April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, or SAAM. I know there are a lot of “awareness” months and events, but here’s why I think you should care:

Every two minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted, according to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). And according to the US Dept. of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, over a lifetime, 18% of women will be raped.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that the majority of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against women and girls in the United States between 1992 and 2000 were not reported to the police. Only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported.

  • Self-blame or guilt.
  • Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter.
  • Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions.
  • Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime.
  • Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.

So what is “sexual violence?”

In short, sexual violence is the big umbrella. It’s all forms of sexualized violence including molestation (aka sexual abuse), sexual harassment, rape (aka sexual assault). It’s any time someone puts their hands on your body in a sexualized manner or threatens to commit harm on your body because of your gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.

So now that we have a handle on sexual violence, let’s work on sexual assault, or what a lot of us think of as rape.

Why not just call it rape? I’m not an expert, but the ones I’ve talked to over the years say it’s because the word rape conjures up a very specific image: a woman sexually assaulted — via unwanted penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse — by a stranger. But there are a lot more forms of rape than that, including the most common form “date rape,” or acquaintance rape, in which the victim knows the assailant. (According to RAINN, approx 73% of rape victims know their assailant.) But there’s also same-sex rape, partner rape, penetration of foreign objects into parts of your body against your will … you get the idea. So “rape” was rebranded “sexual assault.” Because there’s more than one way to be raped.

And there area a lot of myths about rape. Here’s a great page that debunks the most common myths.

And that’s what this awareness month is all about. It’s about getting the facts. It’s about protecting yourself from dangerous situations, even if that’s unfair or because the world is built on sexist ways. It may not be right that as a woman I have to look over my shoulder when I walk alone to my car, but it’s the way it is. Rebelling against common sense isn’t going to be much comfort if I become another statistic.

So here’s the scary statistic: **Nevada ranks No. 4 in the nation for sexual assaults.**

Want some good news?

  1. Nationwide, sexual assault has decreased by 60% in recent years.
  2. You can arm yourself with knowledge and safe practices including knowing your surroundings; knowing who you’re with; never losing track of your drink at a social gathering; be careful online; learning self-defense and most of all trusting your instincts. I call it “Spidey-sense.” You know when it’s tingling.
  3. There are resources out there including RAINN, the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence and the Rape Crisis Center.

And speaking of resources, don’t be afraid to use them if you need them.

  • The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline is available 24/7.
  • You can get help anytime from the local Rape Crisis Center by calling 702-366-1640.
  • Here’s a list of crisis centers around the state.
  • If you have been the victim of sexual assault or suspect you were (if you were unconscious, for instance), call the police and go to the hospital. Locally, UMC is the only hospital that has qualified professionals who can administer the rape kit. The more time that passes, the harder it is to get evidence. Don’t shower. Don’t douche. Try to take the clothes you were wearing at the time. Give the nurses and police as much chance to get physical evidence as possible. I’ve met the nurses who do this and believe me, they want to catch the perpetrators and will do anything they can think of to help make that happen. (One of them even found physical evidence by using floss once!)
  • DON’T BLAME YOURSELF!

And as a survivor of sexual abuse (a form of sexual violence) let me just share some things that were helpful for me:

  1. When you feel overwhelmed repeat this mantra to yourself: I am alive. I will survive.
  2. Every time you need to, you can also repeat this: I did not do/say/wear anything to deserve this. I did not provoke this. This is not my fault.
  3. You will heal. You will love again. You will find joy in sex again. Your heart, body and mind are stronger than any perpetrator. You are an amazing human being and that cannot be denied no matter what another person ever does to you or your body. You are worthy.
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