As Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) comes to a close, we want to take a moment to look back at where the movement began.
SAAM is recognized every April, but when did it start, and what’s the story behind it? You’re in the right place to find out!
First off, what exactly is SAAM?
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, often abbreviated to SAAM, is an annual campaign to promote awareness about sexual violence.
Every year, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, together with other anti-sexual assault organizations in the U.S., selects a campaign theme to center SAAM discussions and advocacy. National, state, and local organizations participate by distributing resources, leading events, and hosting conversations that address the needs of sexual violence survivors.
What is the origin of SAAM?
The movement to center survivors’ experiences began in the early '70s – long before the first Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April 2001 – but the roots of the movement are planted deeply in the civil rights era of the early 20th century.
The 1940s and 1950s saw the expansion of vocal advocacy for equal rights, namely for the Black community. Calls for equal treatment were coupled with protests, marches, and other demonstrations meant to amplify the experiences and needs of Black Americans.
Black women and women of color were at the helm of early anti-violence campaigns. Even advocates such as Rosa Parks were involved in raising awareness between both race- and gender-based violence – what we call “intersectionality” today.
The activism that took place in the 1970s around sexual violence, then, has Black and Brown American women to thank for a solid precedent.
How did the movement expand?
In 1971, the first rape crisis center in the nation, Bay Area Women Against Rape, was established to provide post-care services to survivors in need.
As survivors continued to mobilize, awareness quickly increased – as did the demand for more services. By 1976, more than 400 local rape crisis centers had popped up across the nation. Around this same time, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) was formed, and the movement was centralized on a national level.
In 1978, the first Take Back the Night event occurred in San Francisco – and it is still held today. Similar events across the country have inspired political and social advances on behalf of sexual assault survivors, but they can all be traced back to the foundational work of women of color who pioneered this progression.
Why is SAAM in April?
Domestic Violence Awareness Month was actually established before Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The movement against domestic violence formed in the late 80’s, and October was designated for awareness and advocacy. Wanting to centralize sexual assault in the conversation, the NCASA took an informal poll of state sexual assault coalitions to decide a date for a national Sexual Assault Awareness Week, and a week in April was selected. Gradually, more advocates started organizing activities throughout April, promoting the idea of a nationally recognized month for awareness and prevention of sexual violence. But it wasn’t until 2009 that President Obama officially recognized April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
How was SAAM established?
Despite heightened public awareness in the late 80’s, survivors were still limited in legal protections. Survivors, advocacy groups, and state coalitions rallied to support the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)’s implementation in 1994 – landmark legislation that supports coordinated criminal, legal, and community-centered responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.
In 2000, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Center for Disease Control established the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), which would become a top non-profit source of various tools and resources around sexual violence. The following year, the NSVRC led the first SAAM campaigns in April and continues to do so today.
Accessing support during SAAM and beyond
We understand that April can be a difficult and triggering month, especially for survivors of sexual hLeda Health is working to advocate for survivors of sexual harm nationwide. Political advocacy is a powerful tool - during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and all throughout the year. To learn more about how political advocacy can support survivors and how Leda is taking a stand, read our post explaining it here.