April 2019 marks the 18th annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The theme is “I Ask” to show the power in asking for consent.
While this issue may make many people uncomfortable, it is important to realize how common sexual assault is.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 1 in 4 women will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime, and 1 in 6 will be the victim of attempted or completed rape. For men, this number is significantly lower but still staggering at 1 in 33 being the victim of attempted or completed rape.
This is clearly not an issue that can be ignored, and SAAM is a great way to draw attention to these devastating statistics.
The legal definition of sexual assault may vary from state to state, but in summary, it is any form of nonconsensual sexual activity. The criteria for determining consent also varies slightly — regarding age of consent and other factors — but consent has to be clear, giving permission for the specific activity by a person who has the ability to consent for themselves.
When it comes to things like sexual assault, most people focus on “stranger danger.” We teach children not to speak to people they do not know, but we often neglect to teach them that people we are close to can also harm us.
Of course, it is good to be cautious around people we do not know, but when it comes to sexual assault, the reality is that “stranger danger” often does not apply. In fact, in 80 percent of rape cases, the victim knows the perpetrator. This could be a close family friend, a relative or an authority figure.
An example that has been in the media recently is Larry Nassar, the physician for Michigan State University Gymnastics and USA Gymnastics who received a 175-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting at least 300 young girls in his medical care over several decades. He was able to get away with these crimes for so long because the girls, their families and other professionals trusted him.
While this is an extreme example, it draws attention to the sad truth that people can abuse their power, and we should be cautious in all situations.
Sexual assault can occur in intimate partnerships as well. This includes assault in a marriage or while dating. Each partner should give consent because a person’s right to control their own body does not go away when they enter into a relationship. Your body is your own.
Consent is not a one-time commitment in a relationship; it is situational. A person is allowed to change his or her mind and is not ever required to agree to anything just because they have in the past.
Many victims are now speaking out about their experiences, and many organizations are stepping up to spread awareness.
For more information about SAAM, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center website. Learn about ways to teach consent to your children or interpret consent from a partner.
Also, check out the ways you can be an advocate for sexual assault victims during the month of April through the #30DaysofSAAMChallenge.
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or stalking and would like more information, please give us a call on our crisis line at 405-878-4673, or visit us at cpnhouseofhope.com.