April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. This year was dedicated to teaching about the connected violence and cultural norms that perpetuate and oppress survivors of sexual violence.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, over half of women in the U.S. — and almost 1 in 3 men — have experienced sexual violence that involves physical contact. Studies have shown that a true account of how many people affected by sexual violence are inaccurate, but even these numbers are high.
Think about every person you know and love, many of them have experienced sexual violence and harassment — or will — in their lifetime. And you may not even be aware.
Thankfully, many movements have been slowly changing the culture surrounding sexual assault. The most recognizable is the #MeToo movement, which gained attention in 2017. These movements have created safe spaces for survivors to come forward, raised general awareness, and contributed resources to support survivors.
According to CNN, the #MeToo movement has been successful. There has been a shift in how we address sexual assault and the conversations surrounding it. Policy changes have been made expand protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment in workplaces and in the court systems.
Youngstown State University held different activities to raise general awareness such as a march through campus and a painting of tradition rock. However, this message was covered up by contradictory rhetoric, and blatantly disregarded the importance of this message to those affected by sexual violence.
However, these movements are often underfunded and lack the proper resources. Racial, ethnic minority women are also severely underrepresented and experience sexual violence at a disproportionate rate, according to the CDC.
There are also no major reports of sexually violent crimes decreasing.
It may seem we’ll never truly escape sexual violence, but reports have shown there are preventative measures that individuals and society can take to reduce and prevent sexual violence in our community.
The CDC states, “certain factors may increase or decrease the risk for perpetrating or experiencing sexual violence. To prevent sexual violence, we must understand and address the factors that put people at risk for or protect them from violence.”
In a 48-page report, the CDC identified five areas of change on an individual and societal level to stop sexual violence. The broad ideas are, “promote social norms that protect against violence, teach skills to prevent sexual violence, provide opportunities to empower and support girls and women, create protective environments, and support victims and survivors to lesson harms.”
There are more detailed steps and changes necessary to truly enact change, and it’s worth giving the report a read.
President Joe Biden increased funding for the Violence Against Women Act, which has given to tools to the Justice Department to prevent and prosecute sexual assault and protect survivors. $700 million was approved for 2023, and protections for survivors have expanded to include those disproportionately affected.
While these changes are a step in the right direction, we should be making leaps and bounds to end or reduce this public health problem. We have the blueprint and can get the resources. What is stopping us? We are only protecting abusers and oppressing victims with indifference and lack of change.
This month, educate yourself on systems that oppress survivors. Change your behavior, correct others’ behavior, create a safe space, become an ally and hug your loved ones.