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Some of you may already be aware, but April throughout the States is acknowledged as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
It’s an important month to take note of and ensure we’re aware of the ways sexual assault can occur within our shared communities.
I haven’t covered this previously on the blog, but I wanted to this year as the theme for 2023 is incredibly relevant and worth exploring further.
What is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)?
The NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Research Center) has coordinated programming and developed materials and resources for organizations and agencies to support sexual assault awareness.
SAAM programs work alongside non-profit organizations to spread the message of awareness and prevention through educational outreach, events, and petitions for more legislative action.
Observed throughout April each year, SAAM aims to raise awareness about the underlying causes and risk factors of sexual assault and ways we can support victims. The month also aims to empower individuals to implement steps to help us all prevent sexual assault within our communities.
For 2023, the theme is ‘Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity.’ This April’s campaign calls on all individuals, communities, organizations, and institutions to change ourselves and the systems surrounding us to build racial equity and respect.
What Counts as Sexual Assault?
It’s important to distinguish sexual assault from domestic violence. Although domestic violence can involve sexual assault – sexual assault doesn’t just occur within domestic relationships.
Sexual assault includes sexual harassment and can happen to anyone in any situation: at work, in public spaces, and in the home.
Sexual assault involves any kind of unwanted sexual contact. This includes:
- Rape or sexual assault
- Sexual harassment or abuse
- Unwanted sexual contact/touching
- Sexual exploitation and trafficking
- Exposing one’s genitals or naked body to others without consent
- Nonconsensual image sharing
- Words and actions of a sexual nature being used against a person’s consent
Understanding Sexual Assualt in Immigrant Communities
The theme for SAAM this year raises critical awareness around how other structures of oppression impact certain groups in our communities – especially around sexual violence.
These systems include:
And others. They lead to higher rates of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse for different groups – including migrants.
According to the NSVRC website:
“Discussions about racial issues, racism, equity, and inclusion are often avoided due to feeling uncomfortable and risks. Being uncomfortable is okay – but to address the social exclusion, unequal access to resources, disproportionate exposure to harm, and unjust prejudice that people of color face, we must show up with courage and humility. We can help create change if we listen, understand, and recognize one another.”
Within immigration evaluations, we may encounter clients seeking asylum or refugee status due to sexual violence. These might be individuals of any gender who have been victims of sexual assault or violence in their home countries.
These individuals are often vulnerable and could be at greater risk of experiencing similar behaviors in their new communities without access to the right support and resources.
How We Can Help
This April, SAAM is asking us to join in on building equity and respect within our communities, workplaces, and the future our youth hold to help create large-scale and lasting change.
- Focus on education.
It’s vital we dedicate time to our own learning and educate ourselves about the different ways sexual assault can affect our clients and what they might need from us in the process of assisting them with their evaluations.
Learning about the different types of visas is a great starting point, but understanding the long-lasting impact of sexual violence, support networks and services in your area, and trauma-informed practices are all beneficial.
U visas can be applied for by victims of a broad set of defined crimes that occur in the US, including:
- Domestic Violence
- Sexual Assault
Find out more in my previous blog about this here.
- Take part in the #30DaysOfSAAMChallenge
Join advocates, activists, survivors, and supporters who are getting involved in #SAAM2023 on Instagram for the #30DaysofSAAMChallange.
Daily prompts encourage creative ways to raise awareness, educate, and connect with others — plus, there are opportunities to win prizes.
- Attend and promote attendance at a SAAM event.
Find a #SAAM2023 event to attend, host an event, or learn how to create your own — most events are virtual, and you can join from anywhere.
If you haven’t worked with victims of sexual violence before and want to focus on building your understanding, knowledge, and toolkit of support resources, these events are a great starting point.
Gentle Reminder to Look After Yourself
Working with clients who have experienced sexual violence can be challenging. As can engaging in content, personal stories, and others lived experiences of sexual assault.
It’s essential to be mindful and ensure you are also supporting and looking after yourself while you do this – especially if you have also experienced any form of sexual assault or harassment yourself.
While it’s important we continually look to improve our professional knowledge, we must also put ourselves first. SAAM is an opportunity to learn and grow our expertise to support our communities best, but we can only do that if we take care of our needs too.
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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