Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2015
Program Coordinator (Prevention and Education)
With April now behind us, we are pausing to reflect on another successful and active Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) here at MCASA, as well as on the history and legacy of activism that we are a part of.
SAAM has a long history, with its roots going back to the Take Back the Night marches that began in the 1970s. Organizing efforts in the early 1980s initially focused on October as a time for hosting events and actions—but as this month became increasingly focused on domestic violence, activists and advocates began to seek out a separate time to focus on raising awareness for sexual assault. This took shape in the late 1980s as a designated week in April, but as time went on more and more events were held throughout the whole month of April, and state and tribal coalitions called for the time frame to be expanded. In April 2001, the first national Sexual Assault Awareness Month was held.
From 2001 to the present, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) has provided national organization and coordination for SAAM, as well as resources for organizers at every level. They are also responsible for designating and sharing messages related to each year’s SAAM theme. The theme for 2015
was “It’s time to act. Safer campuses. Brighter futures. Prevent sexual violence.” The NSVRC’s coordination includes longstanding events like Denim Day, which was first observed in 1999
in response to an Italian judge’s ruling that a sexual assault must have been consensual because the victim’s jeans were too tight to have been removed without her assistance. There were also new events introduced for this year, such as the April 22 #SurvivorLoveLetter campaign
, designed to counter the pervasive victim-blaming and slut-shaming messages that dominate discourse on the internet and to create an atmosphere of support, confidence, and belief in survivors.
Throughout the month, blog posts at The Huffington Post kept the dialogue going in what was a fruitful and highly visible collaboration. In particular, the final post in the series
strikes us as poignant: written by Sari Lipsett, CALCASA’s Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator, it emphasizes the importance of creating collaborations between campus and community resources and creating partnerships in lieu of competition. MCASA couldn’t agree more with the spirit of this article. This focus on increased community collaboration, as well as the collegiate theme more broadly, come at a particularly relevant time for us here in Maryland, given the recent passage of HB571. Among several measures aimed at reducing sexual assault at Maryland’s 55 colleges, HB571 requires that colleges pursue agreements with their local rape crisis and recovery centers, MCASA, or both. The new coordination of resources and expertise should support the development of more effective prevention programs as well as more survivor-centered, trauma-informed care and campus judicial proceedings.
While MCASA participated in a number of events and trainings during SAAM, a stand-out moment was our Training and Activism day on April 2nd
, held in collaboration with CARE to Stop Violence at the University of Maryland—College Park. The event brought together a wide range of participants, including Title IX coordinators, therapists, health educators, college faculty, campus and community police officers, and students. The activities included a platform for discussing collaborations between community and college resources, informational sessions regarding Title IX and other legal issues, and a participatory bystander intervention workshop. The day also highlighted the work of activist campaigns, including student activists, working across the country on Title IX and college sexual violence issues more broadly. Participants also had the chance to take SAAM activism pledges, some of which we shared on MCASA’s Instagram feed. The day was filled with lively debate and discussion, and we hope to carry this energy forward at future college events.
This SAAM was also an active one for Maryland’s 17 Rape Crisis and Recovery Centers and their community partnerships. Some common themes were seen across the state. At least three Take Back the Night events were held, including events at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center at Prince George’s Hospital Center; at the University of Maryland—Baltimore County, held in partnership with HopeWorks of Howard County; and at Salisbury University, held in partnership with Life Crisis Center, Inc. There were also two Walk a Mile In Her Shoes Events, held by the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County and SARC of Harford County, aimed at enlisting the support of male allies. The FORCE monument quilt held viewings and workshops at a number of locations, including a collaboration with HopeWorks of Howard County for a quilt-making workshop and viewings at a number of area colleges. Cecil County’s Domestic Violence Rape Crisis Center held a number of events, including a collaboration with Cecil College to display The Clothesline Project on campus. Maryland’s RCRC’s engaged broadly with sexual assault awareness and prevention this SAAM, and MCASA’s event calendar was a packed one during the month of April!
Finally, while not directly related to SAAM, there was another major event this April worth noting that should help further efforts to fight sexual violence at Maryland’s 55 colleges and universities. The federal Department of Education released new materials for Title IX coordinators
, including a new Resource Guide as well as a Dear Colleague letter thanking Title IX coordinators for the valuable work that they do—the first such thanks that have been given. The Department of Education also issued a letter to other school administrators emphasizing the importance of existing Title IX guidance and of giving Title IX coordinators the authority, resources, and support necessary to fulfill their duties. Given that Title IX guidance has been changing so rapidly, with new guidance issued frequently, the release of documents intended solely to provide assistance and information provides welcome and much-needed support for professionals trying to ensure that their schools are in compliance with federal mandates for preventing and responding to sexual violence and harassment. In combination with the 2014 “Questions and Answers” document, this new Resource Guide is a major step towards decoding the avalanche of Title IX guidance and helping to translate policy directives into real change for colleges of all types—including both residential and commuter, 4-year and 2-year, public and private.
SAAM may be over for now, but the work never stops. In a recent interview with the Star Democrat
, MCASA’s Executive Director Lisae Jordan, Esq. summed it up well. “Sexual assault is something that should never be forgotten,” she said. “The work always continues.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Frontline.