With April comes Sexual Assault Awareness Month, or SAAM. SAAM goes all month long, with the purpose of raising awareness of sexual assault and doing prevention work. SAAM is rooted in the forties and fifties when movements for equality and social change began to gain traction. It is important to note that this movement was originally championed by Black women and other women of color, like Rosa Parks, who worked at the intersection between gender and race-based violence. This year’s theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “we can build safe online spaces” (https://www.nsvrc.org/saam/2021/about/wecanbuildcampaign). With the pandemic, meeting and connecting with people has largely shifted to an online platform. And with the advancement of technology, people have become more aware of ways online platforms can be used to abuse others. Things like sextortion, doxing (finding and using people’s personal information to harm them), and revenge porn have become ways to abuse people online. “Zoom-bombing” has also become a popular phenomenon in which people will join random Zoom meetings. These acts have been linked to pornography.
So how do we prevent online acts of sexual assault? Those who use online platforms can take steps to secure the space, like creating a password to join a Zoom meeting. People can also implement policies that ensure respect and equality for all participants. Taking accounts of harassment or abuse seriously is also extremely important. If you do witness harassment or abuse happening, you can step in to put a stop to it so long as it is safe to do so. Education on advocacy is also incredibly important. Many of us are using online platforms such as Zoom or Google Meets for work, school, or social purposes. Everyone who participates in these sessions can form an agreement to establish and maintain respect. Leaders can also provide ways to allow participants to report harassment if they experience it.
If we do see any of these things taking place, it is so important to take action. Reporting inappropriate content can help to have that content flagged and removed. It is also important to speak out if you see comments in which people blame victims of sexual assault. You can refocus the accountability to the person who committed the abuse. This will likely not change the original poster’s mind, but it is so important for survivors to see that there are people who do not blame them for what happened. This falls in line with showing survivors that you support them. If you feel comfortable, reach out to a person who may have shared their story on an online platform to show your support. Together, we can make the online world safe for one another, and hopefully prevent sexual abuse from happening online. Check out the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for more information and helpful resources!