April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) – and this SAAM we wanted to help connect the dots between sexual violence and domestic violence. Indeed, research from the CDC shows us how many different forms of violence – from community violence, child abuse, gun violence, sexual violence, gang violence, and domestic violence – are connected, and often share the same root causes.
Within the domestic violence movement, we’ve seen in many cases, the intersections of sexual and domestic violence. All too often, victims of intimate partner violence are also victims of rape and sexual violence; it’s common for abusive partners to sexually abuse their partners as part of their power and control tactics. And although sexual assault laws have been on the books for decades, most excluded rape by a spouse. This meant that laws that said (in a very heteronormative lens) that rape by a spouse was not actually rape. It wasn’t until 1989 that Maryland amended their statute to clarify that marital rape is rape, and can be prosecuted as such.
With a deeper understanding of ACES and polyvictimization, advocates in the field have come to understand that many survivors of domestic violence are also survivors of childhood sexual violence as well, including child sex trafficking, incest, and statutory rape. Youth who have been physically abused by a dating partner are also more likely to have suffered abuse as a child, been a victim of sexual assault, and witnessed violence in their family (Hamby, 2012).
The root causes of sexual and domestic violence are similar: cultural norms that support aggression, strict and harmful norms around masculinity and femininity, high unemployment, poor parent-child attachment relationships, and more are all shared risk factors for these crimes.
And while we have a lot of work still to do, we have made tremendous progress – the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed 25 years ago, in 1994. Since then, reporting of domestic violence has increased as much as 51% nationally and all states have passed laws making stalking a crime and have strengthened rape laws. The number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men. Overall, VAWA saved $12.6 billion in its first six years alone, which underscores that domestic and sexual violence are not only public health and safety issues, but have economic repercussions as well. (NTF 2018).
VAWA is up for reauthorization in Congress right now. You can learn more about VAWA and how to get involved in reauthorization from our colleagues at the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF).
This April’s SAAM campaign is all about consent:
“At its heart, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is about more than awareness – our ultimate goal is prevention. Since consent is a clear, concrete example of what it takes to end sexual harassment, abuse and assault, it only made sense that this year’s theme center on empowering all of us to put consent into practice. The campaign will champion the power of asking — whether it be asking to hold someone’s hand, for permission to share personal information with others, or if a partner is interested in sex. I Ask is the statement by which individuals will demonstrate that asking for consent is a healthy, normal, and necessary part of everyday interactions, and it will set an example for their partners, friends, and loved ones. I Ask is the statement by which we will uplift the importance of consent and transform it from being prescriptive to empowering (NSVRC).”
You can learn more about SAAM and download the SAAM Campaign Resource Toolkit from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center here.
You can also check out our November 2018 webinar recording: Behind the Bedroom Door: Sexual Assault in the Context of Domestic Violence.
We also like to encourage you to check out our sister coalition, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) and the 18 Maryland Comprehensive Sexual Violence Programs, many of which also domestic violence service providers and members of MNADV.
We hope you’ll join us this SAAM!