Why Sexual Assault Awareness Month Matters in Today’s Climate

Trigger warning: Rape and sexual assault

As April is nearing to an end, so is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but that by no means implies that the conversation should stop. These 30 days are important not only for survivors of sexual assault, but they’re also detrimental for everyone to be able to understand the culture and stigma that still surrounds sexual assault. Few people truly know how often the numbers are skewed against survivors of rape and sexual assault, and a month of awareness is a step in the right direction to allow the facts to come forward.  

One in five women will be raped during their lifetime, one in five women while in college and 91% percent of victims are female. This in itself means it doesn’t happen equally across the population, and perceptions of assault are tied to gender.

Out of 100 cases of sexual assault, about a third of these will be reported to the police, seven will be arrested and only two will lead to a felony conviction, according to research cited by Dr. Tammy Gales, a linguist at Hofstra University. She also charted the lengthy process of reporting a case of sexual assault during her lecture to her linguistics students, and how generally, nothing really happens despite a report being filed.

Part of the reason that these cases are rarely reported is that the victims of these attacks have a slim chance of finding justice for their trauma. Along with this, recalling the event itself can further revictimize them, especially when poked and prodded with questions of legitimacy and their credibility.

While Rape Shield Laws, which began being established in the United States in the 1980s and 90s, protect the victim from questions regarding their sexual history and being stereotyped because of their sexual history, there has been little change. Though clear, it is important to understand that people with an extensive sexual history and people without one can both be the victim of sexual assault – and are; past sexual history does not and should not correlate with the present case of sexual assault.

These odds can be extremely daunting and deter victims from reporting their assaults – and many don’t. While the statistics cannot be confidently reported because of exactly this reason, it is estimated that 90% of women on college campuses do not report their assault(s).

The numbers of reported assaults are understandably low. After all, most reports are tossed to the side and the perpetrator rarely faces consequences. And even if they do, they are often heartbreakingly slim for the victim.

Brock Turner, who was 20 years old and attending Stanford University in 2015 when he was charged with three felony counts of sexual assault for raping a female student at a party, only got six months in jail, along with three years’ probation. His father had complained that his son’s life should not be ruined for “20 minutes of action,” completely discounting the trauma and guilt that the victim would suffer from for years to come, if not the rest of her life.

Similarly, in 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was appointed as a Supreme Court Judge despite allegations from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that he had sexually assaulted her in high school. Ford had to move because she faced so many severe death threats from supporters of Kavanaugh. While Kavanaugh can move on, Ford will continue to unjustly face consequences for her bravery.

With the #MeToo movement and victims bravely coming forward to share their stories, we are slowly beginning to, as a society, support and believe survivors. False reporting is part of the issue because it is always widely publicized in the media, but out of the already small margin of reported assaults, only between 2-10% of these are false reporting.

The trauma that sexual assault victims face is monumentally more important than the consequences of the assaulter does, and should, face.

That’s why this month is important, but it is a conversation that needs to last longer than 30 days. It is a conversation we should be allowed to have, keep having and not be afraid to have. It should always be taken seriously and sensitively. One person’s life may be ruined for something they did in 20 minutes by being sent to jail, but more importantly, the life of the victim is changed forever, and this is where the weight should be.

We need to support those who are brave enough to speak up and those who don’t feel comfortable, while rightfully condemning those who perpetrate these assaults and hold them accountable for their actions.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault and you need to talk to a trained support specialist, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or begin an online chat at www.rainn.org. For Hofstra students, on-call counselors can be reached 24/7 by calling Public Safety at 516-463-6789.