It’s not enough to just know that sexual assault happens. We know this. With the emergence of #MeToo, we hear about some form of sexual violence nearly every day now. But why are we promoting awareness? To what end?
We promote awareness of sexual assault in hopes of preventing sexual assault. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) in fact refers to April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. And in order to prevent sexual assault, we must not only know what is happening but the how and why it is happening.
We must dispel the commonly held misconceptions and myths and explore its nuances. For example, yes, people can be assaulted by strangers, but in 8 out of 10 cases of sexual violence, survivors know their perpetrator. Or the fact that yes, women are disproportionately victimized, but women of color and transwomen are at even greater risk of violence. Over half of LGBTQ+ hate crime victims (53%) are people of color, and the average life expectancy of a black transwoman is only 35 years old. And at the same time this does not mean that men cannot be victims either, in fact nearly 1 in 4 men have reported an experience of sexual violence including rape, sexual coercion, and unwanted sexual contact.
We must also understand that sexual assault can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems including: depression, PTSD, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, etc. These long-term effects can cause significant distress and disruption in all areas of the survivor’s life, which can make healing and recovery challenging, but not impossible.
Sexual assault survivors need a safe place that offers healing, support and resources. Here at Safe Harbor, we offer a safe and welcoming space, believe each client without question or judgment, and normalize the reactions and feelings that occur after trauma. Our counselors walk alongside each survivor and help to them to heal and rebuild their life. All of our services are offered free of charge to the survivor.
When we arm ourselves with not just the knowledge that sexual assault happens but with the understanding of the nature of this problem, we make our awareness actionable. We are more likely to believe survivors. We are better prepared to support survivors. We are better equipped to prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place. This is the goal of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and every month at Safe Harbor.