The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.
By working together and pooling our resources during the month of April, we can highlight sexual violence as a major public health, human rights and social justice issue and reinforce the need for prevention efforts. Get more info here.
Once you become aware of how prevalent sexual violence is in our society, you may find that you start to view the world differently. You may be more aware of offensive rape jokes, someone may use the word "rape" casually to describe a slight violation, you may hear rape myths, you may read articles that put the responsibility on preventing rape on the victim instead of the perpetrator, you may see movies or TV shows or music videos that sexualize violence against women. Bearing witness to attitudes and beliefs in our culture that condone and excuse the crime of rape can make you feel outraged, offended, and angry. You can use that anger and outrage to speak up and use your voice against those attitudes and messages that condone sexual violence.This crime affects all of us. Even if we have not experienced sexual assault personally, our lives are all touched by sexual assault because we live in a world in which sexual violence can and does happen. Rapists are not born rapists; they are made by the same culture and environment that makes you and I. This is why it is everyone's responsibility to join the fight against a culture that condones and promotes rape.
What is a Rape Culture?
A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself.
A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.
Transforming a Rape Culture
There are many ways you can be an agent of change by simply using your voice to speak out against sexual violence and the attitudes and beliefs that support it. Activism whether it be on large scales or small will make a difference. Please add your voice!
Being an Active Bystander
Everyone can play an active role in stopping sexual violence before it occurs by becoming an engaged bystander and establishing healthy and positive relationships that are based on respect, safety, and equality.
Moreover, taking steps to stop harassment or violence can make a significant difference in someone’s life, and send a powerful message to the perpetrator and society as a whole about which social norms are acceptable and which are unacceptable.
So, what does an engaged bystander look like?
An engaged bystander is someone who intervenes when they see or hear behaviors that promote sexual violence. Intervening does NOT mean putting yourself in danger. Safety is key in deciding when and how to respond to any type of violence.
Intervening CAN mean disrupting the social norms that perpetuate sexual violence in our culture like glorifying power over others, objectifying women, tolerating violence and aggression, promoting male dominance and adults’ misuse of power over children, to name just a few. By doing that, you are acting as an engaged bystander and helping create a safer environment.
Above all, if you see or hear something and you do not feel safe, call the police or go to the authorities.
For more reources on bystander intervention, please visit NSVRC's Engaging Bystanders to Prevent Sexual Violence: Resource List