By: Sydnee Winston, Project Coordinator
President Obama has proclaimed April to be Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. This is a time for all of us to reflect on the sexual violence that affects women, children and men across this country and what we can do to help prevent it and promote awareness of it.
In a proclamation featured on the White House’s website President Obama writes:
“In the last 20 years, our Nation has made meaningful progress toward addressing sexual assault. 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. But even today, too many women, men, and children suffer alone or in silence, burdened by shame or unsure anyone will listen. This month, we recommit to changing that tragic reality by stopping sexual assault before it starts and ensuring victims get the support they need.”
Although there are many resource centers, awareness campaigns and systems of support that exist today for victims of sexual abuse, it wasn’t until 12 years ago, in 2001, that this month for reflection was created. It was born out of women’s organized protests in the late 1970s in England. These “Take Back the Night” marches allowed women to raise their voices against the violence that they continually encounter as they walked through the streets at night. Through organization and increased global public awareness, the protests caught on in the United States and began to develop into a movement.
The first “Take Back the Night” events in theUS were held in San Francisco and New York City in 1978. As the movement continued to expand, it grew to include other issues within the conversation about sexual violence including violence against men and men’s participation in the effort to end sexual violence.
By the early 1980s, an increased public interest in organizing activities to raise awareness about violence against women began to take root. That public interest and effort resulted in a set time during October as a time for raising awareness about violence against women. Over time, October became the principle time for focus on domestic violence. In the late 1980s, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) informally polled state sexual assault coalitions to determine when to have a national Sexual Assault Awareness Week. A week in April was selected and by the 1990s, many advocates were coordinating events throughout the month of April to promote the concept of a nationally recognized month for sexual violence awareness. Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first observed nationally in April of 2001.