Sexual violence affects millions of men, women, and children in the United States and across the globe every year. To help combat this ongoing and devastating problem, the month of April is designated as national Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“The theme of the 2011 national Sexual Assault Awareness campaign is “It’s Time to Get Involved.”
That’s Jody Yuhasey, of the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais.
“You know, we witness behaviors every day, and some of it is great. We see someone showing kindness to another person, being respectful to another person; acknowledge that. Also holds true is if you see a behavior that bothers you. Chances are if it isn’t hitting you the right way it may not feel comfortable to the other person, and it’s really hard to speak out. But sometimes just checking in with someone to see if they’re ok. So again, the campaign this year is “It’s Time to get Involved,” and we encourage everyone to get involved and be supportive of everyone who’s been affected by sexual violence.”
But what is sexual assault? And who are the perpetrators?
“Sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person’s body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person’s consent. It’s anything that’s unwanted.”
That’s Kayla O’Brien, also from the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais.
“The assailants are often acquaintances, friends, or family members,” says O’Brien. “Assailants commit sexual assaults by way of violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, pressure, or tricks. Whatever the circumstances, no one ever asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted.”
National statistics show that one in three girls and one in eight boys will be affected by sexual violence.
“Forty-four percent of victims are under the age of 18,” says Yuhasey. “Statistically, assailants are known to their victims. And that makes the harm that much worse for recovery. It makes it that much harder to report. When you look at the wonderful area that we live in, it makes it very difficult for survivors to step forward and say, ‘this happened to me,’ because the assailant, again, statistically is known to the victim, and also known to other members of the community.”
The Violence Prevention Center has two events planned in observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The first is called Denim Day.
“Denim Day is a worldwide campaign to raise awareness and educate the public about rape and sexual assault,” says O’Brien. "And the movement arose from the outrage that followed an Italian supreme court decision in 1998. A victim wore tight jeans. It was a girl going to her driver’s test. And her driver’s instructor pulled over and raped her. The case went to court, he was charged, he did some time, but he appealed. He appealed to the high court, and the high court overturned the rape conviction because it was argued that she must have necessarily have had to help her attacker remove her jeans because they were so tight, making the act consensual.”
Denim Day will be observed locally, and around the world on Tuesday, April 13.
“We’re trying to do it as a community-wide event,” says O’Brien. “It’s something very easy to do. Something very subtle yet very powerful. It covers broad age ranges. Teenagers to people who are 85-90 can participate and it’s something simple, but like I said, it’ll make a statement.”
Later this month there will be a special event at the Art Colony in Grand Marais.
“Tuesday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Art Colony we will be having a special service of re-centering, healing, and restoration,” says Yuhasey. “And it’s aimed for all who have been affected by sexual violence, maybe directly as a survivor, maybe as a secondary survivor. And when we say secondary survivor, we think of friends and family members who are affected. And community members who again, want to join us in support of survivors of sexual violence and speak out for a safer future.”
For more information about Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities sponsored by the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais, call the Center at 387-1262.