In the month of April, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) recognizes National Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month (SAAM). We take this moment to reflect on the strength and resilience of survivors and victims, the perseverance of advocates, and the dedication of the professionals in many fields who support those who experience sexual assault. Sexual assault can be a life-changing trauma for far too many of our neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends. The CDC has found that about 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men suffer sexual violence at some point in their lives. That trauma can be compounded by institutions and cultural perceptions that blame survivors rather than meet them where they are in their journey to healing, accountability and justice.
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are more aware than ever of the compounded challenges that sexual assault survivors face. They might be isolated at home and away from their support networks, afraid to access help in hospitals or rape crisis centers thus risking exposure to the virus. As President Biden described in his proclamation recognizing National Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month, sexual assault was a public health crisis even before the pandemic began.
As we raise awareness of the many ways in which we can work together to put an end to the crime of sexual assault, OVW is dedicated daily to funding and supporting projects that address the needs of underserved and marginalized survivors, improve access to justice, enhance survivor safety, hold offenders accountable, and build a coordinated community response to violence against women.
We are proud to support programs that are on the front line of meeting the unique and varied needs of survivors of sexual assault and those who work tirelessly to support them. Just as an example, OVW funded the International Association of Forensic Nurses to create a web-based training that equips healthcare professionals with the basic knowledge and skills they need to conduct sexual assault medical forensic exams. This new resource expands access to forensic healthcare throughout the country, particularly in rural and underserved areas.
OVW also awarded a grant to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR) to develop a National Violence Against Women Law Enforcement Training and Technical Assistance Consortium. This comprehensive project will be a one-stop shop for law enforcement to find best practices and tools for enhancing sexual assault and domestic violence investigations. This new resource hub will provide tailored support and state-of-the-art training to help law enforcement agencies and their community partners ensure justice for sexual assault victims.
The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to advancing work that promotes civil rights, increases access to justice, supports crime victims, protects the public from crime and evolving threats, and builds trust between law enforcement and the community. OVW is proud to carry out that mission by partnering with you and countless others in a unified effort to bring healing, accountability, and justice to those who are impacted by sexual assault.
I encourage everyone to find ways to learn more this National Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month. You can listen to experts in the field explain how sexual assault can alter the trajectory of a victim’s life, and hear stories from the front lines about how COVID has impacted survivors and advocates in the most recent episode of Patchwork, and find local resources in your community and through your state, tribal, or territorial sexual assault coalition via OVW’s website.
If you have experienced sexual assault, you are not alone. There is support and safety waiting for you, and you can reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
As April passes into May, we hope that you continue to meet victims and survivors with compassion when they reach out for help, to advocate for justice, and to support the people and organizations in our communities who are doing this live-saving work of reducing harm and trauma, prioritizing accountability, and paving the way for healing.