Features - Sexual Assault Awareness Month sparks dialogue
By Laila Sholtz-Ames
Journalism major/Honors College, Exeter, Maine
Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) allows both victims and their advocates a chance to have their voices heard and to shed light on a powerful issue. SAAM was created in the 1980s not just to raise awareness about sexual violence and rape, but also as a way to educate communities, especially women, on ways to prevent sexual violence.
In October, “Take Back The Night” raises awareness about violence against women and domestic violence issues, but advocates decided to create an entire month to focus on sexual assault issues. Now, with April and white ribbons (which stand for sexual assault prevention) go hand in hand, providing people with a chance to come together and unite against a common goal.
“I think it’s really important to have a month like this, where we raise awareness about an important issue,” said Rachel Hirsh, a senior Women’s Studies major and member of the Student Women’s Association. SWA is among many of the groups and organizations that took part in SAAM.
Also at the University of Maine, resources such as the Safe Campus Project work to reduce sexual assault, relationship abuse and stalking. The project, now in its 10th year, also provides workshops and presentations that focus on sexual violence. Coordinator Carey Nason, who has been working with Safe Campus for years, says she wanted to focus more on smaller programs instead of one big program.
“We find that by having smaller programs we are reaching out to a larger audience,” said Nason. “I could stand out on the Mall and say rape is bad, but I want to find a way to really reach out to students and make them aware of the situations.”
As part of UMaine’s SAAM observation, Nason helped coordinate programs such as the clothesline project, where students painted and decorated shirts with messages against violence and sexual assault. Students also took part in the Walk in My Shoes project, with shoes displaying additional positive messages and well-wishes.
“We feel that by doing something like this, it’s a great way to reach out and really make a difference,” said Nason.
According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, and college-age women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted. Organizations such as RAINN look to remove the secrecy and shame surrounding sexual violence, as well as raise awareness and provide support to victims. Sexual Assault occurs regardless of gender, age, background, or socioeconomic status. Roughly 73 percent of victims are assaulted by someone they know and because of this, a large number of sexual assaults go unreported.
By raising awareness and supporting survivors, we can reduce sexual assault.