April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Maybe you already know this because you have seen the YWCA’s Teal Chair Project pop up around town. Maybe you have seen the Survivor Love Letter display hanging up at the Coffeehouse in Uptown.
Maybe you were not aware that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month at all.
Regardless, April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month to make a space for a topic that many of us have a hard time addressing.
Conversations about sexual violence can be extremely difficult for a number of reasons. Too often we shy away from these discussions because they tend to make us feel uncomfortable or because we are scared we will say the wrong thing.
But there is a cost to avoiding these conversations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over half of women and one in three men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
If you have not experienced sexual assault, someone you love almost definitely has.
When we refuse to breach the topic of sexual violence and its consequences, we risk further isolating survivors by making them feel as if the subject is shameful.
Of course, this could not be further from the truth.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month gives us the opportunity to have open conversations about the realities of sexual violence and offer support to survivors whether or not they are prepared to share their stories.
It also gives us the opportunity to look at preventative measures we can take to better ensure the safety of ourselves and our communities.
The CDC recommends several strategies to this end including promoting social norms to protect against violence and teaching healthy relationship and intimacy skills to teenagers.
Of course, conversations about sexual assault should be treated with the sensitivity the topic requires.
Resources are available for survivors of sexual assault, both from Illinois State University’s student counseling services and from organizations in the Bloomington-Normal community like the YWCA.
One month is obviously not enough time to address the causes and consequences of sexual violence.
Awareness is just the first step.
By confronting this issue head on, though, we fare a much better chance of making the lasting change that we so desperately need.
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