Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: History & Ways to Get Involved

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) occurs annually in April to raise public awareness about the prevalence and impact of sexual assault. SAAM emphasizes the need to educate communities on preventing sexual violence. Furthermore, it seeks to foster understanding and support for survivors.

SAAM's core objective is to spark open dialogue and break down the stigma surrounding sexual assault. The month-long initiative seeks to help survivors find the courage to share their experiences and seek assistance by nurturing a culture of empathy, respect, and awareness. In addition, it emphasizes the importance of obtaining consent and maintaining respectful communication in relationships. 

Read on to learn more about this vital observance and how to support the cause. 

Featured in: April - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.

History and Background of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) originated in the 1980s, initially as Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

In 1994 champions of women's rights, individuals who have overcome gender violence, and state-level organizations banded together to champion the establishment and execution of the Violence Against Women Act. This law marked the first time law enforcement was required to treat gender-based violence as a criminal offense instead of a private family concern.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), which was founded by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), extended the week into a month-long event in 2001. Delilah Rumburg, the former CEO of PCAR and NSVRC, led this effort. 

As SAAM evolved, it witnessed significant milestones and achievements, including introducing the "Day of Action" in 2004. Scheduled on the first Tuesday of April every year, this day encourages individuals and communities to prevent sexual violence proactively. 

Official recognition

Moreover, in 2009, the White House officially recognized April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a result, it was underlining its national importance and expanding its reach.

Throughout SAAM's history, various themes have been adopted to address different aspects of sexual assault prevention and awareness. In 2017 "Engaging New Voices" highlighted the need for a diverse range of participants in the conversation. Another theme, "I Ask," in 2019, emphasized the crucial role of consent in preventing sexual assault. 

Karen Baker, the current CEO of NSVRC, continues to play an instrumental role in promoting SAAM and its mission. In 2023 the organization has chosen to focus its work around the theme “Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity.” This theme calls on us all to build racial equity and respect. 

Today several countries worldwide organize their own events and campaigns. With the ongoing dedication of organizations and individuals alike, SAAM remains a powerful force in raising awareness and fostering a global culture of respect, consent, and survivor support.

The Cause and Its Challenges

Support Survivors - Image from SAAM 2023 campaign
Image from SAAM 2023 campaign.

A far-reaching issue, sexual violence has profound consequences for individuals and communities alike. The cause encompasses many offenses, from rape and sexual harassment to other forms of misconduct. 

A key objective of SAAM is to educate the public about the prevalence and impact of these crimes, underlining the significance of prevention efforts and the critical need to support survivors.

Survivors of sexual assault face numerous challenges, not least the emotional and psychological trauma that can leave lasting effects on their mental health. Additionally, their sexual health and confidence can suffer. 

Feelings of shame and stigma often accompany these harrowing experiences, leading many to hesitate before reporting incidents to the authorities1.

Access to help and support 

Sexual assault is a highly unreported crime, with only 20% of female survivors and 5% of male survivors seeking law enforcement help. Unfortunately, this lack of reporting contributes to a culture of impunity for perpetrators.

The broader community, too, grapples with obstacles in confronting this issue, such as the limited availability of resources designated for prevention and support initiatives. Cultural and societal attitudes can further impede progress by perpetuating victim-blaming mentalities, discouraging survivors from coming forward. 

Vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ+ and disabled individuals, face unique challenges regarding sexual assault and dating violence. They are disproportionately affected and frequently encounter barriers when accessing support services. 

Related: Read our mental health quotes for positive words from those who have lived experience. 

5 Important Facts About Sexual Assault

  • One in five women experiences sexual assault during their lifetime. While one in 71 men are also victims of this crime. 
  • Surprisingly, a significant proportion of sexual assaults, around 55%, occur either at or near the victim's home.
  • Underreporting remains a significant concern regarding domestic violence and sexual assault cases3. A mere 23% of these incidents are reported to the police, making it the most underreported violent crime. 
  • A staggering 80% of assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
  • Bystander intervention and education programs have proven to be highly effective tools in the fight against sexual assault2. These initiatives empower individuals, teaching them to identify potentially harmful situations and take appropriate action. Such programs foster a sense of collective responsibility, inspiring communities to act against sexual assault together.

Efforts and Initiatives

Organizations, governments, and nonprofits worldwide are taking a stand against sexual assault. Among them, United Nations (UN) Women stands out for its dedication to ending violence against women, including sexual assault. UN Women has effectively spurred global commitment to this critical cause through survivor resources and policy advocacy.

