HomeEconomynewsBreaking the Silence: Sexual Assault Awareness Month Shines a Light

Breaking the Silence: Sexual Assault Awareness Month Shines a Light

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April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a vital campaign dedicated to raising public consciousness about this pervasive societal issue and showing support for survivors. From college campuses to capital halls, a wave of teal ribbons and candlelight vigils aims to break the cycle of silence surrounding sexual violence.

While discussions of sexual assault can make some uncomfortable, the sobering statistics demand our full attention. According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, along with one in 33 men. Perhaps most distressing, the majority of these crimes still go unreported and unpunished.

“Less than 5% of sexual assault allegations are fabricated, and the rates are even lower for cases involving children,” emphasized Chester Hinds, Chief Prosecutor at the Northern Marianas Office of the Attorney General. “How do we not believe a child who bravely tells their story over and over through the grueling legal process?”  

Hinds’ poignant words underscore one of the core missions of Sexual Assault Awareness Month – validating survivors’ experiences and changing societal attitudes that enable sexual violence to persist. All too often, victims face unwarranted stigma, victim-blaming, and retraumatization when seeking justice.

That’s why initiatives like the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence are so vital. The organization recently held a proclamation signing ceremony where Governor Arnold I. Palacios and Lt. Governor David M. Apatang officially declared April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the territory.

“It is a privilege and an honor to have you join us for this ceremony,” said Savannah Lyn Delos Santos, the Coalition’s SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) Manager. “Welcome to the movement.”

This growing movement has gained unstoppable momentum, fueled by brave survivor advocates who have transformed the cultural conversation around sexual assault. Groups like RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US, have led the charge in demanding reform and empowering those impacted.

“To create lasting change, it’s important that we start viewing sexual violence not just as an individual crime, but as a societal problem,” said Camille Cooper, vice president of public policy at RAINN. “There are factors that enable sexual assault — from discriminatory attitudes and distortions of gender roles, to institutional failures in the criminal justice system.”

A key catalyst for public awakening has been the “Start by Believing” campaign, which advocates that the first response to a victim should be a supportive one. Too often, responses of disbelief, judgment, and victim-blaming force survivors into silence and allow offenders to walk free.

Those on the frontlines agree that this paradigm shift is crucial. “Let’s work together to seek justice, find closure, and most importantly find peace in life,” urged Sgt. Frederick L. Sato of the Northern Marianas Department of Public Safety.

Increasingly, communities are heeding that call by developing coordinated responses to sexual assault that put victims’ needs first. This means access to comprehensive services like sexual assault response coordinators who can guide survivors through the reporting and recovery process with empathy and care.

“Having a dedicated sexual assault response coordinator makes such a difference,” said Jane Doe, a survivor from Saipan who requested anonymity. “Instead of feeling alone and re-victimized by the system, my coordinator became my advocate when I had no voice.”

They ensure sexual assault forensic examinations are available, connect victims with counseling and support groups, and work closely with law enforcement and the courts. It’s a trauma-informed approach that treats survivors with dignity.

Of course, no awareness campaign can ignore the failures that have allowed sexual predators to evade consequences for far too long. High-profile cases like the Larry Nassar scandal shed light on how institutions prioritized reputations over accountability, re-victimizing hundreds in the process.

That’s why legal experts emphasize holding enablers responsible too. “What we’ve seen historically are institutions more concerned about protecting their brand than protecting survivors,” said Morgan Graves, a sexual assault attorney representing many of Nassar’s victims.  

“That calculus needs to change through real deterrents and systemic reforms,” she continued. “From robust sexual misconduct policies to mandated reporting requirements, organizations have to put safeguarding human lives over their own liability and image concerns.”

This culture shift starts by calling sexual violence what it truly is – a crime, not an unfortunate mishap or youthful indiscretion. Increasingly, sexual assault lawyers are exploring more expansive legal avenues to deliver victims the justice they deserve.

“There needs to be accountability and serious consequences, not just for the actual perpetrators, but for the institutional actors who turned a blind eye,” said Chris Wilson, a former sex crimes prosecutor now in private practice as a sexual assault lawyer. “Title IX, child endangerment, negligence – we’re using every tool in the legal arsenal.”

More robust punishments, including longer prison sentences, sex offender registries, and limiting non-disclosure agreements that silence victims, are all critical deterrents. So too are restorative approaches like rehabilitation programs aimed at breaking the cycle of sexual violence through counseling and education.

Experts agree that preventing sexual assault requires a multifaceted strategy across all societal levels. That means proactively addressing root causes like patriarchal attitudes, hypersexualized media, alcohol/substance abuse, and lack of parental support. It means developing protective assets in potential victims like assertiveness skills and self-confidence.

And crucially, it means reaching boys and young men through bystander intervention programs that challenge toxic masculinity and promote healthy relationship behaviors.

“We have to shift away from the perception that sexual violence is just a ‘women’s issue’,” said Jonathan Yonan, director of a high school sexual assault prevention program. “Stopping assault requires all of us, especially young men, to reject misogyny, take responsibility and become upstanders.”

Achieving real, lasting change takes a united society’s buy-in, from policymakers allocating proper resources to individuals speaking out against victim-blaming language and rape culture. This April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, take the pledge to start by believing – and start building a safer world for all.

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