Every 73 seconds someone in the US is sexually assaulted. Sexual violence can take many forms, and crosses all gender, racial, and socioeconomic lines. Sexual violence can include any unwanted sexual contact, “ranging from sexist attitudes and actions to rape… [it] can include words and actions…force, threats and manipulation” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2021). Sexual violence can also have long lasting impacts on mental, emotional, and even physical well-being. It is a pervasive problem that transcends individuals and impacts entire communities.
Building on years of advocacy and legislation, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) created the first nationally recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April 2001. For the last twenty years, every April, organizations, communities, and advocates highlight SAAM and shine a spotlight on awareness, survivors, advocacy efforts, and prevention. In 2011, NSVRC launched its first social media campaign for SAAM, entitled “It’s time”.
In 2013, ACTS welcomed SAVAS, now known as Sexual Assault Services, into its many programs and community advocacy efforts. Since then, ACTS Sexual Assault Services has worked with survivors through individual and group support, hospital and court accompaniments, community education, and a 24/7 sexual assault hotline. Each April, ACTS participates in SAAM through outreach and advocacy efforts, community education, and social media campaigns. There is still much to be done to support survivors and increase prevention efforts in the community. In honor of the tenth anniversary of SAAM’s first social media campaign, it’s still time.
It’s time to stand up. It’s time to challenge sexist language. It’s time to respect consent. It’s time to believe survivors.
Sexual violence is a community problem. Attitudes, beliefs, and values within the community can support sexual violence. “Social norms that promote violence, using power over others, unhealthy concepts about masculinity, the subjugation of women, and silence about violence and abuse contribute to the occurrence of sexual violence” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2021). One way we can all promote community advocacy and challenge the harmful beliefs and values that promote sexual violence is to practice prevention.
Prevention strategies can take many forms, but exist in all areas where we work, go to school, or gather with friends. As individuals, we can promote values and beliefs that support safety, respect, and equality. We can support attitudes and actions that challenge myths of sexual assault and violence, and support survivors by elevating their voices. “Many people are working to erase the silence and shame that keep sexual violence hidden and are working in their communities to create positive social norms and policies that promote equity and safety” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2021).
Further, we can practice prevention by speaking up. If a friend or colleague makes an inappropriate or crude comment, we can challenge it. We can promote safety and respect through our actions, and we can share the information we learn to help promote supportive attitudes. We can model compassion and respectful attitudes through our everyday interactions with others.
We can educate others and ourselves on the prevalence of sexual assault, and challenge myths and victim-blaming attitudes. One in every six women, and one in every thirty-three men, in the US will experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (RAINN, 2021). Prevalence of sexual violence in LGBTQ+ communities and historically marginalized communities can be greater and often intersect with additional or unseen barriers.
Sexual violence, much like other forms of violence, is about power and control over another person. It is not an act of lust, or inability to control one’s sexual desires. It is about violating another person using power and control. Victim blaming and shaming cultivate rape-supportive attitudes that excuse an abuser’s actions. If someone you know confides in you that they have been sexually assaulted, your response matters. Attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate victim blaming can cause significant emotional harm to a survivor. You can offer support, listen, let the survivor know you believe them, and that it’s not their fault.
You can refer them to ACTS Sexual Assault Services at 703-497-1192 (M-F, 9am-5pm), or call the 24/7 sexual assault hotline at 703-368-4141.
It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to challenge harmful beliefs. It’s time to end sexual violence. It’s time.
NSVRC. 2021. National Sexual Violence Resource Center. https://www.nsvrc.org/
RAINN. 2021. Scope of the problem. https://rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem