Author’s note: This article does discuss themes and statistics regarding sexual violence.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an annual campaign designed to raise awareness about sexual assault and rape, educate people on statistics and resources for survivors, and encourage communities to reach out and empower survivors. The campaign comes from the efforts of numerous organizations such as Take Back The Night to end sexual assault and rape internationally, and has been celebrated nationally since 2001.
The movement to end sexual violence has a long and rich history, aiming to unify all the movements to do so. For college-aged women, working to end sexual violence is prevalent in our daily lives – on our college campuses, a number of organizations dedicated to the cause can often be found holding events and passing out information on it. However, no cause goes without, well, a cause: sexual violence is something we see as a problem on our campuses, and that we need to stop.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 80% of sexual assault survivors are under the age of 30. Survivors are three times more likely to suffer from depression, four times more likely to contemplate suicide, and 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol. Research from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) shows that one in five women and one in 16 men experience sexual assault while they are in college, and more than 90% of college aged women who are survivors of rape and sexual assault do not report them to the police.
The sheer volume that go unreported to the police are indicative of a huge problem: why don’t women feel like they can and should report their perpetrators to the police? Any combination of factors can come into play here. Some do not report out of fear of getting them in trouble, which is especially problematic when the rapist is someone that they know. In many communities, women are in environments hostile to those who report rape. In these places, it may still be a popular belief that women ‘tempt men’ into sexual activity, that they deserve it, and/or it’s just the way that the world was meant to be. And for those who do report, the shocking results are what often keep other women from reporting: nothing happens.
The goal of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to empower survivors and make everyone aware of what can be done to stop sexual violence and support survivors. When a traumatic experience happens, people often feel like they’re alone and don’t have a support network to turn to. While each person heals at their own pace, it’s important for them to be surrounded by loved ones and an understanding community when they need it most.
There are an incredible number of resources available for survivors, family and friends of survivors, and all communities. Both RAINN and NSVRC offer directories for hotlines, crises centers, and allied organizations that can help. The National Sexual Assault Telephone hotline is (800) 656-HOPE. Aside from that, we need to be doing all we can to validate, listen, and understand what survivors of sexual violence go through. It starts with what’s simple: believe their stories. Encourage them to find the help and take the legal actions they need. Be willing and active in supporting them, because while we may not have undergone the same experiences that they have, we have the power to encourage trustworthiness and self-love.
When we discuss sexual violence, we try to make it as relatable as possible to the audience by tying it back to their families – survivors can be your mother, sister, daughter. However, it’s important to remember that regardless of who a sexual violence survivor is to us, what’s vital is that we give equal and boundless support to everyone, because they are valuable human beings and it’s important that we know their experiences are valid. After all, it’s on us to stop sexual assault.
Cover image courtesy of Jesse Garner.