April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—The month of April marks nationally recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Month, also known as SAAM. It’s a prevalent issue that individuals face not just here at home in St. Joseph County and in the state of Indiana, but worldwide.

“In April we like to focus on what that prevalence of sexual assault is, empowering people to share their stories in ways that are safe and healing to them and them also empowering the community to learn about ways they can educate themselves to prevent sexual assault from happening to the people they care about,” Family Justice Center Sexual Offense Services Coordinator Megan Elbin said.

The Family Justice Center’s Sexual Offense Services Coordinator Megan Elbin says it’s important to know that sexual assault is never the victim's fault. In order to educate yourself more on the topic, it’s important to defeat the stigmas surrounding it, including blaming a victim's behavior or appearance as to why something happened to them, or questioning why the victim didn’t fight back.

According to the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization “RAINN”, also known as the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, on average, there's more than 450,000 individuals ages 12 and older who are victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.

In Indiana, Elblin says up to 44% of women and up to 28% of men have experienced an incident of sexual assault or rape at some point in their lives. Indiana is also ranked 4th in the nation for the number of reported rapes among high school girls.

Annually, the Family Justice Center serves around 200 survivors of sexual assault in St. Joseph County, mainly ages 18 and up. Elbin says while these numbers are staggering in the country, there’s an even higher percentage of incidents that go unreported.

“85% of those assaults are not being reported to police, so there's much higher numbers out there that we may not be accurately capturing,” Elbin said. “I saw the way that it has impacted so many people around me and their emotional health, their physical health, their economic stability and it was really important to me to be part of a larger cause that is fighting for those people's rights.”

Laura Palumbo with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center says it's important for your loved ones and community to know how to go about finding a safe space and support.

“1 in 5 women, and 1 in 67 men will experience sexual assault at some point in their lifetime, and when you think about a statistic like that, part of what’s important to consider is that each of us knows a survivor, whether or not they have shared their story with us or disclosed that to us…all of us have survivors of sexual assaults, sexual harassment and sexual abuse in our lives,” National Sexual Violence Resource Center Communications Director Laura Palumbo said.

Palumbo says that educating yourself on the issues surrounding sexual assault can also prepare you on how to respond if a victim decided to trust you with their story and needed advice or help. She also says it’s important that when talking about sexual assault awareness, that we also touch on things like sexual harassment, which is an issue happening not just in person, but online.

“On our website we have a lot of great materials that you can share, and this year we are talking about specifically building online safe spaces. Of course, we want to create communities that are safe online and offline but we are specially helping to educate folks about the prevalence of online sexual harassment and exploitation.”

There are several resources victims and survivors of sexual assault can seek if and when they feel comfortable to do so, including 24-hour hotlines:

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

Family Justice Center of St. Joseph County Crisis Hotline: (574) 289- HELP (4357)

You can visit the Family Justice Center of St. Joseph County’s website to learn more about the services and support they offer by clicking here.

For more information on Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and how you can help spread the awareness about the topic, you can visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website by clicking here.

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