SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is an annual opportunity to bring more awareness to sexual violence and educate our communities on resources for support and systems that perpetuate these behaviors. Although many institutions have sexual violence prevention programming, up to 1 in 4 undergraduate women experience sexual violence, with this rate being higher for women of color, disabled women and LGBTQ+ individuals.
SOCIETAL SHIFTS IN CULTURE AND CLIMATE
Sexual violence, like many social issues, is continued through individual actions as well as larger-scale systems and beliefs, and both need to be addressed to create change. It’s easy to feel like you can’t make a difference on your own, but if we each embraced the changes necessary, we could collectively decrease sexual violence rates.
HOW TO MAKE SHIFTS ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL
- Learn about norms and expectations for sex and be intentional about the language you use. Watch Sex Needs a New Metaphor.
- Reflect on your beliefs about sex and where they came from.
- Understand consent changes over time in relationships.
- Recognize the stigmas that perpetuate sexual violence.
- Hold yourself accountable when you hurt or harm others.
MAKING SHIFTS IN CULTURE AND CLIMATE
- Learn about the social norms that fuel sexual assault, including entitlement, dominance, racism and lack of prosecution for perpetrators.
- Intervene when you witness attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate sexual violence. Don’t assume it was a “one time” behavior. Have honest conversations about the impact of jokes, comments and sexual violence. Having these conversations may be uncomfortable, but it is important to hold others accountable when they harm others—emotionally or physically.
- Attend public presentations for candidates for positions like President, Vice President, Chief of Police, Athletic Director and athletic coaches. Ask questions about the candidate’s sexual violence awareness and attitudes. If your institution doesn’t have public presentations for these positions, advocate for that approach.
- Vote for student government officers and local, state and national leaders who support ending sexual violence and advocate for comprehensive sex education.
SUPPORTING SOMEONE WHO IS A SURVIVOR
You likely already know someone who is a survivor of sexual violence, so understanding is key. Believing and empowering survivors is one of the most important things you can do.
- Educate yourself about the impact of trauma and barriers survivors encounter in disclosing their sexual violence experience.
- Believe people when they tell you about their experiences. False reporting is rare—don’t doubt someone’s experience just because you know the perpetrator or have never seen them behave that way.
- Listen with empathy and without judgment.
- Avoid giving advice and asking too many questions. Encourage them to share as much or as little as they are comfortable with.
- Remind them they did not deserve what happened—they deserve respect, honesty and consensual experiences.
- Help them find support resources and reporting options.
- Respect their decisions, even if you disagree.
Remember sexual violence is a problem that is bigger than your school and your fraternity/sorority community. Each of us have daily opportunities to stop the cycle and create a society free from sexual violence.
Resources for support (U.S)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1.800.656.4637
1.866.331.9474 or text “loveis” to 22522
Resources for support (Canada)
Hope for Wellness Help Line 1.855.242.3310
This blog post was written by Emmalee Fishburn (she/her), MPH, CHES, Beta Alpha–Nebraska Wesleyan University. Emmalee is the Senior Prevention Specialist in the Office of Equity at Utah State University where she coordinates sexual misconduct and discrimination prevention efforts.