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April’s Awareness

May 6, 2010

If April showers bring May flowers, what does April’s Awareness bring?  In April we commemorated, we celebrated, and we focused our attentions on sexually transmitted diseases, abortion well-being, and sexual assault.  Will this shower of awareness result in fewer sexual assaults or fewer STDs, and bring well-being in May? We can smell the flowers, see their vibrant colors on the landscape, even pick them and put them in a vase.  We can’t easily see what, if anything, is blossoming in the wake of April’s Awareness. 

May ushers in its own awareness. May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, National Masturbation Month, and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. National Women’s Health Week and the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy are also commemorated in May.  All of May’s awareness just slammed up against April’s leaving me wondering what will happen in June.

If you take just a few minutes surfing the web you will learn that almost every day is part of a commemorative week, or month, or a special day all its own.  Viewing the entire year through the “every day has its cause” lens, I can’t help but ask:  is all this awareness just a gimmick for ad execs and fundraisers or a news hook for flacks? Although my cynical side wants to jump up and scream “Duh, of course,” I am an idealist– I want to believe that our awareness makes a difference.

In April, I wrote about Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month and Abortion Well-being month.  Although I considered it, I did not write about Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).  Working to end sexual violence is one of my volunteer passions, so SAAM did not slip by quickly and un-marked.  In the PPHP Administrative offices we participated in Denim Day to benefit our friends at Victims Assistance Services in Westchester. 

One of the things I love about Denim Day is that it heightens awareness about victim blame.  All women know about victim blame.  From the time that we are little girls – before we even know what sex or sexual assault is we know that if “it” happens to me, everyone will think it’s my fault.  And so, the logic goes: “because everyone will think it’s my fault that it happened, then I won’t tell anybody – ever.” Victim blame is one of the reasons many sexual assaults go unreported.

Victim blame’s twin sisters are shame and stigma.  When I look at April’s Awareness, shame is a recurring theme.  Where there is shame, blame and stigma are never far behind. With April’s Awareness we break some of the silence that surrounds sexual assault, abortion, and STD’s the other 11 months of the year.  Is the promise of April’s Awareness that in May we can talk more comfortably?  Is it less stigma or shame? 

Nearly a decade ago, an Italian Court overturned a rape conviction based on its conclusion that because “the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”    If we think that years of SAAM campaigns mean that no court could possibly reach a similar conclusion today, we are mistaken. For all of April’s Awareness, the jeans defense is alive and well.

A month, a week, a day—it just isn’t enough. Until we can wear skinny jeans, we need to keep April’s Awareness with us every day.

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