Mayor Proclaims April “Sexual Assault Awareness Month”
April 5, 2022
Cullman, AL – Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs has proclaimed the month of April 2022 “Sexual Assault Awareness Month” (SAAM) in the City of Cullman. On Monday, April 4, 2022, Mayor presented the official proclamation to Victim Services of Cullman, Inc. (VSOC) representatives Olivia Wyatt (Prevention Educator), Pam Brown (Outreach Coordinator), and Taylor Murphree (Intake Advocate).
“I proclaim ‘Sexual Assault Awareness Month’ in April every year because I know that sexual violence is an issue that affects the lives of many families in our community,” said Mayor Jacobs. “But this year there is an added focus on online sexual harassment, which are issues that are becoming more prevalent in our society.”
SAAM is a time to honor the voices and experiences of sexual violence victims and survivors and to bring awareness to sexual violence and share helpful resources and tools to prevent it. 2022 marks the 21st anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But even before its official declaration in 2001, SAAM was about both awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse.
Sexual harassment, abuse, and assault are widespread problems in the United States.
According to the (NSVRC):
- 1 in 5 women experience completed or attempted rape during their lifetime. 1 in 3 female victims experience their first completed or attempted rape between the ages of 11 and 17.
- Nearly a quarter (24.8%) of men in the U.S. experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4 male victims experience their first completed or attempted rape between the ages of 11 and 17.
- Nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.
- 51.1% of female victims of rape were raped by a current or former intimate partner. 40.8% by an acquaintance.
- 52.4% of male victims of rape were raped by an acquaintance. 15.2% by a stranger.
Last year’s theme was #ConsentRules which focused on communicating, understanding, and respecting another person’s boundaries. The five rules for obtaining, confirming, and honoring consent are:
- Establish boundaries (personal rules to make you feel safe and respected).
- Communicate comfort zones. (Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of respect and communication.)
- Ask every time. (Consenting to one activity one time does not mean someone gives consent for other activities or for the same activity on other occasions. Nothing should be assumed.)
- Check in regularly. (Talk about it and make sure everyone involved consents before escalating or changing activities.)
- Respect each other. (Honor one another’s boundaries.)
ONLINE SEXUAL HARASSMENT & “BUILDING SAFE ONLINE SPACES TOGETHER”
Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can happen anywhere – including in online spaces. That’s the focus of this year’s SAAM theme: Building Safe Online Spaces Together.
Online harassment is no less harmful because it happens online. Online harassment can leave lasting harm because the content is often public, can’t be erased, and is just as emotionally damaging as in-person harassment. It’s also extremely common – 41% of Americans have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online, and 66% have witnessed these behaviors directed at others.
Due to the anonymity of the Internet, often victims don’t know who is behind the harassment. Even if they do know who is harassing them online, there are few recourses. Telling victims to “just log off” isn’t effective. Many people use online sites to stay connected with loved ones and have social interactions. Pushing the victim to no longer participate in online spaces to avoid being harassed is victim-blaming. People who commit online harassment must be held accountable.
Online sexual abuse includes such things as:
- Sending someone unwelcome communication about sex or hateful comments based on sex, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.
- Sending someone unwanted requests for nude photos or videos or livestream sexual acts.
- Performing sexual acts on webcam without the consent of everyone involved or in inappropriate settings.
- Sharing private images or videos without the consent of everyone involved. This is also known as “revenge porn” or “nonconsensual pornography” which is illegal in 46 states (including Alabama) and the District of Columbia.
- Sharing porn in spaces where not everyone has consented to view.
- Grooming children to enable their sexual abuse either online or offline.
Online sexual abuse is influenced by the same attitudes and beliefs that lead to in-person sexual violence. A safe online space is one that is inclusive, where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
To prevent sexual violence, the root causes must be addressed and social systems that reinforce power over others. Many prevention activities focus on changing individuals’ knowledge and behavior. But focusing on individual behavior alone will not prevent sexual violence.
