Held annually in April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month protests sexual assault in hopes that victims of sexual assault and people in general won’t have to live in fear of the illegal and immoral act.
Although Sexual Assault Awareness Month was not officially observed until 2001, its spirit started off in the late 1970s. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, English women held Take Back the Night marches to protest the violence they encountered while walking at night. It wasn’t until the 1980s that activists acquired October as a month for protesting violence against women, but instead of protesting sexual assault, it protested domestic abuse. Some activists were dissatisfied with this, leading them to acquiring a week in April as Sexual Assault Awareness Week.
By the 1990s, activists were hosting sexual assault awareness events all throughout April despite there being a designated week. According to the NSVRC, this lead to the activists calling for Sexual Assault Awareness Week to be celebrated throughout the month of April. 2001, however, was the first time Sexual Assault Awareness Month became nationally recognized.
Since then, activists have used the month to engage bystanders to help prevent sexual assault, have conversations on healthy sexuality, and inform people about sexual assault on college campuses.
Now, activists use technology to their advantage. Take Back the Night marches have turned into film challenges on college campuses, giving students the opportunity to send a message about sexual assault in a creative way.
Activists have also begun to use social media in the war against sexual assault in the form of hashtags. The #MeToo movement is one such hashtag that began in 2006 as a grassroots movement created by Tarana Burke on MySpace. According to Boston Globe reporter Cristela Guerra, Burke came up with the hashtag after a young girl confided in her about her sexual assault. Burke said that she felt hurt that she couldn’t tell the girl she understood her experience or even “me too.” Actor Alyssa Milano popularized #MeToo in October 2017 during the Harvey Weinstein scandals, which made way for women and men everywhere to get their stories out.
#MeToo also paved the way for the Time’s Up initiative, the mission of which is to root out those sexual assaulters and make the victims feel safe again. According to its site, the Time’s Up initiative writes on behalf of over 300 women who work in film, television, and theater who want to make sure all victims and survivors have access to the justice and support they need to rectify the transgressions they have suffered. The initiative even has a legal defense fund that subsidizes legal support for individuals who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace.
So far, these movements have helped people in countries around the world, including South Korea, Canada, France, Ethiopia, and China.
1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted rape or rape in her lifetime.
4 out of 5 students don’t report (Females 18-24)
2 out of 3 non-students don’t report (Females 18-24)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE
Written by: Bryce Ethridge