We can say Sexual Violence Awareness Month a million times over, but when one knows the history of it you begin to understand why it’s important.

In the early 1970s social activism surrounding sexual assault was at an all-time high. It started with supporting survivors and bringing about a heightened awareness of the topic.

Did you know that the first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco in 1971? Advocates in the 1970s were primarily female, survivors of rape and they had no funding. The movement became political (Greensite, 2009) because at that time women were still fighting for their rights in the United States. Sexual assault was just another issue they faced that needed awareness.

The first “Take Back the Night” was held in San Francisco in 1978. In the United States this tradition of awareness has continued into present day (NSVRC). These awareness events that started in 1978 helped pave the way for advocacy agencies.

The change that advocates against sexual violence needed was in the works, but it took many years for that change to happen and it wasn’t easy. The first piece of legislation happened in 1993 and was named the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (NSVRC). VAWA recognized that something had to happen to help prevent and create awareness around sexual violence.

In 2001, the first Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) took place that included marches and community gatherings (NSVRC). Community gatherings are vital to awareness and prevention because it gets people talking about the issue at hand. If we are talking about the issue of sexual violence we begin to understand the impact it has on our overall community.

Then in the year 2000 the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) was formed. This led to driving home the importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, showing how we can make a bigger impact on the communities we live and work in.

Each year NSVRC develops SAAM campaigns with resources, graphics, and tools needed to hold an event in communities around the U.S. (NSVRC). They reach out to organizations to help create topics that need to be talked about.

For example past themes have been:

• Building Healthy, Respectful Relationships (2005)

• Speak Out (2006)

• Prevent Sexual Violence in Our Communities (2007)

• Respect Works (2009)

• It’s Time to Act, Safer Campus, Brighter Futures, and Prevent Sexual Violence   (2015)

• Your Voice has Power (2018)

• I Ask for Consent (2019)

• I Ask…continued (2020)

Topics covered by SAAM have developed into community conversations because overall change starts with the communities we live in. Any person in the community can obtain the resources and tools from NSVRC and start the campaign. It can happen in the public, workplace, by using social media, or just starting conversations with your friends over coffee or lunch. The future goal of SAAM is to continue to advocate for awareness of sexual violence and how we can prevent it.

So now what can we do in our community? Support Within Reach has several events happening in the surrounding communities.

March 11: “Take Back the Night” planning meeting. If you are a leader in the community and are interested in helping plan please reach out to contact@supportwithinreach.org for more information.

March 16: “There’s been a sexual assault… Now what?” Panel at Bemidji State University at 7 p.m. in the Beaux Arts Ballroom.

April 6: Sexual Violence 101 Panel at Bemidji State University at 7 p.m. (room location TBD)

April 16: “Take Back the Night,” 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Paul Bunyan Park. There will be a short speech about “Take Back the Night” and then a march through downtown. There will be a bonfire also after the march where you can burn a note to an offender, or burn a message of hope for victims & survivors of sexual violence.

Entire Month of April: “Where were you Campaign?” Photo display moving around Bemidji highlighting sexual violence happens everywhere and anywhere. If you have a photo you would like to submit please contact Kori at k.nelson@supporwithinreach.org

Keep an eye out on our website and Facebook page for more information on SAAM events. www.supportwithinreach.org, https://www.facebook.com/SupportWithinReach

Save the date: June 4 is the SWR annual fundraiser.

Kori Nelson is a development and volunteer coordinator with Support Within Reach.

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