For quite a few years now, April has been known in activist circles as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. So, when people say that President Obama has declared April to be Sexual Assault Awareness Month, this is not quite accurate — he has, instead, acknowledged and officially recognized it. That does not, however, take anything away from the important fact that he has done so.
From his remarks on April 8:
Sexual assault is pervasive in the United States. Study after study has shown that this crime impacts people at all age levels and in every part of this Nation. One recent study found that 18 percent of women in this country have been raped in their lifetime. In addition, rates of sexual assault remain startlingly high for students from high school to college. A 2005 survey of high school students found that 10.8 percent of girls and 4.2 percent of boys from grades nine to twelve were forced to have sexual intercourse at some time in their lives. A study of college women found that 13.7 percent of undergraduate women had been victims of at least one completed sexual assault since entering college. Unlike victims of sexual assault in the larger community, students victimized by other students often face additional challenges in a “closed” campus environment. For example, a victim may continue to live in danger if the perpetrator resides in the same dormitory or attends the same classes. These statistics are all the more alarming given that, according to recent research, a majority of victims do not report their attacks to police.
Go to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website to read the full remarks. They’re not particularly long, but Obama went on to talk about the lasting impact that sexual violence has on victims, the way that such an impact in turn affects communities, the importance victims’ resources/services, the need to properly prosecute perpetrators, the need to pass legislation that will fund such efforts, and the need for prevention of sexual assault in the first place.
Though a comparatively small note in the remarks, and certainly unsatisfyingly vague, I will say that I am particularly enthusiastic about that last note: the acknowledgment that sexual violence can be prevented, and that it is our as a society responsibility to do so.
And though the official recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is basically a symbolic gesture, it’s surely more than we’ve been given before — we can be pleased that our president is discussing the prevalence of sexual violence, and also hope that it is a good faith pledge to work on the issue with activists and communities, and to work towards enacting real change. But it’s up to us as voters, citizens and advocates, to ensure that it is.
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