
4:00 – 5:30pm—Vendors will offer their services and attendees can participate in tee-shirt making, social media campaigns, and activism pledges. The Sugarbirds will provide music.
5:30—A series of speakers will share their stories, as well as offer solutions and information. The speakers will be followed by 20 minutes of open mic where any survivor is invited to share their story. We will conclude with a candlelight vigil (ending by 7pm).
The public is welcome.