April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
In 2020, Mary Black Foundation granted $25,000 to SAFE Homes for the first year of an eighteen-month grant to fund a full-time therapist who will work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, an increased need due to family instability caused by economic uncertainty and stay-at-home recommendations due to COVID-19.
This week’s blog is written by Jada Charley, President/CEO, SAFE Homes-Rape Crisis Coalition
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and SAFE Homes would like to provide some information about sexual assault and the activities planned that you can participate in this month to help increase awareness and prevent assault. A sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity. Last year, SAFE Homes assisted 194 victims of sexual assault. While this may seem like a lot of people, we know that it only represents a fraction of the victims of sexual assault in our area. These sobering statistics highlight the importance of making our communities more aware of sexual assault and what we can do to prevent these assaults from happening.
All communities, including ours, have norms that can increase sexual violence. By changing these norms, we can reduce and eventually eliminate sexual violence in our community. These norms can include:
- Harmful norms about masculinity: Rigid gender norms about masculinity that promote domination, control, and risk-taking are expressed in workplaces and other settings as an expectation that men and others will push rather than respect boundaries, e.g., “No means try harder.”
- Harmful norms about femininity: Rigid gender norms about femininity that promote compliance and sacrifice show up in the workplace as an expectation that women and others will accept and even blame themselves for boundary violations, e.g., “Go along to get along.”
- Norms that support abuse of power: Our society places a lot of value on claiming and maintaining power, which too often gets expressed as power over other people. Harmful norms about power promote exploitation by people with more power (i.e., adults, bosses, documented residents, and citizens) of those with less power (children, employees, undocumented residents), e.g., “What do you expect? That’s what strong leaders do.”
- Tolerance of aggression and violence: Violence is pervasive in our society and is often deployed as a mechanism for addressing conflict or resolving problems. Norms that promote tolerance for aggression and violence can be seen in behaviors that excuse people who act violently, e.g., “He’s the star athlete of the school, and we need to let him play,” and blame victims, e.g., “Why was she there? Why did she wait so long to say anything?”
- Sexual violence as a private matter, not a public concern: A healthy respect for privacy can turn into harmful inaction when sexual violence is erroneously conflated with private sexuality. In schools, workplaces, and other settings, peers and people in authority who adhere to this norm turn away from what’s happening, e.g., “It’s none of my business.”*
Working Together to Change Norms
Our community can work together to change these norms through encouraging employers to adopt workplace policies that include initiatives such as pay equity and education and training on acceptable workplace behavior and the legal/criminal consequence that can flow from engaging in unacceptable behavior. We can also advocate for things like well-lit streets and walking paths, engagement of influential community leaders in mobilizing for healthy gender norms, and using tools like “Respecting Boundaries Agreements” in schools where students who violate others’ boundaries are taught the skills they need to respect victims’ needs and prevent future violations.
Activities in April
This month, SAFE Homes has several activities planned around increasing awareness about what community members can do to prevent sexual assault, including online sexual harassment. These activities include Zoom Bingo and awareness tables at local libraries. We are also launching a completely anonymous online support group for survivors of sexual assault. For more information on how to get involved with these activities, please contact us at 864.583.9803 or by visiting our website at shrcc.org.
*Adapted from, ”Together we can change norms to prevent sexual violence and harassment”, Rachel Davis, Lisa Fujie, Parks, and Alisa Somji, December 18, 2017, https://www.preventioninstitute.org/blog/together-we-can-change-norms-prevent-sexual-violence-and-harassment