April is a month dedicated to awareness efforts of all kinds. In the United States, we celebrate everything from autism awareness to national youth sports safety awareness during the month of April. These and other causes are relevant and deserving of our attention and action. But for those of us working the front lines on behalf of victims of sexual assault and rape, April is all about sexual assault awareness and prevention.
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we strive to go the extra mile to engage with local community members about important topics such as root causes and social norms that tolerate and perpetuate sexual violence. A focused effort aimed at promoting education and a greater understanding of the problem at hand will indeed lead to increased awareness. But education and awareness alone will not accomplish the goal to end rape and sexual assault. Action is also required to foster legitimate, positive change. The national theme this year for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Engaging New Voices.” It is our hope that you will join your voice with ours in the effort to upend unacceptable social norms and actively support survivors of sexual violence.
When a problem doesn’t seem to involve us directly or blatantly affect our way of life, it can be easy to ignore and pretend it’s not there. But directly or indirectly, whether we are aware of it or not, we are all affected by sexual violence. In the spirit of engaging new voices, here are a few ideas on how to get involved in sexual assault awareness, not just in April but in your everyday life.
Speak up when you hear comments or jokes that promote a culture of rape. By challenging ideas and language that contribute to sexual assault, you can change the conversation.
Intervene when you see or hear something that contributes to an unsafe situation. This can be as simple as calling out to distract or interrupt abusive behavior. Take care in assessing the situation as you don’t want to put yourself in harm’s way. Active bystanders are proving to be an effective deterrent to sexual assault and rape.
Promote healthy relationships to help encourage a culture that supports loving, respectful dating habits and encourages speaking out about sexual assault.
Believe survivors when they disclose accounts of sexual violence. The blame rests on the perpetrator after all, not the victim. Many in our society believe individual behavior and the choices of a victim are responsible for getting into an unsafe predicament. But a great majority of victims are assaulted by someone they know, maybe even a long-term dating partner or spouse. This can make it more difficult for them to report or get help because our culture tends to direct inquiries to the victim first, asking “What were you wearing?” or “Were you drinking?” or saying “But I saw you flirting.” Unfortunately, these common reactions will ultimately silence victims. So start by believing the person disclosing to you. Treating them with respect and empathy will make a positive difference in their ability to heal.
Get involved! Email your representatives about your commitment to end sexual violence, emphasizing the need for preventative and victim services. Participate in local community efforts that are helping to change negative attitudes and stereotypes. Be a voice for victims in the conversations that are happening in your book club, campus organization, church group, or sports club. Write letters to the editor or submit opinion pieces to highlight problems and propose solutions. Or you can volunteer with a victim advocacy agency like DOVE Center. There are lots of ways to get involved!
By working together to engage more voices, we can create a safe community that supports victims and promotes healthy relationships and respectful interaction.
If you or someone you know has suffered from sexual or domestic violence, DOVE can help. Call our 24/7 helpline at (435) 628-0458.