Politicizing Sexual Assault Awareness

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.

6 responses to “Politicizing Sexual Assault Awareness

  1. Unfortunately I don’t think that any SAAM promotions are reaching the eyes and ears of college age men. Correct if I am wrong here, but the last time I attended college, (in 2003), Preventing sexual violence among peers was not their top priority, and I wondering how much it is now? I wish it was. My best friend was raped after one semester at college and could never go back. It ruined and stunted her life in so many ways that its still painful to talk about.

    I recently became aware of SAAM only in this last month AFTER RESEARCHING SEXUAL ASSAULT for my job. I shouldn’t have to research it. It should be in my face. It should be in every college campus, on every facebook page and on every social media outlet. There should be a no tolerance policy at colleges and universities across the United States. That should be posted in clear view on every campus website. I want to read that in the brochure. I want my sisters to feel safe going to parties.

  2. Our children need to know the facts about sex! They need to know that sex becomes more risky when mixed with alcohol/drugs. They need to be told that it is their right to say no-even at the last minute-and to be treated respectfully. Our kids should be taught to feel compassion, so that when they see something wrong, they will step
    Up to help instead of videoing it. They need to know that no means no and that a drunk, drugged or passed out person cannot consent. Regardless of the ignorant statements of some politicians and others, rape is rape! There is no “real” vs “legitimate” rape. Rape is rape! Rape is a crime!

  3. I am disturbed that the Anheuser Bush advertising about how to get around ‘just say no’ is not mentioned on the NOW site. We parents have been for a few decades trying to teach everyone that NO means NO, and now we have a beer manufacturer trying to subvert our efforts. NOW chapters should protest and do it at parades etc where the Clydales are shown. Why not walk along the side of the street when the Clydales are with protest signs. A good place to start is the longest continuously held July 4th parade in USA…Bristol R.I.. Have young girls and boys and young men and women parade.

  4. I’m only 14 years old, but this is definitely something I understand. Rape and assault is considered a “rite of passage” among some men. I can’t even begin to think how terrible that is. Is hurting a girl SUPPOSED to make you cooler? Why would that ever constitute a person being “awesome”?!

    Hurting girls used to be a sign of terribleness and weakness, which I completely agree with. Now it’s supposed to be a sign of toughness. How has this happened? Why would that EVER be okay?!

    And why should we live in a world where it’s so dangerous, we are advised to carry pepper spray everywhere? Why should we be in so much danger? Why is it, at a very young age, girls are taught how to incapacitate an attacker?

    The victim-blaming is something that is totally unacceptable. I recently read a report that said that 80% of college students think that a husband has the right to have sex with his wife without her consent. More than 50% believe that if a woman is “dressed suggestively and is alone at night”, she is asking to be raped. But ALL clothing can be viewed as “suggestive”, due to our overly sexualized culture. Why would a husband ever be allowed to do that to someone he allegedly loves?! Why would being alone at night be provocation for rape?!! For that matter, how could anything EVER be viewed as provocation for rape?!!!

    I will not stand for these things. Our bodies are our own, and no one can ever take that away! I will fight until sexual assault is just a distant memory, albeit an awful one. THIS WILL NOT STAND!!

  5. If feminism is supposed to be equality for all, like an adjunct branch of humanism, it would be nice to see some NOW protestors holding up signs that say “STOP VIOLENCE.” Men are often the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as well. I’d know. It happened to me. I’ve been taken advantage of when I was drunk, and I was married to a woman who was physically abusive. Sure, I’m stronger than her. But if I were to defend myself, I would have gone to jail. Technically, as far as violence goes, as a man I’m far more likely to be the victim of a murder while out for a stroll than a woman is to be raped doing the same. But you can’t just go through life constantly afraid, clutching your car keys in your knuckles. I certainly can’t live like that. Be smart. It’s a dangerous world. People can be evil, men or women. People can be victims, women or men.

  6. About that rape number. A bit awkward to notice that the percent of males in the previous 12 months (of the cdc study) who had been made to penetrate was 1.7% wheres female rape was 1.6% of respondents. If you don’t think made to penetrate should count as rape well then I would suggest asking males who had been forced to do so and seeing what they think.nn1

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