Did you know, in addition to it being Stress awareness Month, every April is also national Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)? Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. The statistics are overwhelming, but it’s important for us to acknowledge and examine to empower survivors and educate people about who is most at risk.
Each year, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center coordinates a campaign for the month of April to educate and engage the public in addressing this widespread issue.
This year’s SAAM theme, and very relevant in this last year of COVID quarantine, is “We Can Build Safe Online Spaces”, because sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can happen anywhere, including online.
With more people interacting behind a screen, it’s important to understand that many individuals experience sexual abuse in varied forms. Online sexual abuse can be any type of sexual harassment, exploitation, or abuse that takes place through screens.
As we connect online, we can learn how to practice digital consent, intervene when we see harmful content or behaviors, and ensure that online spaces — whether they be workspaces, classrooms, social media platforms, or otherwise — are respectful and safe.
In acknowledging sexual abuse, it’s important to understand the basics of trauma. Trauma is an intense experience(s) that causes overwhelming emotional and psychological stress. This can include an event like an accident or ongoing experiences that threaten or harm your well-being.
Each person reacts to traumatic experiences in different ways in the immediate aftermath and long term. You may feel guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, sadness, numbness, shock, withdrawal, and alone. You may have trouble sleeping, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of being easily startled and on edge.
Many of us may have experienced stress firsthand when we’ve received a disrespectful, de-humanizing, vulgar, or even threatening comment online. Although these experiences are unfortunately all too common in the online world, it does not make them any less harmful. Coping and healing require acknowledging the impact of online sexual abuse without dismissiveness, judgment, or shame.
If you’ve experienced sexual assault, know that there are people who can help. Seek support from a therapist, Resources are important:
- Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs – can link to resource and crisis centers by county here in Kentucky.
- Move to End violence has a free downloadable online self-care workbook for survivors.
- MeToo has provided a toolkit for survivors during COVID-19. Download here.
- Additional resources, blogs, and graphics to help support the movement can be found at https://www.nsvrc.org/