April was officially dedicated to the eradication of sexual violence in 2001, with the goal of educating both individuals and communities on how to raise awareness and participate in prevention and advocacy efforts. However, by 2001, the month had been known for advocacy activities for more than a decade, starting with Take Back the Night marches and the establishment of Sexual Assault Awareness Week in the 1980s. In 2001, The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and Resource Sharing Project (RSP) took leading roles in expanding the awareness campaign to a full month.
Recognize the Problem
Sexual violence is a serious problem in society and one that is sometimes overlooked or misunderstood. Thankfully with programs such as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, attitudes are changing. Each year, the month selects a campaign on which to focus, with the 2013 campaign focused on preventing child abuse.
While the majority of victims aren’t children, it is the attitudes we develop at these ages that mold our responses to threats as an adult. Sexual Assault Awareness Month asks groups and individuals to address these issues both with kids and parents. By focusing on teaching safe, healthy behaviors and attitudes to these populations, we can maximize our advocacy efforts.
Talk About It, Early and Often
Preventing abuse often starts with education. As adults, it’s important to talk to children about setting boundaries and their right to privacy. Adults should also allow children to make their own decisions about showing affection. For example, children should decide whether they prefer to give a high five or handshake instead of a hug. As an adult, you can teach children polite ways of refusing kisses, hugs and other forms of affection they may not be comfortable receiving. Assault survivors often lament staying in dangerous situations out of fear they might overreact and hurt someone else’s feelings. Thus, teach children to respect their instincts and their right (as well as everyone else’s right) to privacy and control over their bodies.
Parents and adults should also allow for open communication with children and honestly answer questions as they arise. A child who feels scared to talk about these issues faces another obstacle to seeking help. Adults should also learn the warning signs of abuse, and be prepared to speak out when needed. Although it can be difficult to speak up, especially if the adult is someone you know, you should always report suspected abuse to the police, child protective service or a local or national hotline.