April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and despite a growing movement to recognize the issue, it seems to still be in desperate need of attention. The unique challenges that sexual assault victims face are still part of the larger fight for true gender equality. Everyone suffers when we continue to sweep claims of sexual assault under the rug. Sexual assault has made headlines as one of the most prominent women’s rights issues today.
Anyone who’s been paying attention is now aware of the power of the #MeToo movement. Many women weren’t as surprised as the men at the number of abusers who walk among us. In fact, men’s response to the hashtag was even more shocking. Many of the men who saw friends and loved ones post their #MeToo stories took it to heart. Soon, the #HowIWillChange tag was also trending, as men spoke about times they had stood by and watched sexual harassment take place, participated in it or belittled a victim, and how they would handle it in the future.
This movement sent shockwaves through industries and entire countries. While the presence and the sheer number of stories brought a lot of attention to the problem, individual actions are what need to change. According to RAINN, someone in America gets sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
Toxic Masculinity and Sexual Assault
Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, violence or harassment. However, the issues victims face vary by group. For example, check out any comments section on an online article about a female teacher raping an underaged male student, and you’ll find jokes about how the boy probably injured his wrist from all the high-fives he received. There is little to no acknowledgement of the fact that an adult raped a child when dealing with an older female and a younger male.
As adults, men are often loath to come forward about assaults they experienced because there’s a real expectation that men should always be up for sex with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Of course, this is the result of toxic masculinity that claims women are frail and weak, never capable of hurting men. Men should be strong, stoic and virile, and women can’t injure them. Of course, none of these things are true. While these stereotypes force men into silence about their abuse, they simultaneously perpetuate gender-based harassment toward women.
“Forgotten Women” and Assault
There is no way to discuss sexual assault without talking about women, gender and violence. But the way we talk about it is also essential to the conversation. Women of color face assault issues white women don’t see as much. Women of color may experience sexual assault at younger ages and continue to deal with it at higher rates than white women.
Think about all the women you know who have been assaulted. Now imagine the problem is even worse in other communities. Unfortunately, the #MeToo movement has mostly focused on white women’s experiences, pushing women of color to the side. For that reason, some women are refusing to even participate in it.
There is also an issue related to socioeconomic class. Low-wage workers often have little to no recourse for dealing with sexual assault at work. Women of color, especially black and Latina women, are more likely to be in these positions. Homeless women largely get forgotten and live in near-constant danger of rape, while trans women experience assault at rates higher than one in three. That’s double the rate for the general population.
Illegal workers have, quite literally, no ability to protect themselves. If they are in the country without papers, they risk deportation if they go to the police after getting raped or assaulted. Of course, this is a serious problem. Opinions on the topic may differ, but you’d hope people consider rape worse than crossing a border. However, our legal system doesn’t treat it that way.
Bringing Awareness to the Issue
Earlier this month, President Trump tweeted about Sexual Assault Awareness Month. He said, “Sexual assault crimes remain tragically common in our society, and offenders too often evade accountability.” It’s a highly ironic remark, given the president’s long history of assault accusations.
Regardless, those words aren’t wrong. Offenders do often evade any kind of accountability or punishment, regardless of how heinous their crimes may be.
On April 3, this month’s “Day of Action,” supporters wore teal to spread awareness of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and show support. But there are plenty of other ways to do that every day.
It can be as simple as calling out sexist remarks when you see or hear them. The comments on practically any social media platform are rife with these issues. On the more extreme end, you can work to actively combat gender-based harassment. Approximately one in three women faces some kind of abuse just because of their gender, and many of those acts of violence include sexual assault.
We can do small things, like standing up for women and choosing to believe others. We can share our stories and bring awareness to the issue, and call for those who are accused of sexual assault to stand trial instead of advancing their careers. Vote for congressional representatives who will support organizations like Planned Parenthood, which help women who face rape, assault and domestic violence.
We also can’t shut out entire groups, whether they’re women of color, trans women, homeless women or men. Sexual assault affects women the most, but it is still an issue that affects everyone. Fighting against sexual assault is one way to come together and try to bring about true equality and peace.