This April marks the 21st anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). SAAM was first nationally observed in 2001, and in 2009, President Barak Obama was the first president to officially proclaim April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. During the month of April, activists, advocates, and victims/survivors raise awareness about sexual violence. SAAM also focuses on prevention efforts, community education, and centering the voices of those most impacted by sexual violence.
History of Sexual Assault Awareness Month
In the United States, activists and victims/survivors advocating for change and raising awareness about sexual violence have roots in the Civil Rights Era. The movement to end sexual violence began as early as the 1900s and started to gain traction in the 1940s and 1950s at the same time other movements began to grow. Rosa Parks, known for her participation in the Montgomery bus boycotts, advocated for victims/survivors of sexual violence, and worked with the NAACP investigating cases of sexual assault against women of color.
In the 1970s, momentum grew in the movement against sexual violence, and the first rape crisis center – Bay Area Women Against Rape – opened in 1971. In the same year, New York Radical Feminists held the first speak-out on rape with three hundred attendees. By 1976, there were over four hundred rape crisis centers across the United States. With the increased awareness of sexual violence, states began forming coalitions, starting with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in 1975. New York followed in 1987 when rape crisis advocates formed the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA). NYSCASA was initially started as a mutual support group for rape crisis advocates. In the present day, the coalition’s purpose has grown to include consulting, resource development, and policy advocacy. NYSCASA also provides support to rape crisis centers throughout New York and focuses on specific areas such as sexual assault on college campuses and in detention settings.
In 2001, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) coordinated the first SAAM campaign, which it still facilitates today. In 2005, the campaign shifted its focus to the prevention of sexual violence. It was then that the NSVRC sent out its first toolkits which it still creates and distributes presently. The theme of the 2022 NSVRC SAAM campaign is Building Safe Online Spaces Together. NSVRC believes that building safe online spaces is possible “when we practice digital consent, intervene when we see harmful content and behaviors, and promote online communities that value respect, inclusion, and safety.”
Facts About Sexual Violence
In the United States, there are approximately 464,000 victims/survivors of rape and sexual assault (age 12 or older) each year. People ages 12-34 are at the highest risk of sexual violence. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that every 68 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. As of 2015, 25.5 million women and 7.9 million men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. The 2015 Transgender Survey found that 47% of people who identify as transgender are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey, people who identify as lesbian and bisexual experience higher rates of sexual violence than people who identify as straight. In a nationally representative survey, 18% of white women, 7% of Asian women, 19% of Black women, 24% of women who identify with a mix of races, and 34% of Native American and Alaskan Native women experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
Sexual violence is often not reported. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), only 33.6% of rape and sexual assault is reported to law enforcement. This percentage is lower for people who identify as men, people in prison and other detention settings, Black, Indigenous People of Color, and those who identify as LGBTQAI+.
How to Get Involved
There are a variety of ways to get involved with SAAM and with the movement to end sexual violence, both in person and virtually
Take Back the Night (TBTN) is a charitable foundation that works to end all forms of sexual violence, domestic violence, and dating violence. It began in England in 1877 as a protest against gender-based violence. The first TBTN March in the United States was held in 1978 in San Francisco. TBTN events in the present day are coordinated all over the world and their purpose is to center the voices of victims/survivors of sexual violence, and to spread awareness about gender-based violence and the resources that are available.
NYSCASA keeps a community calendar of events, workshops, and trainings related to sexual violence. For the month of April, SAAM events hosted, coordinated, or sponsored by NYS Rape Crisis Centers (RCC) can be found on the community calendar.
The NSVRC holds a #30DaysOfSAAMChallenge and creates social media guidance toolkits to help people to spread awareness about sexual violence.
Resources for Victims/Survivors of Sexual Violence and their Loved Ones
Domestic violence and sexual assault resource for Saratoga County, and sexual assault resource for Washington County.
Crime victim resource for Albany County
Crime victim resource for Rensselaer County.
No cost civil legal services for crime victim/survivors in the Capital Region.
Directory from RAINN.
Health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual violence in detention settings.
Directory of rape crisis programs in New York by County.
 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual, and Intersex. This acronym is used as a shortened version of a much larger acronym that encompasses a multitude of identities. Please find a more complete list of identities and definitions here.