Sexual assault happens far too often in modernity. Everyone has the unwavering right to say “no,” but when that refusal still leads to unwanted physical or verbal contact, it is unacceptable. The arrival of spring signals more than a change in nature, and April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For 2017, the theme is “Engaging New Voices,” reports the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), so everyone knows what it means to give consent and why speaking out when sexual assault occurs is essential.
Who Is at Risk for Sexual Assault?
Anyone can be at risk for sexual assault, but it tends to happen most often in young people under the age of 25. As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the risk for sexual assault includes the following statistics:
- Up to 20 percent of women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape.
- One in 15 men has been forced to “penetrate someone in their lifetime.”
- Women between the ages of 18 and 24 who are in college are up to three times more likely to be the victims of sexual assault.
- Women in the same age group who are not in college are up to four times more likely to be victimized than all women.
- On college campuses, up to 11.2 percent of all students are victims of sexual assault.
- Only one in six women who have been sexual assaulted received help from an appropriate agency.
Additional factors that increase the risk of sexual assault include the following:
- Alcohol use.
- Repeated instances of delinquency among students.
- Intellectual or developmental disability.
- Risky sexual behaviors.
- Suicidal thoughts or actions.
- Being a victim of sexual assault in the past.
These risks and statistics may be severely underreported as many victims never report the incident to police, family or friends. But, why?
Top Reasons People May Not Report Sexual Assault
A stigma remains around the victims of sexual assault. Opponents of protective measures for those at greatest risk cite personal choices, such as clothing or alcohol use, as possible indicators of consent. This stereotype is part of why sexual assault has grown rampant in society. Unfortunately, underreporting of sexual assault incidents follow a pattern of placing blame on the victim, as seen in the following reasons for not reporting the incident:
- Approximately 26 percent of students and 66 percent of non-students believe sexual assault is a personal matter that should be kept private.
- One in five students experienced fear of reprisal for reporting sexual assault, such as being removed from the school.
- Up to 12 percent feel sexual assault is not worthy of being reported.
- Nearly 10 percent did not want the perpetrator to get in trouble.
- Slightly less than one in 10, nine percent, of students felt police would not or could not do anything about the incident.
What You Can Do to Raise Awareness This April
Change starts by acting to recognize the problem and work against it. While the Day of Action, April 4, 2017, has already passed, it is never too late to start building awareness in health and human services (HHS) organizations. Try using these tips, as published by the NSVRC, to make the problem of sexual assault clear and present in your organization.
1. Tell Survivors You Believe Them.
This is extremely important. Survivors of sexual assault or sexual violence need to be taken seriously. Acknowledge that the event occurred and that it was not the fault of the survivor. Offer support and encourage, and be there to help those suffering through their battles. They are just beginning. Ensure that staff and volunteers have been trained in sexual assault and that your agency utilizes a trauma-informed approach.
2. Make Sexual Assault Awareness Month Visible.
Simply sending out an email is great, but people remember more when it includes imagery. Consider printing and putting posters up around your facility. The NSVRC offers free poster downloads in both Spanish and English texts. There are also shirt designs, ribbons and coloring pages that can be downloaded to help spread awareness. Additional ways to make the issue visible is by holding seminars or training courses on the signs and risk of sexual assault.
3. Share the Campaign Video.
Every year, NSVRC publishes a short campaign video for use during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Distribute the link to the video through email, on your company’s website and social media. It is not much, but it could help someone hurting find the courage to speak out about what may have happened to them.
4. Be a Social Media Advocate.
Spread the message about sexual assault awareness on social media, and consider changing your profile picture with one of these filters. Additionally, use #SAAM in your posts relating to the 2017 campaign.
5. Attend an Event in Recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
This may include community events, dinners, movie screenings and fundraisers. Since it begins with acknowledging the problem and making it visible in your community, you have a duty to spread the word. If there are not any events scheduled for your area, consider hosting one.
It does not need to be big or expensive. It must be present and visible.
The sad truth about sexual assault is that it will keep happening. It will continue until everyone stands against sexual violence and coercive behaviors. Together, you can help be the voice for those who are afraid to speak out. You can do something to help reduce the risk of sexual assault in your community. You have the authority to make your organization an ally for survivors of sexual assault. Do not let this April pass without standing together with the survivors of sexual violence.