Love shouldn’t hurt – ever

Closing out Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Each year in April we declare the month as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). SAAM is about both awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. It is important to include both awareness and prevention because it’s impossible to prevent something no one knows about, and it’s difficult to make people aware of a problem without providing some pathway for a solution. Awareness and prevention work as a team. Sexual assault certainly is not new and neither is work by individuals advocating for sexual assault prevention. Although SAAM wasn’t officially recognized until 2001, advocates were hard at work for decades before.

“In the United States, movements for social change and equality began to gain traction in the 1940s and 50s with the civil rights era. Although open discussion of the realities of sexual assault and domestic violence were limited at these times, activists for equal rights began to challenge the status quo. Advocates like Rosa Parks worked at the intersections of race-based and gender-based violence”- The work that centered around issues of sexual assault continued into the ‘70’s and brought even more awareness. The first rape crisis center was opened in 1971 in San Francisco. Seven years later, that city held the first Take Back the Night event.

During the next 20 years, survivors and advocates organized and lobbied for legislation and funding that would support survivors, such as the Violence Against Women Act of 1993 (VAWA). VAWA validated that national efforts promoting sexual violence prevention were needed. Even before SAAM was first nationally observed, advocates were hosting events, organizing marches, and bringing attention to the issue of sexual violence during the month of April.   In 2000, work began to coordinate efforts across the US and the teal ribbon as a symbol for sexual assault awareness was chosen and SAAM was born.

We live in a time now where it is our duty to share in the efforts to educate people about sexual assault, prevention, consent, bystander intervention, services provided to victims, and any other subjects related to sexual assault. In times past, children who were assaulted were not offered services to help heal. They were told to keep it quiet and not tell anyone. Women who were raped by their husbands were told it wasn’t rape because they were married. Some men felt they were owed sex if they paid for a meal on a date and if a woman had too much to drink and was taken advantage of, it was her fault. It was normalized for men to sexually harass women on the job and the women were supposed to feel flattered. Fortunately, times have changed. And that change only came about because people got involved and worked to make it happen. Will you get involved to continue to support victims?

Crisis Services of North Alabama offers an office in Jackson County to support victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Our services are free and confidential and consist of things such as safety planning, safe shelter, court advocacy, support groups, and crisis counseling. We also are available to speak to your community group in an effort to educate the community about these issues. Our office may be reached at 256-574-5826 and we also offer a 24/7 HELPline where you can speak with a trained crisis counselor day and night. If you are a victim of sexual assault or intimate partner violence, please reach out. You are not alone.

-Teresia Smith

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