Across the nation, April is officially recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the takedown of powerful sexual abusers in the fields of media, medicine, sports, and more, this year’s SAAM is a time not only to reflect about the progress that has been made in the past few months, but also the progress that still needs to be made.
At Colorado College, the Butler Center, the Wellness Resource Center, and the office of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) have partnered with one another to make a calendar of events that tackle subjects such as coping with trauma, supporting victims, and promoting self-care in order to create an opportunity educate the community and reflect on the issue.
Maria Mendez, the SARC, said that CC’s observance of SAAM “is a really good place for conversation in the time period we’re in now, and the climate that we’re in.”
“With the #MeToo movement and everything … it’s really nice to have a concerted effort where everyone is talking about it, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue the conversation throughout the year,” Mendez said. “It’s a really good entry point for folks that maybe don’t know about April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month or aren’t engaged throughout the year. It’s a good place to help people start to learn about it and to spark people’s interest in learning more and being more engaged, particularly in the prevention aspect of it.”
As well intentioned as raising awareness and promoting the prevention of an issue so prevalent on college campuses and throughout our society is, one must wonder the psychological and emotional effects the on-campus events and dialogue they facilitate have on survivors. One survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes there are both negative and positive aspects to this. “I think it’s important to recognize that this is a big issue and it happens to a lot of people,” they said. “It’s this conflict of needing to be recognized and talked about, but like, seeing fliers all over can be a little triggering.”
They continued to say that the Title IX process “is almost as traumatic, if not more so than the event itself, just because it’s a constant reminder, having to recount the event and talking to people you’ve never met about it,” but that “the SARC especially was really helpful and there for support. I had this one session where I had to recount all the events that happened, and she was there, but just for support, not for, like, figuring out [if] what I said was true or not.”
When asked what they would say to others who may find themselves going through the Title IX process their response was, “You have to go into it expecting to be hard. Also, with just sexual assault in general, it’s not something that just happens and goes away; it’s a long, long healing process; it’s different for everyone; I’m still not completely there yet. I just think it’s really important to recognize that this isn’t something that’s a one-and-done, as in, oh, the person gets suspended for x amount of time, and all the sudden I’m supposed to feel all better. I think that a big part of sexual assault awareness is not only that it happens, but how it affects people, and the lasting impression it has. That’s why it’s such a big deal. Because it’s not just like the acts that people commit, but that it really affects people and their lives.”
The SAAM kick-off was held this past Monday. “Our groups are here right now to inform everyone about all the events we have going on, including the speaker series,” said Montana Bass, a member of the Student Title IX Assistance and Resource Team. According to Bass, this club, START, selects students each year to train as confidential allies and support victims when they first begin the Title IX process. “We also have a computer here so people can fill out the HEDS survey if they want,” said Bass. “The survey was emailed to all CC students and asks questions about sexual assault and the sexual climate on campus and whatnot. And we really need at least half of the student body to fill it out in order to get as accurate an assessment as possible.”
Along with members of START, the Student Organization for Sexual Safety, an organization that serves to inform, refer, and support students throughout the year on a variety of subtopics relating to sexual assault and safety, as well as members of the Healing Project, a peer-run support group for survivors of sexual assault on campus, were present.
Outside of CC’s campus, SAAM and the government’s role in it’s observance has become highly controversial. Originally designated by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in 2001, SAAM was first nationally recognized by the Obama Administration beginning in 2009. According to CNN.com, President Donald Trump and his administration’s decision to continue observing Sexual Assault Awareness Month this year has been met with confusion, backlash, and criticism. “Sexual assault crimes remain tragically common in our society, and offenders too often evade accountability. These heinous crimes are committed indiscriminately: in intimate relationships, in public spaces, and in the workplace”; the report quotes an official presidential statement released by the White House.
From audio recordings of pre-office Trump discussing “locker-room talk” and his affinity for “grabbing [women] by the p**sy” and bragging about kissing women before asking for their consent, to comments made regarding how he would sleep with his own daughter were they not related, and the allegations made against him by more than 19 different women and counting of sexual harassment, many question the validity of Trump’s administration in adhering to the yearly custom.
“The president officially declared the month of April to be National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month,” comedian Jimmy Kimmel jibed on his late-night talk show. “At this point, he’s just messing with us. I mean, he might as well declare it National Bankrupt Casino Awareness Month … April is also National President Unawareness Month.”
Outrage exploded on social media, with one Twitter user posting the link to the statement and renaming it “Confessed Sexual Assailant and Oft-Accused Rapist Proclaims ‘National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.’” Another user wrote that “this is the perfect time to demand Congress investigate this hypocrite for sexual misconduct,” while another simply asked, “This is a joke, right?”
Dismaying as it is that so many are focused on the hypocrisy and attention-seeking publicity stunt of politicians’ utilization of SAAM, the month plays a vital role in what it was first created to do: raise awareness and promote prevention. It also shines a much-needed spotlight on the prevalence of this issue, and applauds all those who are willing to fight against it. Finally, while it’s all too easy for victims to feel isolated and alone in their trauma, it creates a space where victims can find and support each other, and how to access the ubiquitous external forms of support as well.