The History of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Women’s rights protest. Orna W./Courtesy

This April marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, yet its roots can be traced back much farther

Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first observed in the United States in April 2001. Barack Obama brought attention to the campaign in 2009, as the first president to officially proclaim April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. However, there is a long history to SAAM that some may be unaware of.

Before SAAM was officially declared, the campaign manifested as discussions centered on awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment and abuse. In the 1800s, United States temperance and suffrage activists began making ground by raising the legal age of consent. Yet, women of color were still excluded from any rape laws, leaving them without the hope of justice or prevention. In 1861, black women were finally granted the ability to file rape charges against a white male.

Women marching in national suffrage demonstration in Washington, D.C., May 9, 1914. Library of Congress/Courtesy

Advocators of sexual assault prevention first started gaining attention in the 1940s and 50s, during the early stages of the civil rights era. Despite social limitations placed on open discourse of domestic violence and sexual assault, activists pushed to generate attention on the vital issue.

The Anti-Rape movement emerged in the 1960s, which gained traction in the second wave of the feminist movement. In that same era, definitions of rape became more gender-neutral, and the term was recognized as a violent crime. While progress was in the works, many states’ sexual assault laws still had marital exception clauses, and victims’ past sexual histories were still admissible in court as evidence against victims.

Women’s Equal Rights Parade, August 26, 1977. Library of Congress/Courtesy

Activism continued into the 1970s, and the first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco in 1971. The following decades gave way to legislation and funding that supported victims of violence, including the Violence Against Women Act of 1993 (VAWA).

National efforts like VAWA had demonstrated the need for sexual violence prevention. In 2000, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a newly formed organization, and the Resource Sharing Project asked other sexual violence organizations about a preferred month for sexual assault awareness events and activities. SAAM arose after polls indicated a preference for April and a teal ribbon as a symbol for the awareness and prevention effort.

In the following years, SAAM began focusing campaigns on areas like communities, workplaces and college campuses, providing open discussions on preventative practices for individuals and communities, such as changing behaviors and promoting respect.

Saddleback College offers a variety of resources for students who have experienced sexual assault or other forms of violence. South Orange County Community College District offers an informational brochure detailing harassment policies and complaint procedures. In the event of a crisis, Saddleback students can contact the following:

Student Health Center: (949) 582-4606

Counseling Center: (949) 582-4572

Campus Safety or Campus Police:  (949) 582-4444 or 911

Additional information can be found by contacting 211 Orange County. 211 offers comprehensive information and referral system linking Orange County residents to community health and human services and support. Callers seeking assistance can dial 211 (toll-free) 24 hours a day and connect with trained, multilingual Information and Referral specialists.

Faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to use the CARE form to report noticeable distress before they lead to deeper issues or behavior that may be impacting a student’s academic success.

While the history of Sexual Assault Awareness Month has been a prolonged battle for equal rights and proper justice for victims, maintaining open discussion has proven to produce a positive change on both social and legislative levels.