April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and a coalition of community groups have a plethora of events planned.
The University of Iowa’s Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) has participated in SAAM since it began sixteen years ago. In the last two years they have moved toward a coalition model to include as many voices in the conversation as possible.
While the name of the national event hasn’t changed, two years ago RVAP began replacing the word “awareness” with “activism.”
“It’s well and good to be aware of something, but we want people to take action to end sexual violence in our community,” RVAP’s assistant director of prevention and outreach Susan Junis said.
Take action this month
A detailed listing of events for the month, including volunteer opportunities, can be found on the RVAP website.
One of the biggest events of the month will be Take Back the Night on April 25, an international event of coordinated marches, rallies and vigils for sexual assault awareness and activism. In Iowa City, it will take place on the University of Iowa Pentacrest from 6-10 p.m.
RVAP doesn’t normally fundraise during SAAM, but this year they will make an exception because organizations supporting victims of sexual assault expect massive cuts in government funding. To take action against these cuts, head to the Standing With Survivors postcard-writing party at Brewlab and lobby legislators to reconsider.
Britt Griffin, community prevention coordinator at RVAP, said she is looking forward to ‘Feminist Retort,’ which brings fifteen local feminist artists together to respond to a dehumanizing political climate. She said she’s also excited about the Rock Against Rape Culture benefit for RVAP at Public Space One (sponsored by Little Village). The show features local artists On Drugs, In the Mouth of Radness, Arias, Collidescope, Younger, the Port Authority, the Passes and Groove Peace.
Among several survivor art exhibits will be two versions (one in Iowa City, one in Keokuk) of an art installation called ‘What They Were Wearing.’ The work is constructed around survivors’ stories and the outfits they had on when their assaults took place.
“We went to thrift shops and purchased, as close as we could, outfits that matched their description, and then we display their outfit with their story next to it,” Junis said. “There’s still unfortunately a lot of people that believe that clothing causes assault and so this is a really powerful visual display that shows us that a lot of these clothes are just what people wear every day. And regardless of what someone’s wearing, nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted.”
The Lead Educate Advocate and Prevent (LEAP) group at the Women’s Resource & Action Center will take the lead on Anti Street Harassment Day, April 5, with poster displays and conversation.
“It’s a really big issue and it’s probably the one form of sexual harassment that most people still think is acceptable,” Junis said. “Street harassment is unwanted, and any unwanted sexual behavior is harassment.”
Participation in these events is helpful, but volunteering is even better. Griffin has volunteered for SAAM in the past and encourages others to give it a try.
“There are a lot of different ways for people to get involved depending on their interest and personality style. We have anything from movies screenings and rock festivals to art exhibits and community discussions, even a theatric event,” Griffin said.
Take action all year long
Action against sexual violence shouldn’t end on April 30.
Action begins with honest dialogue about sexual violence and believing and supporting survivors, Junis said. To work toward prevention, she suggests integrating consent practices into daily life in both sexual and non-sexual situations, like asking if it’s okay to sit next to someone on the bus.
Bystander intervention is the next level of action, and may be direct or indirect, depending on the situation and the bystander’s personality. Using distractions is a popular method with college students because it feels like less of a personal risk, Junis said.
“Someone might cause a distraction or spill a drink, anything to kind of separate and interrupt that situation,” Junis said. “We always talk with people about making sure that their personal safety is their number one priority when they’re intervening.”
Intervening before or after the fact or getting other people involved and intervening as a group can make it easier to take action.