By Rachel Yehoda, Program Coordinator (Prevention & Education)
Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) has come to an end and it is important for us to reflect on how prevention efforts were advanced in our communities this past April. MCASA participated in SAAM events throughout the state of Maryland, including several outreach events at colleges and community organizations. The theme of this year’s SAAM campaign, Embrace Your Voice, truly resonated with us here in Maryland. ‘Embrace Your Voice’ encourages individuals to use their voices to promote positive changes in their communities, and to work towards preventing all forms of sexual violence. Continuing from the 2017 SAAM campaign theme of ‘Engaging New Voices’, Embrace Your Voice placed emphasis on ways that we can use the power of our voices to advocate for a culture that uplifts survivors and calls for action to end sexual violence. Below are some of the different ways to stay engaged with prevention efforts and embrace your voice throughout this year:
Support, advocate for, and believe survivors. It is crucial that we believe survivors when they come forward with their stories. One of the most powerful things you can say to a survivor who has disclosed their experience is ‘I believe you’. The way we respond and the words we use after a disclosure can have a significant impact on a survivor’s recovery. By using our voices to express support, we can all make a difference in the lives of survivors.
Be an engaged bystander and call out rape culture. To prevent sexual assault in our communities, we need to commit to being engaged and active bystanders in our everyday lives. You can be an engaged bystander by calling out victim blaming when it happens. Victim blaming happens all too often in our society, but if we all use our voices to stop it, we can make a difference. So speak up if you hear someone make a rape joke or trivialize the issue of sexual violence. By shutting down the thoughts and attitudes that support rape culture, we can work towards creating a culture that supports survivors, rather than blaming them.
Have conversations about consent and healthy relationships. Include conversations in your prevention programming about consent, boundaries, and healthy relationships. Focus conversations on what consent looks like, and how to practice consent in everyday situations. Teach audiences to show respect for the physical and emotional boundaries of others by practicing consent in their daily lives. By talking openly about these topics, especially with younger audiences, we can have a significant impact on preventing sexual assault.
Use your voice to support policies that help survivors and promote prevention. Although Maryland’s legislative session is over, it is important to stay informed about legislation that impacts survivors. Your voice and actions matter when it comes to creating lasting policy change. Be sure to subscribe to MCASA’s mailing list to stay updated on our advocacy efforts, and to find out how you can help. The Rape Survivor Family Protection Act was passed earlier this year thanks to the many Marylanders who used their voices to say enough is enough. To learn more about MCASA’s legislative priorities, click here.
Sexual violence is preventable. Let’s take this momentum from SAAM and continue to embrace our voices in our prevention work. It is crucial that we are relentless in our efforts to end victim blaming, call out rape culture, and advocate on behalf of survivors.
For more information on preventing sexual violence, visit MCASA’s Prevention 101 webpage.