April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). At Vassar, I am in a peer-run listening service dedicated to personal violation issues. Though we are a hotline, we also table and organize events to raise awareness about issues like relationship abuse and sexual violence. Every April, we select one week as Sexual Assault Awareness Week, and we concentrate our campus programming into this one week. All week, we hand out shirts that say either “1 in 4” or “1 in 7,” among other events. These statistics represent that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted between their 14th birthday and college graduation, and 1 in 7 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. On the final day of the week, we ask that students wear these shirts to represent the huge fraction of the population that is affected by sexual assault. It is a difficult but powerful day.
Reflecting back on SAAM, I think of the people that our programming does not reach. It is often easy to forget that sexual assault affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Having done awareness-raising work in a college setting for the past three years, I hope to eventually bring my passion for these issues to a younger audience. After all, sexual assault awareness can and should be made age-appropriate for all audiences. Certainly, there are many programs and individual parents that do this already.
So, what is the right way to approach a sensitive topic like sexual assault with young girls? While this is an open-ended discussion, there are at least two rights of which I think every child should be informed. First, girls should know that no one (including family members, friends, teachers, or peers) ever has the right to make them uncomfortable. Second, they always have a right to be believed. Often, child victims will not come forward because they are afraid that no one will believe them, or worse, they do come forward and are not believed. Hopefully, this year’s SAAM made at least one person less likely to question a child who is brave enough to share their experience.
What do you think is the best way to bring SAAM or sexual assault awareness work, in general, to girls? How do you reflect back on SAAM?