April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
By Corinne Sigmund, Life Together Fellow
Sexual violence can be difficult to talk about, especially in our congregations. Like everyone else, people of faith struggle to understand sexual violence and its effects on survivors, families, and communities. And so… we have mostly been silent. People in our congregations and communities who have experienced sexual violence hear our silence loud and clear. That’s why, this April, Safe Havens honors Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
Sexual violence is any type of sexual contact or behavior committed against someone without that person’s explicit, freely given consent. Sexual violence includes a continuum of behaviors from verbal harassment to assault and rape. It affects more people than we think, and our silence only hurts the survivors among us. Victims include the 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys who will be sexually abused by age 18, the 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men who experience a completed or attempted rape in their lifetimes, older adults who are particularly vulnerable, the college student who is sexually assaulted on campus, the woman who has been raped by her husband, or the employee who is sexually harassed or assaulted by a manager, boss, or someone in a position of authority.
Survivors of sexual violence are not just statistics. They are our siblings, our grandparents and cousins, our co-workers, friends, and neighbors, and beloved members of our congregation and community. Each of us knows someone who is affected.
In the aftermath of sexual violence, survivors can find healing if they can talk about what happened, find support and safety in their congregations and communities, receive referrals to sexual violence services, connect to their spiritual resources, and feel empowered to move forward with their lives. Many survivors will have spiritual questions or crises. They may wonder whether to report the crime or confront the perpetrator. They may feel unclean or unworthy. Faith leaders and communities have a unique role to play in responding to these spiritually based questions and providing pastoral care that promotes healing, empowerment, and wellbeing.
Survivors need faith community support to find healing, justice, and peace. We need to talk about sexual assault In our communities and congregations. This SAAM, join Safe Havens in talking frankly about the truth of sexual assault. We all know someone who has been affected, so we all have a part to play in advocacy and prevention.
If you need to talk to someone about sexual assault, call the free, confidential RAINN hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse links faith communities with domestic violence education through national and local work.