Over 300,000 Americans over the age of 11 will likely be sexually assaulted this year. If we experienced kidnappings at that rate, we wouldn’t just raise awareness — we’d be darn sure we were doing something to stop the epidemic.
And yet it’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month once again. It’s a grim annual ritual featuring a lot of posters and press releases with the goal of raising awareness. A proclamation was even made by President Donald Trump — the same guy who brags about grabbing women by the “pussy” and who is currently being sued by a woman who claimed he assaulted her, one of at least a dozen women who have made similar claims, including his first wife, Ivana.
That Trump had no problem blithely calling for more awareness of sexual assault should tell us all we need to know about how toothless awareness is as an objective. Nearly everyone is aware of sexual assault; most people agree it’s bad. It’s the moment after awareness that needs our attention.
There are some key unanswered questions in how to end sexual violence: How do we measurably reduce rates of rape in our communities? Which victims get believed, and under what circumstances? Do women of color have access to justice and healing when they’re raped? How about sex workers? Women who never went to college? Trans women? Men? What can we do about judges and cops who shield perpetrators at the expense of their current and future victims? What would real accountability look like for rapists? In comparison to these questions, awareness feels decidedly basic.
That’s not to say awareness is completely useless. It can be an important first step leveraged for other, more concrete ends. When I tell my story, I don’t do it in the hopes of simply convincing people not to rape. Sharing my story with other survivors helps them find their own voice so they can tell their story, heal and seek justice.
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