Love shouldn’t hurt-ever

Building Connected Communities
by Teresia Smith

Our nation recognizes April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). SAAM aims to raise public awareness about sexual violence and communicate to members of the community what services are available to survivors. This year’s national theme is “Building Connected Communities”. The focus is to foster community awareness to promote safety, respect, and bystander intervention to help stop sexual violence before it happens. Our goal is to educate communities on how they can embrace their voices to show their support for survivors, as well as take a stand against victim blaming and hurtful misconceptions.
According to the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), “sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This definition includes forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. The wider umbrella of sexual violence can also encompass sexual harassment and nonconsensual sharing of private images. Breaking it down even more clearly, sexual violence is any sexual activity where consent is not freely given. Sexual violence affects millions of people each year in the United States. Based on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, it is estimated that, in the United States, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual violence during their lifetime.

One way we can all help to combat sexual assault is to use our abilities to look out for each other’s safety. Whether it’s giving someone a safe ride home from a party or directly confronting a person who is engaging in threatening behavior, explaining why a rape joke isn’t funny, or listening to a child who is telling you something bad is happening at home, anyone can help prevent sexual violence. You may have heard the term “bystander intervention” to describe a situation where someone who isn’t directly involved steps in to change the outcome. Stepping in may give the person you’re concerned about a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation. Take steps to protect someone who may be at risk in a way that fits your comfort level.

We know that one month cannot solve the serious issue of sexual violence; however, SAAM generates an opportunity to strengthen and magnify prevention efforts throughout the year. “The good news is that prevention is possible, and it’s happening. Individuals, communities, and the private sector are already successfully combating the risk of sexual violence through conversations, programs, policies, and research-based tools that promote safety, respect, and equality. By promoting safe behaviors, thoughtful policies, and healthy relationships, we can create safe and equitable communities where every person is treated with respect.” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center.) Many victims have come forward publicly, and we have an extraordinary opportunity to increase awareness and change behaviors. The time to unite communities to combat sexual violence is now.

Crisis Services of North Alabama – Jackson County Office serves residents of Jackson County who are in crisis due to domestic violence or sexual violence. For more information or assistance, please call Crisis Services Jackson County Office at 256-574-5826 or our 24 hour HELPline at 256-716-1000.

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