Sexual Assault Awareness Month, observed each April, is a campaign that aims to increase awareness about the causes and risk factors for sexual assault and empower individuals to take steps to prevent it in their communities. Since 2001, the National Sexual Violence Research Center has coordinated annual programming, developing materials and resources for organizations and agencies to use. The SAAM campaign works with a variety of non-profit organizations and foundations to spread the message of awareness and prevention through educational programs, public events, and petitions for legislative action.
Observed as an opportunity to promote education and the prevention of sexual violence, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) traces its history to the 1970s, when activists first began organizing on a national scale to reduce sexual assault and violence against women. Advocates fought tirelessly to bring a topic once taboo for public discussion out of the shadows and shed light on the widespread problem of sexual assault.
The first rape crisis center in the U.S., Bay Area Women Against Rape, opened in 1971, with the dual goals of providing counseling and advocacy to survivors and educating the community. Their work paved the way for more groups and coalitions, and in 1976, the first Take Back the Night rally brought increased visibility as activists organized more public events. Take Back the Night, a series of marches organized to protest rape and sexual assault, broadcast the message that women shouldn’t be afraid to be out at night.
By the 1980s, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault was mobilizing groups across the country to take action at higher levels. In 1994, after a long campaign, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, the first legislation to require law enforcement to treat domestic violence as a crime and not a private matter.
In 2001, the first official Sexual Assault Awareness Month once again brought the issue into public consciousness and reinvigorated a national network of events and support groups that raise awareness and provide resources to survivors and those at risk. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) supports a network of over a thousand rape crisis centers.
The campaign tries to address a broad range of issues including sexual health and consent, and engages with diverse populations by developing culturally sensitive foreign-language materials.