April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time to raise public consciousness about sexual assault and the need for prevention efforts. This blog discusses the prevalence and impact of sexual assault, provides current statistics and insights, and offers actionable ways to fight against the normalization of sexual violence.
Understanding Sexual Assault
What’s the Definition of Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is any non-consensual sexual act or behavior imposed upon an individual. It includes a wide range of actions, such as unwanted touching, kissing, groping, penetration, and other forms of sexual contact or behavior. Sexual assault violates an individual’s bodily autonomy and can cause significant physical and emotional harm.
Sexual Assault Statistics
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will experience sexual assault at some point.
81% of women and 43% of men who experience sexual assault or rape report significant short-term or long-term impacts. These effects include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
It’s also shockingly prevalent. In the United States alone, an estimated 463,634 people experienced rape or sexual assault in 2020, according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). Moreover, these are just reported incidents, and it is believed that many incidents go unreported, making it difficult to estimate the true prevalence of sexual assault.
Sexual assault mainly affects women, but men are certainly not immune. Approximately 51% of trans men, 64% of trans women, and 57% of nonbinary individuals have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
The Negative Impact on Young Girls
Sexual assault and sexual harassment can have a profound impact on the education and well-being of girls. These experiences can lead to physical and emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, affecting their academic performance and engagement in school. Additionally, they may feel embarrassment, isolation, and a negative self-image.
According to a study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, female high school students who experienced sexual violence were more likely to experience disruptions in their education, including absenteeism, dropping out of school, or difficulty concentrating in class.
Schools and communities must create safe and supportive environments that prioritize the well-being and safety of all students. This includes providing education on consent, healthy relationships, and support services for victims of sexual violence. Programs like Soroptimist’s Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls can help high school-age girls navigate challenges such as dating violence, peer pressure, and gender discrimination.
Sexual Assault Awareness Activism
How #MeToo Changed the Conversation
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
The #MeToo movement gained traction in 2017. It encouraged survivors of sexual assault and harassment to speak up and share their stories. #MeToo became a rallying cry against sexual violence, leading to increased accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence in many sectors, including Hollywood, politics, and workplaces. It has also highlighted the need for prevention efforts and helped shift the blame and stigma from survivors to perpetrators.
How To Help Fight Sexual Assault
As a society, we can take steps to fight the normalization of sexual assault. Here are three suggestions:
- Educate yourself and others about sexual assault: Educate yourself about the prevalence and impact of sexual assault, and speak out against harmful attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate sexual violence. Share resources with friends, family, and colleagues about how to prevent sexual assault and how to support survivors.
- Support survivors of sexual assault: Believe survivors when they come forward with their stories and offer them support and resources to help them heal. Listen to them without judgment and help them find necessary resources, such as counseling or legal assistance.
- Hold perpetrators accountable: Call out harmful behavior and language when you see it, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Advocate for stronger laws and policies to prevent sexual assault. Support organizations working to end sexual violence in our communities.