Time to Stop Sexual Violence Before It Begins

sexual assault awareness month
Image via the National Sexual Violence Resource Center

“’Til it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real. No, it won’t be real, won’t know how it feels.”

If you tuned into the Oscars to catch Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til it Happens to You,” or have been keeping up with artist Kesha’s legal battle with Sony Records, then you may have noticed that sexual assault has become a hot topic in Hollywood, as well as with policymakers nationwide. While it is incredible for sexual assault awareness to have been catapulted onto such a well-publicized platform, many of us know all too well that this epidemic is not limited to celebrities. According to the FBI and Journal of Traumatic Stress, one in three women is a victim of sexual assault. The aftermath often brings severe anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress which can have lifelong, devastating consequences.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the goal is to stop sexual violence before it begins.  The Advocates for Public Policy committee (APP), as well as the New York State Public Affairs Committee of Junior Leagues, has a history of advocating to prevent sexual violence.  In particular, for several years, APP advocated in support of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act, which successfully passed in 2015, enhancing protection for victims and increased accountability for those who traffic the victims. For the 2014 – 2015 committee term, the NYJL considered adopting sexual assault as a lead issue. Awareness and prevention of sexual violence is important to our membership and our state. The NYJL continues to provide support and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault through the work of our Crisis Intervention committee, which partners with the Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies (DOVE) program at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Having become an increasingly alarming problem across college campuses, many universities have begun partnering with rape crisis centers and pooling resources to create an environment for change to help end sexual violence and rape culture. Our own New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, teamed up with Lady Gaga last year, writing an open essay in support of legislation to combat sexual assault.  Thanks to successful advocacy efforts, on July 7, 2015, Governor Cuomo signed “Enough is Enough” legislation, which requires all New York colleges to adopt uniform guidelines defining consent. “Yes means yes,” a required verbal affirmative by sexual partners, will be used to eliminate confusion regarding implied consent. The new language, replacing “no means no,” will better protect victims who are unable to say no at the time of their assault.

Knowledge is power, and the more we educate ourselves and talk about our own awareness, the less taboo the conversation becomes. Legislation support is critical, but changing the culture begins with you and me. For prevention information, please visit the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault or New York City Alliance Against Sexual Alliance.

APP loves hearing from NYJL volunteers, so please do not hesitate to contact us at  advocates@nyjl.org with any comments, questions or suggestions about our advocacy work.

-Article by Jaime Miller, Advocates for Public Policy

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