The History of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Events at Susquehanna

Many people know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), but not as many know about how the movement got started. SAAM was first celebrated in 2001, the year after the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) was founded by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the CDC, but the movement to end sexual violence started long before that.

The movement started in the 1940s and ’50s with the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, and focused on race and gender-based violence by advocates like Rosa Parks, but the mission to end sexual violence really picked up in the ’70s. The first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco in 1971, which sparked state coalitions, starting with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in 1975. Pennsylvania also became home to the first Take Back the Night event in Philadelphia to protest violence against women following the murder of microbiologist Susan Alexander Speeth who was stabbed while walking home alone.

Take Back the Night takes the form of marches, rallies, speak-outs, and vigils meant to protest women’s fear of assault when walking alone at night. The marches were initially women-only to create a safe space for women, but current marches have become all inclusive to recognize men who are also victims of sexual violence. The main objective of the Take Back the Night events hosted in over 30 countries is to raise awareness of sexual violence.

In 1994, survivors and advocates alike teamed up to create and implement the Violence Against Women Act. The bill was the first to require that matters of gender violence be considered as crimes rather than family matters in order to better protect women from domestic violence and sexual violence.

This led to the recognition of a Sexual Assault Awareness Week held in April, which led to April being recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month by the NSVRC. The NSVRC still leads the way for SAAM by choosing yearly themes and sending out branding tool-kits to crisis centers and organizations across the country.

Many days and events have become integral to SAAM such as Day of Action, Denim Day, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, The Clothesline Project, and Take Back the Night.

The theme for SAAM 2019 is “I Ask,” sparking a conversation about consent, and Susquehanna is and has done their part by hosting a variety of events centered around the prevention of violence.

Susquehanna (sponsored by the VIP Center) has already “chalked the walk” in support of survivors, offered bystander intervention training, and held an open sexual misconduct case trial. This coming week, we’re finishing SAAM strong with a Survivor Speak Out in the VIP Center on the 29th at 6 pm, a How to Support a Friend discussion in Deg Meeting Rooms 1-5 on the 29th, and Take Back the Night, April 30th on Deg Lawn from 5:30-7:30. (HC Susquehanna will have a table at Take Back the Night, so be sure to visit!)

Sexual Assault Awareness Month has a rich history and a hugely important cause. According to the NSVRC, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime and 27% of college women experience some form of unwanted sexual contact while in college. Pay attention, speak up, and do your part this April and every April!