"Men and women unite to end sexual violence." This is the powerful challenge to us all that is being used as the theme on campus for Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April. Sexual Assault Awareness Month has been held every April since 2001. There have been several themes and slogans used by different organizations across the country, but students at the University of Wisconsin decided it was time to get a very important point across: Sexual assault can no longer remain a "women's issue;" it is an issue that affects all of us on many levels, and we need to work together to make serious changes.
Sexual assault is a crime that leaves devastating and lasting effects on victims, as well as victims' families and friends. Although the statistics for reported sexual assaults are high, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, and the real numbers are even higher. Chances are very good that you or someone you care about is a survivor of sexual assault. Sexual violence can happen to women, men and children. Although most men do not rape, most rapists are men. Therefore, this is an issue that everyone has a need to confront.
Historically, it has been primarily women who have been raising awareness, influencing public policy and addressing the root causes of sexual violence. In the last few years, however, more and more men's groups are emerging across the country that address sexual violence. These groups confront sexual assault in many different ways, including peer education, raising awareness, looking at societal norms and attitudes that encourage the tolerance of sexual violence in the world in which we live, and challenging mainstream ideas of masculinity that condone sexual aggression, abuse, sexism and the objectification of women.
Now, it is time for men and women to step up together and co-lead the fight to end sexual violence. We need to empower ourselves to speak up and challenge others. We are all members of a society in which deeply rooted social norms create an environment that allows certain groups to exercise power and control over others, which can be manifested in the form sexual violence. The intent of the fight against sexual assault is not to attack men and turn men and women into enemies. In reality, because sexual assault affects everyone, men and women have the potential to be powerful allies in the movement to end sexual violence.
There are a lot of events being held on campus this month in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and promoting the theme of men and women uniting to end sexual violence. Attending and participating in one of the many events on campus this month is one way to join the effort to end sexual violence. A full list of campus events can be found at www.news.wisc.edu/12366.html. Other ways to get involved are examining your own attitudes about sexism and violence, speaking up when others make inappropriate jokes or minimize the seriousness of sexual violence, educating yourself on legislation regarding sexual violence and writing letters to lawmakers, and showing your support to survivors.
Julia Harkins is the Campus Safety Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.