The NSVRC gives tips on community-level prevention of sexual harassment and abuse. Community-level prevention means moving beyond individual actions to target the characteristics of a community – community norms, cultural climates, and policies – to reduce the likelihood that people will perpetrate sexual violence. This refers not only to homes but to workplaces, campuses, organizations, or any online or offline spaces that have their own policies and rules that impact others.
Online communities can develop their own policies and rules that promote respect and discourage harmful behaviors. These may include:
- Creating community agreements with participants so expectations around respectful communications are clear.
- Provide a way that victims can report harassment or abuse if another group member’s behavior makes them uncomfortable.
- Establish community norms around appropriate ways for group members to communicate with one another (i.e., hours of the day members can contact each other, on what apps or platforms, and so forth).
- Keep participants safe by making sure the platforms being used are secure and that security settings protect users’ privacy, personal information, and location.
Individuals can report inappropriate content when they see personal or violent content on a social media platform, respond to harmful comments that blame victims (i.e. questioning a victim’s actions before or after the incident) by refocusing accountability on the perpetrator, and show support to victims of online harassment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has other information on preventing sexual violence here.
VICTIM SERVICES OF CULLMAN, INC. (VSOC)
VSOC was established in 1991 and began providing services to victims of sexual violence in 1996. Sexual violence refers to any sexual activity when consent is not obtained or given freely. VSOC’s mission is to break the cycle of family violence and sexual assault, preventing future acts of abuse through education and outreach. They also help empower sexual violence survivors through support and advocacy.
Some of the services offered by VSOC include:
Shelter Services: VSOC offers both emergency and transition shelters. For emergency shelter call 256-734-6100.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE): A SANE is a nurse with specialized training to aid survivors of sexual assault. The VSOC SANE is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Child and Family Services: VSOC believes that early intervention is key to ending the cycle of family violence. The Children’s Advocacy Program provides children a way to safely talk about their questions, experiences, and fears.
Domestic Violence Services: VSOC provides crisis response and recovery services for family or individuals who have been impacted by violence.
Sexual Assault Services: To help survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones heal from this terrible crime.
Community Outreach and Education: These programs seek to reduce the risk of violence through providing information and safety tools for vulnerable groups.
VSOC provides confidential help and support, free of charge and in the language of their choice. Services are available in Spanish. (Estamos aquí para escuchar sin juzgar yresponder a sus preguntas. Si la violencia doméstica o sexual ha impactado tuvida y quieres hablar sobre ello, o si tienes alguna pregunta o inquietud sobrelos servicios o lo que debes hacer, llama al siguiente número: 256-708-4769.) Español
TIPS FOR REDUCING THE RISK OF BECOMING A VICTIM OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Anyone can be the target of sexual violence. It can occur in any situation and is never the fault of the victim regardless of the circumstances!
However, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of you or your family members becoming victims of sexual violence. These include:
- Spend time online with your children or teens to teach them appropriate online behavior.
- Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch or monitor its use. Monitor time spent on smartphones or tablets.
- Bookmark kids’ favorite for easy access.
- Check your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
- Take your child seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online exchange.
- Contact local law enforcement if you hear of or see any offensive material directed at a child or if any predatory behavior towards a child takes place.
- Follow the family rules for behavior and length of time on social media sites and online gaming.
- Never post or trade personal pictures.
- Never reveal personal information such as address, phone number, or school name or location.
- Don’t chat with strangers and also avoid “friending” anyone you don’t know.
- Use only a screen name and don’t share passwords with anyone (other than your parents).
- Never agree to get together in person with anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision.
- Never respond to a threatening email, message, post, or text.
- Always tell a parent or other trusted adult about any communication or conversation that was scary or hurtful.
- Recognize the red flags of online grooming which include:
- Asking to keep the relationship secret.
- Making suggestive or sexual comments.
- Asking sexual questions.
- Sending links to suggestive images, memes, or porn.
- Asking to only contact them on certain apps.
