It has always been important for us, both as individuals and as a society, to take April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month seriously.
Each year, the month needs to serve as a check on ourselves. We need to ensure that, in our efforts to end sexual assault, we are examining our own faults in how we unwittingly encourage rape culture and demonize people, predominantly women, but also a significant number of men, who are brave enough to step forward and shine a spotlight into their own lives in order to seek justice for the crimes committed against them.
After the #MeToo movement that was sparked last fall over the New York Times’ reporting on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, taking Sexual Assault Awareness month is more important than ever.
In the wake of the sexual assault allegations made against Weinstein, our society watched as a number of other men, who had led prominent careers in the media, entertainment and political worlds, see their careers come to an end as a result of behavior that they had never stopped for even a second to say, “maybe this isn’t right.”
As these men were finally held accountable for their own decisions, a flurry of reactions came raining down, many of which still victim-blamed those who were subjected to sexual harassment and assault.
It’s also been during Sexual Assault Awareness Month that comedian and former TV star Bill Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Temple University employee Andrea Constrand on a retrial.
It’s a victory for survivors of sexual assault. But at the same time, it’s not: Constrand was one of 60 women who accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, and the case had to be retried.
That leaves 59 women without answers, without closure and without knowing that their abuser is paying for the crimes committed directly against them.
Celebrity sexual assault trials which reach national headlines make events like Take Back the Night held at UW-W so vital to moving forward in our fight to reduce the amount of sexual assault that occurs to ordinary people, committed by ordinary citizens.
In the last six months, we’ve seen that celebrities, politicians and media moguls – and yes, even the current president of the United States, who has a number of accusations piled up against him that surfaced prior to the November 2016 election – are far from the ideal of moral perfection as we often portray them to be. Just because someone in a position of power or a celebrity has a large bank account is not proof that they have the ability to treat others in such a way that doesn’t result in sexual assault or harassment.
If these politicians, media celebrities and entertainers are not perfect, neither is the rest of the populace. Due to lack of education on what consent means, or even just pure apathy, we continue to see people subjected to sexual crimes and then chastised when they find the courage to stand up for themselves.
It’s one thing to say it has to end, but it’s another to host an event like Take Back the Night where survivors are empowered to share their stories, and in the process, be a voice that educates others on what sexual assault looks like and what it means to treat all people with respect.
It’s not a role we ever wanted them to play, but we’re hope that in the sharing their stories the rest of us can learn from their experiences and collectively move forward as a society to where we don’t have to ever write #MeToo again.