Hi everyone! My name is Kate, and I’m the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Coordinator for The Aurora Center. Theoretically that means that I coordinate and plan events that raise awareness about sexual assault and rape. Practically, that means that I get to perform a piece in “The Vagina Monologues,” design buttons that say ‘Consent is SEXY’ and pass them out to people, get interviewed, make posters, listen to nationally-acclaimed speakers, experience my very first Take Back The Night (April 29!), watch and discuss movies, see every single one of The Aurora Center’s pieces of The Clothesline Display, meet lots and lots of people, and, last but not least, contribute to this blog. So, thanks. It’s been (and still is) a wild ride.
So, a quick history. In the 1970s, there was an increase in Take Back The Night protests that raised awareness about violence that women faced when walking alone at night. As this movement grew, it also began to look at other forms of violence against women, including sexual assault and relationship violence. In the 1980s, October was designated as a month to raise awareness about violence against women, but over time the focus shifted from all violence against women to mostly relationship violence. Advocates who wanted to focus equally on sexual assault helped designate a week in April as Sexual Assault Awareness Week. Over time, more and more advocates and organizations began coordinating events throughout the month of April, which promoted the idea of an entire month designated for sexual assault awareness and prevention. Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first observed nationally in April 2001.
Thus, SAAM was born. But before a discussion can really take place, let’s give this some context. The University of Minnesota defines sexual assault as any sexual contact (including but not limited to sexual intercourse) that is achieved without consent or with the use of force, coercion, deception, or threat. Rape is sexual intercourse that is achieved without consent or with the use of force. That can be a lot to take in. Most people have never seen a definition of rape or sexual assault, and this definition covers a lot more than the stereotypical stranger-in-the-bushes scenario that many people think of when they think about rape.
This is a consent-based definition, so it’s important to not forget to define consent. Consent is freely and actively given, and mutually understood. Basically, that means that both (or all, if that applies) people want it, and both people understand that their partner wants it. It is also important to understand that consent can be taken away by anyone at anytime. If coercion, deception, intimidation, and/or threats are used, there is no consent. There can be no consent if the victim/survivor was mentally or physically incapacitated or impaired, including conditions due to alcohol or drug consumption, being asleep or unconscious. Now, there is a difference between drunk and incapacitated. Incapacitation means basically means so far gone that you can’t make an informed decision. It’s important to remember that the number of drinks someone has to have in order to be incapacitated is different for everyone, and it doesn’t always stay the same. If I use myself as an example, normally three shots won’t make me incapacitated but if I do those shots on an empty stomach or gave blood a couple days before, that changes things. Bottom line, if you aren’t sure whether or not someone can give consent due to incapacitation, wait until you are sure.
[For anyone who is concerned or has questions and wants to talk to someone, The Aurora Center has a free and confidential 24-hour Help Line at 612-626-9111].