Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Sexual violence is a serious public health issue that affects all communities. More than one in three women and nearly one in four men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime. In 2021, in North Dakota there were 1,139 primary victims of sexual assault were served by 18 domestic violence/rape crisis centers according to CAWS ND (state domestic violence/sexual assault coalition). Sexual violence is a term that includes any type of unwanted sexual contact, either online or in person. It can include rape, sexual assault, harassment, exploitation, sharing private images, performing sexual acts online, sending nude photos, or grooming children.
The good news is that prevention is possible and it’s happening.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and this year’s focus is on building safe online spaces together. Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can happen anywhere, including in online spaces. Harassment, cyberbullying, and sexual abuse and exploitation have come to be expected for too long as typical and unavoidable behaviors online.
Together we can make a difference to build inclusive, safe, and respectful online spaces. These values, skills and actions to build a safer online world can also create communities that thrive online and offline.
What can you do to ensure the online safety of yourself and others?
- Create community agreements with participants so the expectations around respectful communications are clear to everyone involved. Name specific behaviors that will not be tolerated and how those who do harm will be asked to take accountability.
- Provide a way that people can make a report about harassment or abuse if another group member’s behavior is making them or others uncomfortable.
- Step in when you observe behaviors online by reporting inappropriate content, speaking out when you hear victim-blaming comments and showing support to victims of online harassment.
Behaviors or actions like sexist jokes or victim-blaming comments may not seem like that big of a deal, but they contribute to the same way of thinking that fuels violence. Although they only reflect the point of view of the person making them, their public visibility normalizes not taking sexual abuse seriously. In other cases, they may cause harm by re-traumatizing victims of abuse or assault who read them.
Victim-blaming comments may include:
- Questioning the victim’s actions such as wondering why someone didn’t make a police report immediately or questioning what they were wearing or doing before the assault.
- Minimizing what happened to a victim. For instance, a journalist may use terms like “forced sex,” “sexual encounter,” or “underage sex” when they really mean sexual assault or statutory rape.
The North Dakota Department of Health’s Rape Prevention and Education Program promotes the use of comprehensive and evidence-based sexual violence primary prevention strategies. To learn more about primary prevention, visit the North Dakota Department of Health Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Prevention Toolkit. The Department of Health has partnered with CAWS ND to create the Prevention Is Possible campaign.
For more information on Sexual Assault Awareness Month, visit http://www.nsvrc.org/saam.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, there is help available. Contact your local rape crisis program or the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-HOPE (4673). The list of North Dakota service providers is available at http://www.cawsnorthdakota.org/index.php/get-help/advocacycenterdirectory/.