April 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Although this commemoration has only been around twenty years, efforts to raise awareness of sexual assault date back to the civil rights era. The movement and consequential awareness started to take traction when the country's first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco in 1971. Then again, in 1993, with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Since then, state coalitions, college campuses, and community organizations have been working together to make people aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and the many ways everyone can get involved in helping prevent it.
While sexual assault is one of the most prevalent crimes in the U.S, it is vastly underreported, with 63% of sexual assaults not reported to the police. This number increases in college campuses, where 90% of assaults go unreported. Sexual assault is part of the spectrum of sexual violence, including any activity where consent is not obtained or freely given, including stalking, harassment, abuse, and exploitation. Sexual violence can happen anywhere at any time, even online.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is committed to helping victims of sexual violence and has two nationally recognized Sex Crime Bureaus specializing in cases involving the sexual abuse of children, adult and child prostitution, child pornography, and other computer related-sex crimes. Since 2015, MCAO has also been working to help clear a backlog of 4,500 untested rape kits in Maricopa County. The office received nearly $4 million from the U.S Department of Justice's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative program and approximately $2 million from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to address the issue. As of 2019, 90% of the kits had been fully tested, resulting in convictions and bringing closure for many victims. To avoid a backlog in the future, Arizona enacted H.B. 2268, requiring law enforcement agencies to test all rape kits within 15 days of collection.
“Sexual violence can be prevented through education on healthy relationships, consent, and bystander intervention,” states County Attorney Allister Adel. “It's essential to understand the attitudes, perspectives, and social norms that drive sexual violence to prevent it. Those at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office are committed to doing what we can to educate the community in hopes of preventing this crime, as well as ensuring offenders are held accountable on behalf of victims.”
This April, help create awareness and educate yourself and others on the many ways you can prevent sexual violence with the following:
- Recognize that people never ask for nor deserve to be victims of sexual violence.
- Reflect and challenge sexist attitudes and behaviors in yourself and others.
- Create protective and respectful environments in person and online.
- Intervene if someone incapable of consent is being taken advantage of.
- Take action when you see inappropriate or harmful content online by reporting it. While this may not seem important, ignoring this type of content contributes to the same way of thinking that encourages violence and is normalized when made public.
- Respect other's limits by practicing consent and understand that silence does not mean consent.
Communities free of sexual assault and abuse are possible, but it takes each of us to make a difference. Participate in SAAM and raise awareness on the following dates:
- April 6th: Day of Action | Wear teal on to show your support!
- April 28th: Denim Day | Wear denim and learn about the history of Denim Day.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, report it to the police as soon as possible and get a free forensic medical exam from Scottsdale Healthcare/HonorHealth directly at 480-312-6339. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, it's free, confidential, and anonymous.