Awareness campaigns have also played a significant role in shedding light on sexual assault and its consequences. For example, the U.S. It's On Us campaign implores people to pledge their support for preventing sexual assault on college campuses. This campaign has connected with millions through social media and by partnering with educational institutions.

Meanwhile, the White Ribbon Campaign has made waves as a global movement of men and boys striving to end male violence against women and girls, including sexual assault. 

Fostering gender equality and healthy relationships, it calls on men to take responsibility for preventing sexual violence. 

#METOO

Since its explosive emergence on social media in 2017, the #MeToo movement has dramatically shifted the conversation around sexual assault. This empowering movement has encouraged survivors to raise their voices and share their experiences, shattering the silence that has long shrouded this sensitive issue.

The outpour of testimonies shined a light on the alarming prevalence of sexual assault across various industries and social settings. By igniting an open and honest conversation, the #MeToo movement has successfully challenged and shifted societal attitudes, thus breaking down long-standing stigmas and barriers.

Thanks to the bravery of survivors and the impact of the #MeToo movement, Sexual Assault Awareness Month now finds itself in the hearts and minds of a much wider audience. In turn, helping to create a wider united front against this pervasive issue.

How to Get Involved and Support Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sailors supporting Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Teal ribbons are tied to a tree at the Naval Hospital in Beaufort in recognisation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Photo: public domain.

Participating in local events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is a powerful way to change how society still has allowed sexual violence to exist. 

Keep an eye out for marches, workshops, and seminars in your community that aim to raise awareness and foster a sense of unity. I remember attending my first SAAM event and experiencing the palpable dedication of the people involved. 

Ways to support and show solidarity

Harnessing the power of social media platforms enables you to spread awareness and easily share crucial information. Using pertinent hashtags like #SAAM and #NoMore, you can magnify the reach of educational resources, survivor stories, and prevention tips. 

Moreover, wearing a teal ribbon, the symbol of sexual assault awareness, can initiate essential conversations and serve as a visual reminder of the cause. You might also choose to volunteer at organizations that support sexual assault survivors. Of course, being educated and ready to help a survivor close to it also stands to make a significant difference. 

If you have time to spare, consider volunteers in your community or at rape crisis centers, who often welcome the support. Fundraising is a great way to support their valuable work as they often rely on donations and the opportunity to raise public awareness simultaneously. 

When you share your reasons for standing behind SAAM, you inspire others to join the movement and help prevent sexual assault. 

The national sexual assault hotline, run by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), is available 24/7 for confidential help and support. Call them if you need to talk; they’re there to help. 

Conclusion

This significant awareness campaign transcends the mere acknowledgment of sexual assault prevalence and nurtures a supportive, empathetic society in which survivors are listened to and receive the assistance they need.

Seek out opportunities to participate in local events or online initiatives designed to raise awareness and keep an open mind when confronted with different perspectives. 

Lastly, consider donating to organizations that relentlessly support survivors and work to end sexual violence. In unity, we can foster an environment that cultivates respect, consent, and safety for all community members.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month FAQs

1. What is Sexual Assault Awareness Month?

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign in the United States to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on how to prevent it.

2. When is Sexual Assault Awareness Month observed?

SAAM is observed in April every year.

3. Who can be a victim of sexual assault?

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation.

4. What are some ways to prevent sexual assault?

Some ways to prevent sexual assault include educating oneself and others about consent, being aware of one's surroundings, and intervening when witnessing potentially harmful situations.

5. How can I support the cause during Sexual Assault Awareness Month?

You can support the cause during SAAM by attending events and activities, volunteering at local organizations that provide services to survivors of sexual assault, and donating to organizations that work towards ending sexual violence.

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1

Sable, M. R., Danis, F., Mauzy, D. L., & Gallagher, S. K. (2006). Barriers to reporting sexual assault for women and men: Perspectives of college students. Journal of American College Health, 55(3), 157-162.

2

Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., & Plante, E. G. (2007). Sexual violence prevention through bystander education: An experimental evaluation. Journal of Community Psychology, 35(4), 463-481.

3

Lisak, D., Gardinier, L., Nicksa, S. C., & Cote, A. M. (2010). False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported CasesViolence Against Women16(12), 1318–1334. 

Photo by Lucas Meneses
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