April Director’s Message - Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month

April 3, 2013

OVW joins the nation in recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAM) and stands with survivors everywhere in calling for justice.

Sexual assault is far too prevalent in our communities.  According to the latest research from the CDC, over one million women are raped every year, and one in five women have been raped at some point in their lifetimes.  Rape is not just a women’s issue; 1 in 71 men have been raped, and 28% of them were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.  In his Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month Proclamation President Obama called on all Americans “to recommit to changing that tragic reality by stopping sexual assault before it starts and ensuring victims get the support they need.”

Sexual assault is not just limited to rape – it includes any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent.  When sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences are included in the definition, an astonishing 45% of women and 22% of men have been sexually assaulted.  Rape and sexual assault take a profound toll on victims, as well as their friends and family.  When the physical and mental health of so many women and men is impacted by sexual violence, our entire nation suffers.

OVW recognizes that to reduce sexual violence, we must help communities improve investigation, prosecution, and victim services.  We must also strive to prevent sexual assault before it happens and provide resources to underserved communities.  OVW grantees and technical assistance providers are leading the way on these goals through innovative new tools and trainings.  This month there are several opportunities to participate in SAAM-related trainings and events:

DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies are also funding exciting initiatives in April.  I applaud these efforts and the work of countless justice system and victim service personnel.

Anyone can participate in SAAM, no matter your profession or location.  I encourage you to engage in national and local SAAM activities – whether sitting in front of your computer or out in your neighborhood.  The 2013 National SAAM Campaign is a great place to start, with information for parents, educators, advocates, and community members.  This year’s theme is healthy sexuality and its connection to child sexual abuse prevention.

Consider one of the following activities:

1)      Request a SAAM proclamation from your state or local government, such as this example from Alaska.

2)      Spread the word.  Campaign logos, posters and images for Facebook and Twitter are available for download from the NSVRC.

3)      Take a stand to end harassment during International Anti-street Harassment Week, April 7-13.

4)      Join the NSVRC for Twitter chats on Tuesdays in April.  #TweetAboutIt

5)      Support survivors and raise awareness about sexual assault by wearing denim on Denim Day, Wednesday, April 24.

6)      Don’t stand by, stand up: learn how bystanders can intervene to prevent sexual assault.

7)      One in five women in college have been raped.  By the time they are seniors, the number will grow to one in four.  Learn more about preventing sexual assault on university campuses.

8)      Attend the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony sponsored by the DOJ Office for Victims of Crime.

9)      Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for publication in your local newspaper.

10)   Participate in local events sponsored by rape crisis centers, state sexual assault coalitions, universities, and others.  Events such as Take Back the Night, the Clothesline Project, candlelight vigils, and survivor speak-outs are not just held in April – look for opportunities to support your local community year-round.

The staff at OVW and I are saddened by every new report of rape – and the victim-blaming that often accompanies those reports – but we know we can change the story.  The Violence Against Women Act was signed into law last month with significant new sexual assault provisions.  With leadership from the White House, our colleagues across the federal government are actively addressing sexual assault through their programming.  And during SAAM, we have an opportunity to take action, celebrate prevention efforts, honor survivors, and build momentum.  We will still have too many causes for grief, too many lives destroyed, but I know that by working together we can reduce sexual assault in every part of this country.