April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. August ushers in college orientations and sexual assault prevention programming. These cyclical events bring bursts of attention to sexual violence in its many forms.
Increasing attention to and awareness of the scope of the problem of sexual assault is important for many reasons. For instance, talking openly about sexual assault can combat the alienation that is common after intimate violence by showing survivors that they are not alone.
Yet awareness alone is not enough to turn the tide of sexual victimization that affects people of all genders in the U.S. and around the world. Instead, we have to find ways to move from awareness to action.
Unfortunately, taking action can feel daunting when faced with a problem as persistent as sexual assault. After all, sexual assault has been common across history – often treated as something taboo to talk about and someone else’s problem to solve.
After years of studying sexual assault and other forms of intimate violence, I’ve learned that it affects all of us, whether directly or indirectly through impacts on our education, healthcare, and legal systems. This means we share an interest in taking action.
As Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes around again, here are three things that you can do to move from awareness to action.
1. Learn about sexual assault and share your learning with others.
Myths about sexual assault are common and harmful. Fortunately, online resources make it easy to get facts about sexual assault – from how prevalent it is in our communities to common consequences affecting survivors and more. You can start learning more about sexual assault and its impacts today. As you do, take action to share what you’re learning with others. When you share your learning, you accomplish several things at once. For example, you combat persistent myths to help educate people about the realities of sexual assault. At the same time, you practice talking about sexual assault so that doing so gets easier as you shed taboos against speaking about this intimate form of violence.
2. Identify people and organizations working to prevent and respond to sexual assault in your community and connect with them.
Find out who is doing sexual assault prevention and response work in your local community — perhaps through a rape crisis center or a family justice center. Check out who is organizing to address sexual assault through legislative efforts. Learn about the work that your state coalition against sexual assault is doing. Reach out to these agencies to explore how you can connect to their networks to take collaborative action that fits your interests, skills, and passions. Along the way, you might also identify gaps in resources – say your community doesn’t have any prevention work – that you can work towards filling with others in your community’s networks.article continues after advertisement
3. Advocate for youth prevention programs.
Preventing sexual assault and other intimate violence requires equipping young people with tools for healthy relationships – from learning about consent and healthy sexuality to how to intervene to stop sexual assault. Thanks to decades of research, several empirically supported approaches to preventing sexual assault are available. After learning if your community offers any of these programs, perhaps through local schools or faith organizations, you can advocate to start or expand programming. You can encourage elected officials to support prevention programming to end sexual assault in your community.
Of course, these actions are just a starting place. April is a great time to explore other avenues for action as local and national organizations invite people to take part in Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities. For more ideas related to our shared interest in taking action to end sexual assault and intimate violence long after April, check out upcoming posts on this blog and my new book, Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women. Together, we can work towards a world without intimate violence.
Interested in more about working together for change? Check out my forthcoming book, Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women, available now for preorder (Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, Amazon, Grass Roots).
Note: This piece was published also published on the Psychology Today blog.