April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Wednesday, March 30, 2022 at 10:32 AM

By Safe Passage, Inc., news release

Safe Passage focuses on building safe online spaces.

(Batesville, Ind.) - Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can happen anywhere, including in online spaces. For too long harassment, cyberbullying, and sexual abuse and exploitation have come to be expected as typical and unavoidable behaviors online.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Safe Passage, the sole support service provider for sexual and domestic violence in the six-county region, is focusing on the national theme of Building Safe Online Spaces Together. “Building safe online spaces is possible when we normalize and practice consent, intervene when we see harmful content and behavior, and promote online communities that value respect and safety,” said Cari Kettman, Director of Community-Based Services. It is easy to suggest to “unplug or avoid the internet,” but for many it is a way to stay connected with loved ones and have social interactions. With the pandemic and limited counseling opportunities, access to online spaces can even be a healing resource for those who have experienced abuse.

Online is part of our world, but behaviors or actions like sexist jokes, victim-blaming language or comments may contribute to the same way of thinking that fuels violence. Their public visibility normalizes not taking sexual abuse seriously. In other cases, they may cause harm by re-traumatizing victims of abuse or assault who read them. “Recognizing victim-blaming is an important step to changing the cultural mindset,” said Kettman. Comments that question the victim’s action prior to an assault or after an assault, like how long it took to make the police report or why a report wasn’t made, are victim-blaming. The online community can take action by reporting inappropriate content to the providers, speaking out when seeing harmful comments, and checking in with the person who has been targeted to show your support.

To increase awareness of the issue, Safe Passage has planned several activities (online and in person) throughout the month. Libraries in each county will have a bulletin board to promote awareness on sexual assault and suggested books. · April 1-- Go to the Safe Passage Facebook page at helphealinghope and take the 30 Days of Action challenge. There will be suggestions to use the internet to post a positive message or post statistic to educate others.

  • April 5: Wear Teal Day and Day of Action with the non-profit staff visiting the courthouses and prosecutor’s offices in the district and providing SAAM materials
  • April 5: Presentation at Hanover College in Jefferson County, 7 p.m.
  • April 6: Teal ribbons distributed in the communities.
  • April 11: Awareness stickers distributed to coffee shops.
  • April 12: Podcast featuring a SA survivor.
  • April 25: Outdoor survivor event at community gardens in Batesville and Greendale, 6 p.m.
  • April 27: Denim Day through wearing jeans with the purpose to combat victim blaming and educate others about sexual violence. This is in light of an international rape case centered on what the victim was wearing.

The nonprofit couldn’t do this support service work alone. Community partners, such as law enforcement, prosecutors, and the local hospitals including Margaret Mary Health, are a few organizations recognized throughout the month. St. Elizabeth in Greendale and Norton King’s Daughters’ Health in Madison are the two hospitals in the district with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). In keeping with the Building Safe Spaces Online theme, Safe Passage and the national sexual assault center point out the reality is the digital world is not separate from in-person spaces. If you wouldn’t do or say something to someone in person, then you should not say it to them online. “We can create an environment where this type of content cannot thrive,” Kettman commented. Safe Passage was established in 1997 and due to a new state grant, sexual assault crisis services were added in 2019. All services are free and confidential. Last year over 1300 victims were served through either the shelter, the non-residential program, or toll-free helpline. For more information about sexual assault month or the local support service provider go to the website at www.safepassageinc.org, text or call 1-877-733-1990.

Safe Passage is grateful for its major 2022 sponsors: Margaret Mary Health, William H. and Martha A. Hillenbrand Foundation, John A Hillenbrand Foundation, Hillenbrand and Batesville Casket, Maxwell Construction.

Sidebar Forms of sexual abuse identified Online sexual abuse can be any type of sexual harassment, exploitation, or

abuse that takes place through screens. According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center, forms of online sexual harassment or abuse include:

  • Sending someone unwelcome communication about sex or hateful comments based on sex, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.
  • Sending partners, friends, acquaintances, or strangers unwanted requests for nude photos or videos or to livestream sexual acts.
  • Performing sexual acts on webcam without the consent of everyone involved or in inappropriate settings (like during an online class or online work meeting).
  • Sharing private images or videos without the consent of everyone involved (also known as revenge porn or nonconsensual pornography — which, as of February 2021, is illegal in 46 states plus Washington, D.C.).
  • Sharing porn in spaces where not everyone has consented to view it (for example, in inappropriate spaces like Zoom meetings, where this is also called Zoombombing).
  • As technology has evolved to become part of our everyday lives, our awareness of ways it can be used to bully, threaten, and abuse has grown as well. Just over the past few decades, terms such as “sextortion,” “revenge porn,” and “doxxing” have entered the public lexicon.

Sometimes violence is initiated online and then takes place in person, and in other instances, the violence takes place entirely behind screens. Even though the abuse occurs virtually, the impact on the victim, their loved ones, and the community can be just as harmful as sexual violence committed in person.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, please know that your experience matters, you are not alone, and there are people ready to help.

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