OCO’s SAF Program Recognizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month
This April marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and this year’s “We Can Build” campaign focuses specifically on the ways people can help build safe online spaces, free of sexual violence.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) recognizes how important virtual spaces have become for connecting with co-workers, friends, family, partners and strangers alike, especially in the past year. With this increase in Zoom meetings and dating apps comes heightened awareness of the unique challenges for combatting sexual violence, as well as more opportunities than ever for online prevention and education. OCO Services to Aid Families (SAF) is eager to join the nationwide effort to raise awareness of sexual violence and help create a safer environment for everyone, both on and off-screen.
In the accompanying photo, SAF staff are shown celebrating “Wear Teal Day” on April 6 in recognition of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Throughout April community members are encouraged to participate in SAAM by engaging in the #30DaysofSAAM social media challenge with SAF on Instagram (@Services_To_Aid_Families), Facebook (@ServicestoAidFamilies) and Twitter (@OCO_SAF). For more information on OCO and the SAF program visit www.oco.org.
Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes any type of unwanted sexual contact — either in person or online — including sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), someone is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds in the United States. One in six women are raped at some point during their lifetime. These odds further increase for college-aged women, who are four times more likely to experience sexual violence than the general population. Boys and men are also affected by sexual violence, with one in ten victims of sexual assault identifying as men. However, the actual number of male victims and survivors of sexual violence is likely even higher than this due to underreporting, according to 1in6.org. A study conducted by the NSVRC found LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts to experience sexual abuse and assault.
Along with these instances of sexual violence that continue to persist person-to-person in the offline world, perpetrators have found ways to commit serious sexual violence in digital spaces as well. According to the NSVRC, “Online sexual abuse can be any type of sexual harassment, exploitation, or abuse that takes place through screens.” Some examples of online sexual violence include sending someone hateful or unwanted comments based on gender, performing sexual acts on webcam without the consent of everyone involved or in inappropriate settings, sending unwanted requests for nude photos or videos, and sharing porn in spaces where everyone has not consented to view it (such as during a Zoom meeting, otherwise known as Zoom bombing).
It is also worth mentioning that online sexual abuse can be perpetrated by both strangers and partners, and as with in-person sexual contact, any online sexual act involving another party requires that person’s ongoing, freely-given consent.
“In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, SAF wants to help communities take steps that prevent this kind of online abuse from happening,” said SAF Community Response Coordinator Stacie France. Following are some examples of actions that can do so.”
- Online meeting facilitators can create community guidelines for participants that make clear the boundaries and expectations for that virtual space.
- Name specific behaviors that will not be tolerated and how those who do harm will be asked to take accountability.
- Provide a way that victims and survivors of online sexual abuse can report the incident.
- Practice consent by giving participants choices about how to engage online, such as not requiring cameras to be turned on.
“We encourage individuals and communities alike to show support for victims of online sexual violence by taking the issue seriously and believing survivors when they come forward,” added France.
“Throughout the month of April community members can participate in SAAM by engaging in the #30DaysofSAAM social media challenge with SAF on Instagram (@Services_To_Aid_Families), Facebook (@ServicestoAidFamilies) and Twitter (@OCO_SAF). On April 28 we ask you to be part of SAAM Denim Day where folks are invited to wear jeans to take a stand against victim-blaming and post a selfie or group picture with colleagues, friends or family. Don’t forget to tag SAF in your photos, and keep an eye out for more details on specific virtual events as SAAM approaches!” said France.
If you or someone you know is a victim or survivor of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence or stalking, please call the SAF Crisis Hotline at (315) 342-1600. The hotline is available 24 hours a day and is free and confidential. Individuals looking to donate to the SAF program should also contact SAF through the Crisis Hotline. SAF is the domestic violence and rape crisis program for Oswego County and has provided crisis, supportive, advocacy and educational services throughout Oswego County for more than 40 years.