Sexual Assault Awareness Month is an initiative to raise public awareness about sexual violence and provide education on prevention.  According to the National Sexual Assault Resource Center, nearly 1 out of 5 women and 1 out of 67 men in the U.S. have experienced rape or attempted rape sometime in their lives (Smith et al., 2017.)

At my Chicago-based practice, we sadly see how many people are impacted by sexual assault in the form of rape, sexual abuse, harassment and nonconsensual sexual acts.  Survivors often deal with issues related to trauma, self-esteem, empowerment, depression, anxiety and substance abuse as a form of self-medication of symptoms. Sexual violence a very serious and wide-spread problem.

As members of our communities, we each have a personal responsibility to develop greater understanding so we can be part of trauma and violence prevention. With momentum from the #MeToo campaign and many sexual harassment cases being exposed, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve understanding, prevent violence and change our culture today.

This year, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is celebrating its 17th anniversary with the theme, “Embrace Your Voice. ”  Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Know that words matter.

Chances are, you know people who have been sexually assaulted who have not shared their experiences with you.  So if you comment that somebody claiming sexual assault in the media is doing it just for attention, you might be conveying to them that you wouldn’t believe them if they shared their experiences with you.  When you stand up for survivors of sexual violence, you send a powerful message that you believe and support them.   

  • Stop victim-blaming.

If you hear comments like, “Well, her skirt was so short…”, say something like, “It doesn’t matter what she was wearing. Sexual assault is never okay. The victim is never to blame.”

  •  Comment if you see stereotyping or inaccurate portrayals in the media.

TV shows and movies sometimes romanticize, eroticize or make light of sexual assault, which is never okay.  Recently, I watched a comedy where a group of women fondling an unconscious man. I said, “Whoah—That’s sexual assault! That is NOT funny.” We must find our voices and speak these options so that producers in the media realize this inaccurate portrayal isn’t to be tolerated.

  • Say something if you hear inappropriate jokes/comments.

If you hear an inappropriate comment such as somebody teasing somebody else that they would need to use a “ruffie” to get lucky, say something like, “I don’t think it is funny to joke about rape.” These jokes contribute to a culture where sexual violence is not taken as seriously as it should.

  • Take victims seriously and believe them.

Never question their perceptions or minimize their experiences. Unfortunately, there is often shame, secrecy and stigma in being assaulted. Be kind and compassionate and believe them. Help them receive professional support by contacting Rape Victim Advocates.

  • Encourage reporting. 

Reporting is critical to stop the cycle of violence. Coach survivors through any fears of retaliation and empower them to report. Encourage going to the authorities. Offer to make a call together to get help through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE .

For more information, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and check out their important fact sheet on sexual violence and suggestions for embracing your voice. To be part of the solution, share articles and information about sexual assault prevention, such as my article about consensual sex, with #SAAM.