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Although acts of sexual violence are perpetrated every day in the US, April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, to draw attention to both the issue of sexual violence and the impact of sexual violence on victims/survivors and their families and friends. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is also a time to acknowledge both the hard work and the resiliency of survivors on their journey to recovery, reclamation and healing. At Independence House it is our privilege to bear witness to the journey of survivors and to garner our community’s engagement, support and active involvement in preventing and eventually ending sexual violence.

At Independence House we interact with sexual assault survivors daily, (not just in April) therefore we are keenly aware that over 200,000 persons 12 or over are raped annually in the US, and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime , additionally we are called to note that 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. The recent retracted Rolling Stone Magazine article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house has ignited a national focus on rape and we now know that there were many problems with the reporting; this of course is unfortunate, because victims of rape are already placed under scrutiny, viewed with skepticism, their very integrity, character and every past decision questioned. My hope is that the very real experiences of the thousands of survivors who take the risk to disclose their assault at Independence House and other rape crises centers all across MA every day does not get overshadowed in the public reaction and attention to the magazine article. We must continue to support survivors who are looking for relief from the impact of sexual assault (physical, emotional and psychological). Survivors often already blame themselves, they hope for justice and accountability, but perhaps most importantly is a desire to live their lives, free from the effects of sexual violence or at best with minimal intrusion.

The retracted Rolling Stone Magazine article should not have a chilling effect for public support for rape victims, and it does not change the reality of sexual violence, and the imperative, to support and believe victims.

Let us remember these truths during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

1. Rape is about violence and is motivated by the desire of one person to gain control over another.
2. The perpetrator of rape is responsible and accountable for their actions, not the victim.
3. We must fix societal factors which contribute to a “rape culture” – Example: Blaming women/girls for allowing themselves to be raped, and only about 3% of rapists ever receive jail time.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month and every day for the next year, and years to come let’s take the following steps:

1. Not blaming sexual assault victims for being raped – supporting them.
2. Not supporting celebrities, athletes, or high profile people who have been charged with rape.
3. Correct reporters who use rape and sex interchangeably.
4. Taking victims of rape reports seriously.
5. Not participate in or tolerate rape jokes.
6. Learn what sexual assault is
7. Learn what consent is.

Please join Independence House at Cape Cod Community College on April 14, 2015 for our “Got Consent Fair” where Independence House staff will talk with students and the community about myths and facts of sexual assault.

Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, MSW, LICSW
Executive Director