From the inspiring stories of men and women speaking out on their experiences of sexual assault, to the leaders on the front lines pushing for policy change, to all the campaigners and advocates shining a spotlight on the issue – people across the nation are acknowledging Sexual Assault Awareness Month in various ways.
One noteworthy campaign by RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) – produced in collaboration with Getty Images – is a video series featuring a diverse group of survivors speaking out about their experiences of sexual assault. The campaign is a reminder that there is no one “right” timeline for talking about sexual assault and there is no one “right” survivor.
“After being married to someone who was abusive for 15 years, I walked away with nothing” said one featured survivor, Barbara, who was assaulted at age 14 when her boyfriend and a group of his friends took turns raping her. “I decided I was going to heal myself. I would become a champion. I would take all this hurt, all this pain, and turn it into something uniquely positive.”
Another survivor, Adam, recounts the horrific story of how he was sexually assaulted by his uncle. “I thought that was the way he loved me, without fully realizing, even at 14, 15, to step back and say ‘that’s wrong.’”
The series reinforces that sexual assault does not discriminate when it comes to gender, age and background, but the hope and strength conveyed in the stories are universal. Lady Gaga, who has been open about her sexual assault experience, is an example of someone who has emerged as a bastion of hope and strength. In February’s Academy Awards she performed a breathtaking rendition of “Til It Happens to You,” alongside a group of sexual assault survivors. This month she’s teamed up with Vice President Joe Biden to campaign for sexual assault prevention on college campuses.
The Vice President will also be joined by “Orange is the New Black” actor, Matt McGorry, to promote the It’s On Us Campaign across college campuses. “For too long, many men have taken a passive position when it comes to preventing and dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault,” McGorry said in a statement. “Sexual assault is not just a women’s issue. It’s on all of us to create a shift that changes this.”
The men of Saint Xavier University in Chicago, IL would agree with McGorry. In a campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault they traded in their loafers for high heels and walked “A Mile in her Shoes.” The mile-long walk was aimed at drawing attention to sexual assault and stirring up discussion on the effects and solutions of sexualized violence against women.
For the students of Saint Xavier College and other campaigners, Sexual Assault Awareness month is not solely about drawing awareness of sexual assault, but about generating solutions and preventative measures.
This year’s theme, “Prevention is Possible,” encompasses the idea we can help prevent sexual violence by addressing the root causes that allow it to exist. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) lists the ways in which we can help avert sexual violence: intervene to stop concerning behaviors, speak up when you hear rape jokes or harmful comments, promote and model healthy attitudes and relationships, believe survivors when they disclose, coordinate a community event to raise awareness, email legislators about ways everyone can get involved, create prevention policies at your workplace or school, promote businesses that support healthy messages through their marketing campaigns. These are the steps we can take to help ensure a safer environment for all.
“We have to change the culture that allows the abuse of women and men,” said Biden in his speech at the University of Pittsburgh. “And when consent cannot be given it is assault, period. “