- Asking to close the door when speaking with them, only wanting to chat at certain times, or asking if parents are around.
- Making conditions on the relationship. For instance, saying they will only continue talking if something is done in return for them, like sending photos.
- Discussing appearance or requesting to see photos.
- Sending online gifts, like gifting items in games.
- Adjust your privacy settings and select options that limit who can view your information.
- Turn off geolocation.
- Use a private Internet connection, and avoid public Wi-FI connections.
- Do not click on or respond to suspicious messages received through social media.
- Report harassment or inappropriate content.
- Facebook safety guide.
- Twitter safety guide.
- Instagram safety guide.
- YouTube safety guide.
- Reddit safety guide.
- Tik Tok safety guide.
- Tumblr safety guide.
- Zoom safety guide.
- Use different photos for your dating profile than what you have on your social media accounts.
- Avoid connecting with suspicious profiles or profiles with very limited information.
- Check out your potential date on social media.
- Block and report suspicious users.
Match the license plate number.
Match the car make and model.
Check the driver’s photo.
- Make sure all windows and doors are locked securely and entrances are well-lighted.
- Check the ID of any sales or service people before letting them in.
- If you live in an apartment, avoid being in the laundry room or garage by yourself, particularly at night.
- If you come home alone and find a door or window open or signs of forced entry, don’t go in. Contact local law enforcement.
- Be alert to your surroundings.
- Stay in well-lighted areas.
- Walk confidently at a steady pace on the side of the street facing traffic.
- Walk close to the curb and avoid doorways, bushes, and alleys.
- If you feel you’re being followed, walk into a store or knock on a house door.
- If you find yourself in trouble, attract help any way you can.
- Keep your vehicle in good working order and the gas tank at least half-full.
- Park in well-lighted areas and lock the doors.
- When you return to your car, have the key ready and check the front and rear seats before getting in.
- Drive with the doors locked.
- Never pick up hitchhikers.
- If you have a flat tire, drive until you reach a safe, well-lighted and well-traveled area.
- Exercise extra caution when using enclosed parking garages.
- If you are being followed, don’t go home. Go to the nearest business or to the local police station.
- Share your travel information with someone you trust.
- Research ground transportation that are available and reliable.
- Check for public transportation mobile apps with real-time updates for the transportation sytem at your destination to avoid waiting for a bus in an isolated area.
- Familiarize yourself with your destination. Find out where hospitals and police stations are near where you’re staying.
- If you go out in the evenings, plan your return trip in advance.
- Plan for safety abroud by checking out the State Department’s resources for international travelers and by identifying and saving contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
- Relax while on vacation, but don’t let your guard down.
- Keep track of what you drink. If something doesn’t seem right or you feel uncomfortable, get to a safe place as soon as you can.
- Have a bcakup plan for every situation.
- Keep your cell phone charged and nearby.
- Tell a friend where you’re going.
- Meet in a public place.
- Don’t rely on your date for transportation.
- Don’t leave your food or drink unattended.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Don’t give out your personal information.
- Consider carrying pepper spray or Mace, just in case.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, feel free to leave a date or cut off communication.
- Give someone in trouble a safe ride home from a party.
- Confront someone who is engaging in threatening behavior toward someone else. Enlist a friend to help, if possible.
- Create a distractions to give a person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.
- Talk to a security guard, bartender, or other person in authority – or even call 911 – if you think someone is at risk or sexual violence.
- Show interest in your child’s day-to-day lives.
- Get to know the people in your child’s life.
- Choose caregivers carefully.
- Know the warning signs of sexual abuse in children.
- Closely monitor your child’s online activity.
- Teach your child about boundaries.
- Teach your child how to talk about their bodies.
- Let them know they won’t get in trouble for telling you if someone is abusing them.
RESOURCES & LINKS
For more information sexual violence, visit:
- VSOC Website: www.victimservices.online. Email: [email protected]
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) | www.nsvrc.org
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) | www.rainn.org
If you are a victim of sexual assault, or if you know someone who is: