On Friday, President Donald Trump declared April to be Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
In the wake of the #Metoo movement and a public consciousness of what CNN reports to be true, 15 different sexual assault or harassment allegations have been made against the president. With such allegations, this proclamation may be viewed as politically tone-deaf. While, according to whitehouse.gov, the Trump administration also issued a similar statement designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in March of 2017, the history of the awareness month does not begin with him.
The tradition of American presidents issuing the proclamation that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, did not begin with the Trump administration, but with President Barack Obama in 2010.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the origins of the awareness month can be traced back to a legacy of sexual assault activism spanning more than 40 years.
Marches led by the international non-profit organization which seeks to end sexual and domestic violence, Take Back the Night, the NSVRC cites, was critical to the beginnings of the formation of the awareness month.
“In the late 1970s,” according to the NSVRC, “women in England held protests against the violence they encountered as they walked the streets at night. They called them Take Back the Night marches. Word spread to other countries as the protests grew. In 1978, San Francisco and New York City held the first Take Back the Night events in the U.S. Over time, sexual assault awareness activities grew to include the issues of sexual violence against men and men’s roles in ending sexual violence.”
Tangentially, according to the NSVRC, in the 80s’, activists put focus on the month of October to designate it as a month to raise awareness for domestic violence. April was ultimately chosen because anti-sexual violence activists sought a month to bring awareness to issues specifically relating to sexual assault.
“By the late 1980s,” the NSVRC states, “activists wanted a week for sexual assault awareness. The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault polled sexual assault coalitions to choose a time for the Sexual Assault Awareness Week. They selected a week in April. Despite choosing a single week in April, some advocates began holding sexual violence events throughout the month of April. By the late 1990s, it was common. Advocates began calling for a national Sexual Assault Awareness month.”
It was not until the new millennia, however, that April was officially recognized in the United States as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “On April 1, 2001,” the NSVRC writes, “the U.S. first observed Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) nationally.”
Since achieving April’s national recognition as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign continues to make strides against sexual violence.
“The 2017 SAAM campaign theme,” NSVRC says, “was Engaging New Voices. The focus was on involving coaches, faith leaders, parents, Greek Life and bystanders with preventing sexual assault. Many groups know about sexual assault and believe it is a problem, but they don’t know how they can help. With the 2017 toolkit and postcards, the NSVRC hoped to help these new voices begin to talk about preventing sexual assault.”