Wednesday, March 26, 2008

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By Joanne Gerber
The month of April brings thoughts of new beginnings and warming weather to Northlanders but the month of April is more than spring flowers and longer days; April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While many of us prefer to think that sexual assault occurs only in big cities or to other people, crime statistics prove otherwise. According to the 2001 National Criminal Victimization Study, 248,000 people over the age of twelve reported being a victim of sexual assault. In the United States, a woman is sexually assaulted every 90 seconds.

Sexual assault is any act (verbal or physical) that breaks a person’s trust and/or safety and is sexual in nature. The term “sexual violence” includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, marital or partner rape, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism. Sexual assault is an act of violence where sex is the weapon.

Sexual assaults on college and university campuses are occurring at an alarming rate. A 2000 U.S. Department of Justice study on the sexual victimization of college women reported that 2.8 percent of those surveyed were the victims of rape or attempted rape per academic year and about 90 percent knew their attackers. On a campus of 10,000 women, that is 280 rapes or attempted rapes each academic year. The study further found that less than five percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police.

Date rapists often believe the myth that women owe men sex if they spend money on her, or that when a woman says no, she really means yes. In reality, when a woman says no, she means no. Rape is never the victim’s fault no matter what she was wearing, where she was, whether or not she fought back, or whether or not she and/or the perpetrator were drinking. Sexual assault is a crime and the perpetrator is 100 percent responsible for his actions.

In hundreds of ways, women’s lives are shaped by the persistent threat of sexual assault. Women hesitate to venture out at night without a male escort, they are afraid to live alone, hitchhike, stay late at the office, or take certain jobs. Sexual Assault Awareness Month brings an annual opportunity to focus awareness on sexual violence and its prevention. It is also an opportunity to highlight the efforts of individuals and agencies that provide rape crisis intervention and prevention services while offering support to sexual assault survivors, victims, and their families.

Events in Duluth such as the April 10, “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” and the April 24, “Take Back the Night” rally and march, raise awareness about sexual assault and provide a catalyst for social change within our community. For more information about these events, or to learn how you can become a sexual assault advocate or volunteer, call Tammy at the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA), (218)726-1442, or go to

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, call PAVSA’s 24-hour crisis line, (218) 726-1931, or toll free 1(866) 229-7425. PAVSA’s services are free and confidential.
(Joanne Gerber is an intern with the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA).)