Lady Gaga visits UNLV in support of the "It's On Us" Initiative
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
April Is Sexual Assault Awareness Month: It's (Still) On Us
In 2009 GRAMMY winner Barack Obama became the first United States president to officially declare April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
"Where victims were once left without recourse, laws have opened a path to safety and justice; where a culture of fear once kept violence hidden, survivors are more empowered to speak out and get help," said Obama in 2009. "This month, we recommit to changing that tragic reality by stopping sexual assault before it starts and ensuring victims get the support they need."
This proclamation marked a critical turning point in formally acknowledging the injustice of sexual violence, and a necessary extension of activities dating back to the 1970s, including Take Back The Night marches and the work on behalf of official bodies such as the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The goal of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is twofold: raise public awareness about sexual assault and provide education on how to prevent sexual violence. But perhaps the more important underlying goal is to communicate to victims that there is not only hope, but resources to help.
Do you know someone who has been a victim of sexual assault? If you're reading this, chances are yes. Learn more about sexual violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Month with these five facts:
1. What is sexual violence?
The U.S. Department of Justice defines the term sexual assault as meaning "any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent."
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center defines sexual assault is any type of unwanted sexual contact. This can include words and actions of a sexual nature against a person's will and without their consent. It affects every community, every gender and every age. And sexual violence can be initiated by a stranger or someone you know, including by friends, colleagues, family members, or ex-partners.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, there are various crimes and forms of violence that stem from sexual assault, including rape, child sexual abuse, trafficking, sexual exploitation, incest, drug-facilitated sexual assault, and intimate partner sexual violence.
2. Strength in numbers
Unfortunately, the statistics relating to sexual violence are troublesome: one in three women and one in six men has been a victim of a sexual assault that goes beyond verbal harassment. But no matter the person or type of sexual assault, it's important to understand that victims are never at fault.
They aren't alone either.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month provides a much-needed springboard for a variety of related community events where victims and supporters can convene in a safe environment. Events include fund-raisers, film screenings, marches, and panel discussions. Throughout April, learning institutions such as Georgia Southern University, the University of Denver and the University of Southern California, to name just three, produce an entire calendar of events dedicated to promoting sexual awareness.
Social media has provided another means for activism, including the use of hashtags and Instagram contests.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides resources on how to find Sexual Assault Awareness Month-related events in your area and how you can incorporate use social media to share support for survivors of sexual violence and to help start meaningful dialog.
3. Learn consent and understand "no"
In a sexual context, consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Consenting and asking for consent are vital to setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner. Without consent, sexual activity is sexual assault.
According to the NSVRC, consent should be practiced in everyday situations as a means of showing others you value their personal boundaries and choices.
For example, ask for consent when touching someone, including hugging, tickling, or other kinds of touch. Or when posting a photo of someone online, ask them before you post it or tag them in the photo. Why is consent important in these situations? Everyone has boundaries — some people prefer more personal space and others prefer to keep things more private.
Finally, when asking for someone's consent, understand that they can say "no." In this situation, one should accept the answer and move on. While the word "no" is programmed in our mind to be a disappointing response, respecting someone's personal and emotional space is "the right thing to do."
4. "It's on us" to stop abuse
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) October 25, 2017
In October 2017, Lady Gaga teamed with former Vice President Joe Biden for "It's On Us," a PSA advocating against sexual assault. The powerful purpose of the campaign? To remind people that "it's important to reach out to someone in your life that you can trust, and to know that they will be there to help you."
"We want to make it real clear: It's on us, it's on everyone to intervene to stop abuse when they see it and when they hear about it to intervene," said Biden
For Lady Gaga, it is a cause that hits close to her heart.
"I am a sexual assault survivor, and I know the effects, the aftermath, the trauma, psychological, physical, medical. It can be terrifying, waking up every day feeling unsafe in your own body," said Lady Gaga.
The GRAMMY winner's participation provided a meaningful coda to "Til It Happens to You," her GRAMMY-nominated song about sexual assault that continues to resonate with listeners and remind us that awareness about sexual assault is important to keep top of mind not just in April but year-round.
5. Get help now
If you or someone you know is victimized by sexual violence or has concerns about sexual violence, help is just one call away. Organizations like the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (1.877.739.3895) and RAINN (1.800.656.4673) can help and provide consultation and resources. Also, MusiCares can also help people in the music industry who have been affected by sexual violence. Call MusiCares at 1.800.656.4673 for referrals or for additional support.