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The history of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Jordan Ramos, Reporter

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) was created 20 years ago in 2001, but its history goes further back. The legacy of SAAM was led by Black women and women of color dating all the way back to the 1860s.

After the Civil War in 1866, there was a shootout between White Memphis police officers and Black union soldiers. After this, with the help of the police force, White residents went through Black neighborhoods and assaulted, murdered, and raped Black civilians and soldiers. This became known as the Memphis Massacre. Five Black women, who survived the massacre, testified in a congressional investigation. These sexual violence testimonies were the first to be a part of a US court trial. 

Ida B. Wells was a huge figure in the Sexual Assault Awareness movement. She spent her life fighting against gender-based violence as well as sexism and racism. She led anti-rape movements throughout the South. Wells mostly focused on getting rid of the stereotypes that plagued Black women and men. Those stereotypes were the hyper-sexualization of Black women and the idea that all Black men are perpetrators of sexual assault.

In 1971, the first rape crisis center was built in San Francisco called the “Bay Area Women Against Rape.” 400 centers were created around the US within the next five years. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape was the first state coalition to form in 1975. Many other national organizations were formed and along with them came marches and events such as the Women’s Equal Rights Parades. 

In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by President Bill Clinton. This act provided funding for the investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes against women. It also asked for restitution on those convicted and allowed for civil redress. This was the first time in US history that gender-based violence was not a personal issue but a legal issue. 

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) was created in 2000. A year later, April was recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Eight years later, President Barack Obama officially declared April as SAAM. Obama is the first and only president to recognize the month. 

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The history of Sexual Assault Awareness Month