In addition to being associated with springtime, rain showers and prank-playing, April is officially Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States. If you are like me, you are probably wondering why it is necessary to dedicate a specific month to awareness surrounding sexual violence. Shouldn’t we as a nation be aware of issues related to women’s health and safety all year? Shouldn’t we constantly be advocating for programs and policies that protect women, limit domestic abuse and promote victim empowerment? Well, we should, but we don’t.
If the recent budget debate and near-federal government shut-down demonstrated anything, it is that organizations meant to protect women and prevent public health disasters are not policymakers’ priorities, but rather policy bargaining chips. This national assault on our sexual and reproductive rights indicate that our country truly does need a re-education and renewed awareness of the tremendous barriers to health that women face on a daily basis. Therefore, this article will provide brief definitions for sexual assault and domestic violence – some basic groundwork before I provide more specific statistics in my next article.
According to the National Organization for Women, the largest coalition to promote equality for women in the United States, “domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner”. So often we assume that domestic violence is synonymous with physical abuse or battery but this is not the case. Instead, domestic violence has everything to do with the assertion of power and thus disempowerment of a victim. It is frequently emotional or verbal in nature, leaving no visible marks and making it that much harder to correctly “diagnose”. In fact, domestic violence is one of the most historically underreported crimes in the United States and when it is reported, it is rarely prosecuted.
The National Center for Victims of Crime explained that sexual assault can take many forms, including rape or attempted rape, child molestation, incest or fondling.