Celebrating Diversity Blog: Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2022

March 29, 2022
Students walking on campus in between classes

I Believe You: Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2022

Katie Gaither – Director of Student Engagement

Content Warning: sexual assault, sexual violence, rape

What is Sexual Assault Awareness Month?

In April 2022, we celebrate the 21st anniversary of the declaration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). While the first official declaration and celebration of this month was in 2001 by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, advocacy for sexual assault awareness and prevention began decades before. White women have historically been displayed as the faces of the movement for sexual violence prevention, but efforts were spearheaded by women of color, namely Black women, documented as early as the 1800s in tandem with anti-slavery activism and later in the 1940s alongside the civil rights movement. In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was enacted. Title IX protects against sex-based discrimination in any educational program that receives federal financial assistance – this includes most colleges and universities. Decades later, the Violence Against Women Act was enacted in 1994 and served as the first official protective legislation for women against sexual violence. VAWA provides protection to women against domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. There is much work yet to be done, but we celebrate Sexual Assault Awareness Month as a reminder of the hard work of advocates and the progress that has been made throughout the years to protect people against sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence.

 

Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Sexual assault is extremely prevalent on college campuses. According to the CDC, “more than 1 in 3 women experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during her lifetime.” Sexual assault is not solely a White, cisgender women’s issue. The CDC found that 1 in 4 men will also experience sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. Black women and women of other marginalized racial identities also experience sexual assault at higher rates than that of their White women peers. Further, rates of sexual assault tend to be higher for the LGBTQIA+ community – according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted.

The majority of attempted or completed acts of sexual violence are perpetrated by someone the victim already knows. Despite the prevalence of assault in college, and the fact that the majority of victim-survivors know their perpetrator, the Department of Justice found that “only 20% of female student victims, age 18-24, report to law enforcement.” Survivors have shared that there are many barriers to reporting, including fear of retaliation by the perpetrator, fear of not being believed, and self-blame. These statistics and barriers are important to keep in mind as we work toward improved preventative education and survivor support. 

 

My Story

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, rape, violence

I was raped at my off-campus apartment in the summer before my junior year of college. My rapist was a fairly new friend – we had met a couple of times before, and he was close friends with my best friend. We had gone out with a group of friends and at the end of the night he was in no condition to drive the hour back to his home, so I offered to let him crash on my couch in order to keep him safe. At that time, he had a new girlfriend and I had a partner of three years. When we got back to my apartment, I made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I grabbed him some blankets for the couch. I told him “goodnight,” shut my bedroom door, changed into my fuzzy pajamas, and went to sleep. An hour later, I awoke to find my friend on top of me. Despite my pushing, kicking, and yelling, my repeated “STOP” did not make him stop. It was the worst night of my life. The next morning, I had to sit across from him at breakfast with our friend and pretend everything was fine.

Following my assault, I had no idea where to turn. I could barely process what had happened to me. I was too afraid to report the incident to the police. I already blamed myself and feared that others would blame me, too; after all, I’m the one who let him into my apartment. I kept asking myself, “Did I provoke him? Did I ask for this? Was it something I said?”

I kept my assault to myself for over a year – I didn’t tell my friends, my family…I didn’t even tell my partner. I kept it to myself for so long that it ate away at me bit by bit. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I finally told my partner and my friends about my assault. I was met with nothing but unconditional love and support – for that I am eternally grateful, as I know that is not the case for everyone. 

Looking back now, I wish I could have shaken myself to say “You are not to blame for someone else taking advantage of you!” I never did report to the authorities, and I have spent years in therapy working through the aftermath, but I do feel like I’m healing every day. I am beyond lucky to have a support system that hears me, believes me, and helps me to heal.

I share my story publicly in hopes that others who have experienced assault know: you are not alone, and there are people who believe you and are here to assist, support, and advocate for you. I also share this story in hopes of debunking some of the myths about rape and assault. My attacker was not a creepy man who jumped out of the bushes – he was my friend and someone I trusted. I was doing him a favor by lending him my couch for the night after he drank too much. I was asleep and wearing fluffy pajamas when he came to my bedroom uninvited. I did not ask for this, and I have had to carry the weight of his decision for my entire life. Not all victims of assault are survivors, and I am grateful to have survived my experience and be here to share this story.

As a survivor of sexual assault myself, sexual assault awareness, prevention, and support resources are of the utmost importance to me. I celebrate Sexual Assault Awareness Month to encourage more conversation around sexual assault and the multitude of ways it can impact a victim’s life. To all survivors: I hear you, I see you, I believe you. You are not alone.

 

Current & Upcoming Events

  • An Evening with Chanel Miller | Monday, April 11 at 6:00pm | Zoom
    • The CCS community has been invited to join this evening with writer and artist, Chanel Miller, hosted by Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.
    • Chanel Miller is a writer and artist. Her memoir, Know My Name, was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Ridenhour Book Prize, and the California Book Award. It was also a best book of the year in TIME, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, NPR, and People, among others. She was named one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 and a Time Next 100 honoree and was a Glamour Woman of the Year honoree under her pseudonym Emily Doe.
  • Sexual Violence Awareness Sign & Ribbon Making | Friday, April 29 at 4:00 – 5:30pm | Yamasaki Building
    • Create your own sign and ribbon in support of survivors of sexual assault. Bring your sign to display at the Raise Your Voice concert & Take Back the Night March the following day.

       

  • Raise Your Voice Block Party | Saturday, April 30 at 6:00pm | Ford Campus Oval
    • Hosted by the Student Activities Board, Raise Your Voice is a benefit concert in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Local bands will perform to help raise money for Avalon Healing Center, a Detroit-based organization that provides comprehensive care & resources for those who have been affected by sexual assault. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 to support this incredible organization. Additional donations are welcomed and will go directly to Avalon Healing.
  • Take Back the Night March | Saturday, April 30 at 9:00pm | Begin at Ford Campus Oval
    • Take Back the Night is a national organization dedicated to bringing awareness to and speaking out against sexual violence. Join us for a march around Midtown to speak out against sexual assault to “take back the night” Bring your signs & voices!

 

CCS & Detroit Resources

 

National Resources

 

Blog Content Sources

  • Coulter, R. W., Mair, C., Miller, E., Blosnich, J. R., Matthews, D. D., & McCauley, H. L. (2017). Prevalence of past-year sexual assault victimization among undergraduate students: Exploring differences by and intersections of gender identity, sexual identity, and race/ethnicity. Prevention Science, 18(6), 726-736.
  • Title IX and Sex Discrimination. U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html