Every year in the United States, April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (S.A.A.M.). During this month, advocates join forces to bring to national attention the often-silenced issues of sexual assault and violence and frame them as public health, human rights and social justice issues. Sexual assault refers to any unwanted sexual contact, unwanted sexual experiences such as verbal harassment, or voyeurism (this includes any completed or attempted sex acts that are against a victims consent). An estimated 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, despite sexual assault being one of the most underreported violent crimes in the United States.
The theme for 2015’s S.A.A.M is Campus Sexual Assault Prevention with the goal of this month being “to support campuses in creating a culture of prevention and effective, trauma-informed response”. Recent national coverage of student activism against mishandled cases of sexual assault on campus has propelled this issue to the national spotlight leading to a much-needed dialogue on institutional accountability and campus safety. In 2014, President Obama launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on campuses noting that “An estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years — one in five. Of those assaults, only 12 percent are reported, and of those reported assaults, only a fraction of the offenders are punished.”
College campuses have emerged as a high profile battleground for sexual assault, no doubt because of their status as institutions of privilege whose attendees are traditionally more valued by mainstream society and seen as deserving of institutional protection. Far too often, when women do not fit into the ‘ideal victim’ narrative, their stories of assault are questioned or outright ignored and their backgrounds called into question. Many of our clients at Women With A Vision who are victims of assault do not have access to public sympathy because they are members of stigmatized and marginalized groups who are not seen as deserving of the same level of social and institutional protection from violence and often face violence at the hands of these very institutions. A recent article in the Guardian noted that when you look at sexual assault with a racial lens, Black women are far less likely to report their assaults due to “an impossible hierarchy of acceptable victimbhood” where If [Black women] report our assaults to police, we risk being retraumatized not only by the inhumane process of reliving a violent experience through sharing its gory details – but also by the violence of the criminal justice system itself, which treats rape victims like suspects. Worse yet, the police themselves commit assault with impunity; often, they target black women in particular, knowing our existence at the intersections of racism and misogyny make crimes against us far less likely to be investigated.” Even more alarming, if women do decide to report their assault and make it the traumatic process outlined above, the high number of backlogged rape kits in the United States numbers in the hundreds of thousands. This broken process is very real here in New Orleans where the Inspector General released a report in May that revealed that of the 1290 sex crimes cases reported to the NOPD over the past 3 years, only 179 were adequately investigated. WWAV’s Executive Director Deon Haywood was quoted in The Gambit as saying, “We wonder why women don’t speak up — who are they speaking up to? You can’t trust the people whose job is to protect you.”
At Women With A Vision, we understand the importance and power of listening to women speak out on their lived realities. This Friday April 24th, our Groundwork program will host a SAAM trauma informed writing workshop called “Transcribing Trauma” aimed at being a foundational first step in exploring the root issues of trauma all in a setting that is designed to facilitate healing and growth. Groundwork is an initiative that came out of our EMEGRE: Crossronds program and serves formerly incarcerated women and women who currently are or have formerly been involved in sex work. Transcribing Trauma is FREE and OPEN to the public. Please bring pen and paper with you (if you do not have any, WWAV will provide some materials)
April 2015, Mwende Katwiwa & Katya Schoenberg
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or know someone who is, please contact Women with a Vision at 504.301.0428 and ask for Rebecca Atkinson. If you are in immediate danger please call 911.