News Editor Izzie Naish explains the aims of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and why it is so important in today’s society.
TW: Sexual Assault
Text them when you get home safe. Phone someone while in the Uber. Don’t wear short skirts or low-cut tops. Leave before it gets dark. Cover your drink. Get a male friend to walk you home. Stay on brightly lit pavements. Don’t get too drunk. Make sure to know whose around you. Hold your keys between your knuckles.
Many women, including myself, follow these statements as though they’re a rulebook, and many women, including myself, have often never questioned why. Earlier this year, the kidnaps of both Sarah Everard and Blessing Olusegun shone a spotlight on the grim truth, which is that we have adopted these behaviours in order to avoid sexual assault. Their murders confirmed that even in contemporary society and despite our strategies and our protective measures, we can never be fully protected from sexual violence.
Despite the prevalence of sexual assault, with 97% of women experiencing sexual harassment in their lifetime and 20% experiencing completed or attempted rape, it still remains a rather taboo topic, and is often considered inappropriate for public conversation. This is especially true for the male, transgender, and non-binary victims of sexual violence who are often left out of any dialogue on the topic when it does occasionally enter the mainstream discussion. Considering that almost 50% of transgender people experience sexual assault within their lifetime, that one in ten rape victims are male, and that 75% of all sexual assault acts go unreported, it is important that society acknowledges both the extent of the problem of sexual assault and that anyone regardless of gender can be a victim.
Observed each year in April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is a campaign with the aim of tackling sexual assault and rape culture through raising awareness of sexual violence and the societal mechanisms which uphold its prevalence. SAAM aims to debunk many of the myths surrounding sexual assault by educating the public on topics and concepts such as consent, the existence of intimate partner and drug-facilitated assault. In bringing the issue into public discussion, SAAM breaks the silence which sexual assault needs in order to thrive.
Aside from raising awareness on the issue itself, SAAM shines a light upon the need to dismantle the rape culture which perpetuates victim-blaming and dismisses the severity of sexual assault. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse’, the term ‘rape culture’ encapsulates all of the elements which contribute to the societal tolerance of sexual harassment. Examples of rape culture can be found at all levels of society, from private, derogatory jokes about sexual assault to the protection of sexual predators in the courtroom. After all, the lack of punishment for the majority of those who have committed sexual assault can be attributed to the victim-blaming standards that rape culture upholds. Moreover, it is often internalised and embedded within our own attitudes, reflected through the patriarchal belief that it is the behaviour of women and other victims which must be altered rather than that of the predator. While victims are usually either women or individuals who belong to the LGBTQ+ community, today’s rape culture also impacts men since it denies that they too can be survivors of sexual violence. Ultimately, sexual assault is a product of this rape culture, so in spreading awareness of its effects SAAM tackles the issue at its core.
This year has seen the world turn to the internet due to the pandemic, yet as a result it has also seen a rise of online sexual harassment. Terminology such as ‘revenge porn’ and ideas of online stalking and harassment have become part of public knowledge, however like sexual assault in real life, only a fraction of victims are met with fair and unbiased support. This year, SAAM has adopted the theme of ‘We Can Build Online Safe Spaces’ as an acknowledgement of this growth in online harassment. The campaign therefore shares prevention resources and strategies on how to keep yourself and others safe in the digital sphere, including those on the concepts of digital consent and online community prevention.
The insidious nature of sexual assault lies in how while it may often go unnoticed and unreported, it has the capacity to severely impact its victims. SAAM recognises this issue, and through raising awareness and advocating for the dismantling of rape culture the campaign aims to create a society where fear of sexual harassment or violence no longer dictates our behaviours and our lives.
To learn more about SAAM, visit: https://www.nsvrc.org/saam/2021/preventionresources/onlinecommunityprevention
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