Trigger warnings: sexual assault, rape, violence, suicide, harassment, sexual violence
Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is coming to a close. April is the designated month for sexual assault awareness, and yet not many Americans seem to be talking about it. In a time where politicians think rape is a component of a great party and believe rape should be permissible if abortion is legal, I’m starting to doubt whether anyone is listening to sexual assault awareness advocates. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault in the United States, most of which will occur under the age of 25. Most experts believe this statistic to be much larger in reality, because victims are less likely to report sex crimes. The possibility of being sexually assaulted is not eliminated once a woman turns 25. There are numerous cases of very elderly women being brutally raped in their own homes.
As a college-aged woman of color I fear for my safety. The saying amongst my peers is, “You’re less likely to get attacked by a shark than you are of being raped,” and I’m starting to believe that more and more as the days go on. As a sophomore in college, the fear of sexual assault consumes me whenever I attend a party at a residence hall. Washington Square News, a student-run publication at New York University, published an article last year on the rape of an engineering student and NYU’s (passive) response. As I read the article, I could only feel hatred, terror, and disgust for the alleged rapist and the university’s response. The victim, Ashley Sweeney (a pseudonym), reported the incident to the university, but the administration took no initiative to remove the assailant from the residence hall in which she lived. Sweeney was overwhelmed with the ongoing presence of her attacker in the Brooklyn residence hall that she resorted to slitting her throat in her bathroom. After returning from the hospital she was then expelled from the residence hall for being “a hazard to fellow students.”
NYU isn’t the only university that has come under fire for its response/policies regarding sexual assault, or what NYU calls, “sexual misconduct.” Eighty five colleges and universities are being investigated for Title IX violations, most of which are sexual assault-related, and may even lose federal funding if evidence of supposed violations is found. With all this talk of sexual assault prevention on college campuses it’s very difficult to process why so many people, especially our politicians, are having a hard time understanding what sexual assault means.
To make it easy for them, the CDC defines sexual violence as
“any sexual activity where consent is not freely given. This includes completed or attempted penetration of a victim or attempts to make a victim penetrate a perpetrator against the victim’s will or against a victim who is unable to consent. Sexual violence also includes unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences (such as verbal sexual harassment).”
In a recent Gothamist article, New Yorkers are combating verbal sexual harassment (cat-calling) on the streets of the city with stickers and posters reading “No Cat-Calling Zone.” This is only one instance in which Americans are attempting to eradicate sexual assault and harassment. All over the nation there have been marches and public demonstrations to eliminate rape culture, such as the Slut Walk.
It is difficult to be comfortable in a world where my gender is undervalued to the level of dehumanization. Sexual assaults are committed as acts of power over an individual in order to compensate for overwhelming self-loathing. Questioning the victim’s level of intoxication or choice of clothing as excuses for victim-blaming is cowardly and despicable. I live in a country where football captains are valued more than a woman’s personhood. When we think of atrocities, rape is usually on the top of the list, but it is usually in the context of foreign nations allowing these acts. The reality is sexual assault is a crime against humanity, and as a nation we are moving very slowly to end sexual violence.
This Sexual Assault Awareness Month take the pledge to educate yourself and peers on the atrocities and consequences of sexual violence.