EDITORIAL: Yes, we still need Sexual Assault Awareness Month

York Dispatch editorial board
Lindsay Dowdy, left, is quickly hugged by her neighbor Emily Pupo, as prompted, during an interactive performance by all-female improv troupe, "No Artificial Sweeteners," during a Take Back the Night event held in Waldner Performing Arts Center at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, April 11, 2018. The event is one of many activities being held during York College's Week of Action, April 9-13, in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"It’s impossible to prevent an issue no one knows about, and it’s difficult to make people aware of a problem without providing a solution."

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, that's a main reason why Sexual Assault Awareness Month was created. 

April is the 18th anniversary of SAAM, but the activities meant to bring more awareness to sexual assault trace their lineage back to the civil rights and equal rights movements of the 1960s and '70s and the first Take Back the Night event, which took place in 1978 in San Francisco.

This month will see events locally such as a UNITY art project at York College, a community kickoff for SAAM on Friday, April 5, at Marketview Arts, 37 W. Philadelphia St., and the 33rd annual Crime Victims’ Rights March and Candlelight Vigil at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, in downtown York.

All the events are meant to draw attention to sexual assault, and by doing so, help prevent it. 

The fact that, in 2019, we need to have an entire month devoted to raising awareness of sexual assault is bittersweet. 

By now, we should have been able to move beyond sexual assault. We should be more enlightened, more civilized, more woke than to allow the brutality of sexual assault to occur in our society.

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And yet, at the same time, we see every day that we have not moved beyond it. Every day, we write and read stories of men, and sometimes women, who take advantage of situations to use other human beings for their own pleasure, whether it's a young daughter of a friend or a woman who is too drunk to give consent or a complete stranger who happened to be in the area. 

Events such as Take Back the Night marches are meant to draw attention to these assaults and to say to those who would commit them, no more. 

And yet, one in five women in the U.S. and one in 71 men will be raped at some point during their lives, according to the NSVRC. Nearly 27% of college-aged women have experienced unwanted sexual contact. As many as 325,000 children a year are at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking.

And an estimated 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. 

Yes, we are becoming more enlightened. The #MeToo movement has pulled many sexual predators in high places into the light. More women are speaking out about their experiences, and more men are pledging not to be that predator.

And yet, we still need events such as Sexual Assault Awareness Month to remind us that, yes, these horrible things continue to happen, and yes, we can do something about it. Prevention is the goal, and consent is the way to get there.

Someday, maybe, we won't need to have a Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But for now, we have to keep reminding people that sexual assault is an issue that needs to be prevented, and that the solution is to continue to enlighten.