April, "Sexual Assault Awareness Month", is almost over. But for many, especially survivors, sexual assault's impact and reach is much more then a designated month.
It is a look back to the past - a place to learn from. It is a look to the present-a place to grow from. And it is a look towards the future - a place to strive for.
Decades ago, almost no one was talking about sexual assault, especially in a public forum, and society almost never addressed consent. That all changed in the late 1970s when women in England held protests against the violence they encountered as they walked the streets at night. They were called "Take Back the Night marches". Word spread to other countries as the protests grew.
We learn from those before us - the trailblazers of the consent movement.
Throughout the next couple of decades and moving onto the present day, organizations such as ours (The Date Safe Project) along with others like RAINN, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and state coalitions created programs, resources, and public outreach. Some worked with legislatures to support survivors and educate the public. While the work is far from over, the good news is we now have an increased awareness.
The problem? Many people who know the definition of consent (awareness) still do step up and intervene when they see a potential predator using alcohol or drugs to facilitate a sexual assault. Behavior has not changed enough to catch up with the amount of awareness. Ask yourself, "How can we grow from where we are today?"
Moving towards the future, we must get to a place where behavior changes - along with beliefs and values. A society where equality for all people is a given, where respect is the norm. How do we get there? Can we get there? I believe we can.
The transformation will not happen over night and it won't be easy. Don't get me wrong, there is a segment of the population who are predators and most educational efforts won't drastically change their behaviors. At the same time, most people want to do the "right thing" and are willing to change their own behaviors.
And that is how we get there - we focus on giving people the skill sets to create mutually amazing relationships. We give everyone a sexual voice where boundaries can be set and honored. We move from being bystanders to becoming "upstanders"- we take action, we use our words and actions to support survivors, to step in and prevent sexual assault, to stop hurtful language.
How do we strive towards a future where respectful behavior is the norm? It starts with me. It starts with you. It continues by educating our children.
Join me an take the pledge to ask first, intervene and support survivors.