This April will mark the 21st Anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of the month is two-fold: awareness of and prevention of sexual assault. The month is a time to focus attention on the prevalence of sexual violence and educate the community on how to prevent it and support survivors. During the month, advocates promote different events and campaigns to increase awareness of sexual violence, dispel myths surrounding it, promote prevention efforts, and support survivors.
Advocates for equal rights started the movement discussing the realities of sexual violence and championing change in the 1940s and 50s. Early efforts were advanced by women of color who worked at the intersections of race-based and gender-based violence (which wasn’t deemed “intersectionality” until 1989 by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw).
Heightened awareness and social activism around the issue of sexual violence continued into the 1970s. In 1971, the first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco, California. Seven years later, the first Take Back the Night event in the US was held in the same city. In the ensuing decades, advocates called for further support of survivors through legislation, awareness, and prevention of sexual violence.
Before Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first nationally observed in 2001, advocates had been holding marches, events, and observances related to sexual violence in the month of April, sometimes during a week-long “Sexual Assault Awareness Week.”. Some of the events held by organizations during Sexual Assault Awareness Month include Take Back the Night marches, “Denim Day” where individuals are asked to wear denim to show solidarity with survivors and stand against victim-blaming, and “Day of Action” where individuals wear teal, the color of sexual violence prevention, to show support for survivors.
Although difficult to know the exact extent of sexual violence, since it is a vastly underreported crime, an estimated 1 in 5 women in the United States has experienced a completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. Additionally, nearly a quarter of men in the United States have experienced some form of contact with sexual violence within their lifetimes. In 2020, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there were 319,950 rape/sexual assaults experienced in the United States. In Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (TXDPS), there were 13,327 rapes reported to law enforcement in 2020.
Although these are estimates, they highlight the severity and extent of sexual violence. Chances are someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence but may have never shared their story. Sexual Assault Awareness Month helps us show support for all survivors of sexual violence and advocate for its prevention.