When people generally think of April 1st, they tend to think of April Fools Day. Countless pranks will be pulled, strengthening or destroying friendships. However, April 1st also marks a more somber occasion: the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Although this may seem like yet another awareness month that gets tacked on throughout the year, SAAM is important
You may ask why. Most normal people are aware that sexual assault is bad and would try to stop any instances of it that they came across. So what do we need to be more aware of?
The big issue that we face in modern society is our attitudes towards sexual assault and the victims of it.
Approximately 293,066 cases of sexual assault occur each year, meaning that every 107 seconds, an American is a victim of sexual assault. In the United States, 20% of women will be victims of sexual assault, resulting in 32,000 unwanted pregnancies. Although the numbers have declined over the past decade, this is still far too many. Part of SAAM is a push to educate men and women about how to prevent sexual assault and what to do for those who may be victimized by this crime.
But another part of SAAM is a deeper cultural change that needs to occur when dealing with victims of sexual assault. Unfortunately, we live in a world where victims of sexual assault are often blamed or marginalized because of their experience. In a study by the Daily Mail (which admittedly did the study in England, but it is still telling) one out of three survey participants thought that women were at least partly to blame for being victims of sexual assault. By either acting flirtatious or wearing revealing clothing, women are seen to have been “asking for it”.
Often times, a victim of sexual assault will been seen as sharing part of the blame for his or her experience. This should not be the case. SAAM exists to help people understand that rape is never the victims fault. It is not the victims fault that somebody would chose to commit a crime against them. It will always be the fault of the assailant.
Without this mindset, we begin to sympathize and excuse rapists. We begin to have the mindset that rapists are, if not justified, are at least victims of circumstance when it comes to the decisions to commit sexual assault.
Although this may seem a stretch, one must look no further than recent cases, such as two high school girls who were raped and then labeled as sluts by their classmates. Dealing with the torment of everybody around them, these two girls committed suicide. Or more recently, an 11 year old girl reported being raped and tested positive for sexual assault under medical examination. No convictions where charged against the rapists, and instead this girl was convicted of filing a false report.
These stories are horrifying, and they represent the extreme cases that can come from a culture of blame. In most cases, victims of sexual assault find themselves ostracized and blamed for what happened to them. This should not happen. It is never the victims fault.
So what can we do?
First, educated yourself about the goals of SAAM. Next, give a positive voice when the discussion of sexual assault comes up. Be the first to shut down any victim blaming that may occur. Finally, reach out to those who may have been victims of sexual assault. Listen to them, don’t judge them, and give them whatever help they need. Often times, they just need you to be there. Seek appropriate professional help if needed.
Together, we can educate ourselves and others and help victims of sexual assault heal their wounds.