It’s terrible to think that a divine act of love can be contorted into an act of violence by changing its intention. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life. If you have ever been a victim of such a crime committed by either a stranger or someone who has professed to care about you, you may be aware that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
SAAM officially began in 2001, but was years in the making. In the late 1980s, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault began promoting awareness by taking an informal poll of sexual assault coalition agencies to choose the timing for such an event. That’s when Sexual Assault Awareness Week was established on a national level. Though it began as an awareness week, it extended to an entire month in the late 1990s and by 2001, SAAM was officially promoted for the first time.
Whether the result of outright anger, a lack of mental health pointing to bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD or substance abuse, the statistics of sexual assault reported by Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), are nothing short of revolting. For instance, every 107 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted and by the end of each year, the total is 293,000 people. Forty-four percent of that number are said to be younger than 18, while 80 percent are younger than 30.
RAINN is reportedly the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization and one of “America’s 100 Best Charities,” according to Worth magazine. They created and operate the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,100 rape crisis centers across the country, as well as the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense.
In 2005, the hotline assisted more than 130,000 sexual assault victims and more than 1.5 million since they began their good work in 1994. I love that RAINN’s national spokesperson is actress Christina Ricci.
Womenshealth.gov, the website of the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, “Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism (when someone watches), exhibitionism (when someone exposes him/herself in public), incest (sexual contact between family members), and sexual harassment. It can happen in different situations: in the home by someone you know, on a date, or by a stranger in an isolated place.”
Perhaps the most common of them all is rape, which can be committed by someone you know just as easily as by a stranger. Even if you’ve willingly agreed to go on a date with someone and they behave in a sexual manner without your consent, it is considered rape. “Date rape” is not a new concept and therefore, makes dating a risky business. Always be careful to guard your drink to avoid becoming a victim of such an act that often begins with being drugged by someone who decides he or she wants you either unconscious or without memory of the event.
It makes me sad that this kind of awareness must be generated, but this is the month advocates work the hardest to raise awareness and attempt to educate people about how to prevent the problem in the first place.
In the ‘70s, the campaign began with a week called Take Back the Night as a method of disarming potential criminals who attacked people in cities and towns after dark. At first, such protests shared information about sexual assault against women within the community and by the ‘80s extended to violence against men as well, which is when men joined in the revolt.
Every year the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) coordinates activities across the nation to promote awareness. The 2015 campaign is called It’s Time to Talk About It, taking the positive angle of discussing respect, openness and healthy sexuality as a form of prevention. Young people are encouraged to build healthy, safe and respectful relationships, and end relationships that are not either honorable or supportive.
The most important thing to realize if you are sexually assaulted is that you are not to blame for the crime. You are never to blame---not for the outfit you wore or anything you may have done or said---if your feelings or wishes are not considered and you are treated like an object. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support, or waste time doing so. You can call these organizations:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD)
- National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Every state has many organizations and hotlines. There are people working night and day in such crisis centers and agencies to stop assaults and help victims. Seek them out and get the help you need.