By Joanna Flanagan
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a month dedicated to raising awareness of sexual violence in our culture and what individuals can do to change that culture. Sexual violence is a very real piece of our community. According to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, nearly 1 in 5 Connecticut residents has experienced a sexual assault in their lifetime. Twenty six percent of Connecticut women and 10% of Connecticut men reported being sexual assault survivors. These numbers are in line with national statistics, which find that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Many people ask what they can do to change the culture that creates such high rates of violence and assault. A big way we can make a change is by believing and supporting survivors.
We live in a culture that often blames sexual assault survivors for their assault or thinks they are lying about being assaulted. We see this in conversations where people say a woman wearing a short skirt is “asking for it,” or in news reports that question a victim’s story and try to disprove their accusations. In reality there is no way that victims “ask for” an assault, and it is very rare for somebody to lie about being assaulted. If we challenge these stereotypes and speak out loudly in support of victims, we can create a culture where victims and survivors of sexual assault feel believed, supported, and safe.
Everyone can take part in this change. When you hear a person say that someone is “asking for it,” let them know that no one asks to be sexually assaulted. When you see news coverage that questions survivors’ stories and assumes they are lying about their assault, contact the news station and tell them that false reporting of sexual assault is incredibly rare and that survivors deserve respect. Make changes in your social circles and communities so survivors know that they are safe. By speaking out in support of survivors and making it clear that victim-blaming will not be tolerated, we can change the culture of sexual violence and make our communities safer for everyone.
P.S. Join the conversation! Throughout the month of April, use the hashtags #SAAM #EngagingNewVoices and #WeBelieveYou on social media to share what you are doing to change the culture.