As this new year quickly unfolds, the month of April brings into focus a form of violence that continues to rip apart the lives of children, individuals, and families across the world: sexual assault. Many people find this topic uncomfortable to talk about, but it is within this silence that allows this pervasive issue to continue wreaking havoc in our homes and communities. Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) provides an opportunity to educate our communities on this epidemic and invite them to play an active role in the ongoing prevention efforts to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe.
To start, it is important to align on a collective definition of sexual violence. Overall, sexual violence is defined as any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. This includes, but is not limited to, rape and attempted rape, unwanted touching or fondling, sexual exploitation, and forcing someone to perform or engage in sexual acts. Most often, these crimes are committed by someone known to the victim (a friend, partner, family member, neighbor, acquaintance, etc.), with only 7% committed by strangers.
Just how pervasive is this issue? According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. That equates to over 430,000 American children and adults experiencing this victimization every year. It is important to note that sexual assault remains the most underreported of all violent crimes. Therefore, it is likely that the actual number of victims each year is much higher. These statistics are overwhelming and enraging, leaving us with questions.
Who is this happening to?
Sexual violence is boundless and does not discriminate. It occurs in every community and affects all ages, genders, and races. It happens across all socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. Women and girls are disproportionately affected; however, it is important to acknowledge that men and boys are even less likely to report they have been victimized, primarily due to social stigmas and self-blame. Additionally, women and girls of color experience sexual violence at even higher rates.
How is this happening at such alarming rates?
Unfortunately, social norms and attitudes are the primary reasons this remains such a widespread, ongoing problem. Social norms that condone violence, objectify women and children, safeguard systems of racial and gender inequity, and perpetuate an environment of silence around these forms of abuse and violence contribute to its prevalence. Victim-blaming attitudes further exacerbate these crimes, resulting in victims feeling responsible for what has happened to them and further retreating from seeking help.
What can we do about it?
Stop placing blame on victims. Victims are never to blame and are not responsible for these crimes; perpetrators of sexual violence choose to violate others. Victims should be believed and supported.
Hold abusers and rapists accountable. When perpetrators aren’t held accountable, these crimes are perpetuated, ultimately resulting in victims feeling unheard, unsupported, and unvalued, and communities and families feeling unsafe.
Join us and advocate for change. Educate yourself, your family, and your community. Challenge social norms and attitudes that perpetuate sexual violence. Hold your communities accountable.
What does WCYFS do?
It is our goal to not only help individuals and families heal from this tragic violence, but also to educate the individuals and families in our community to prevent this type of violence from happening in the future.
If you are a survivor of sexual violence, please know that you are not alone; we are here to help. We provide free and confidential crisis and supportive services for individuals and families affected by sexual violence. You can always contact us for information and support on our Sexual Assault 24-Hour Helpline at (209) 465-4997.
If you want to learn more about sexual violence and how to prevent it in our families and communities, please contact us for more information: or (209) 941-2611.