In the late 1970s, women in England held protests against the violence they encountered as they walked the streets at night. They called them Take Back the Night marches. Word spread to other countries as the protests grew.
In 1978, San Francisco and New York City held the first Take Back the Night events in the U.S. Over time, sexual assault awareness activities grew to include the issues of sexual violence against men and men’s roles in ending sexual violence.
In the early 1980s, activists used October to raise awareness of violence against women. Domestic violence awareness became the main focus. Sexual assault advocates looked for a separate month to focus attention on sexual assault issues.
By the late 1980s, activists wanted a week for sexual assault awareness. The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) polled sexual assault coalitions to a choose a time for the Sexual Assault Awareness Week. They selected a week in April.
Despite choosing a single week in April, some advocates began holding sexual violence events throughout the month of April. By the late 1990s, it was common. Advocates began calling for a national Sexual Assault Awareness month.
Starting in 2000, the Resource Sharing Project (RSP) and the NSVRC polled state, territory, and tribal coalitions. They found that most coalitions preferred the color teal. Many used a ribbon as the symbol for awareness and prevention. Most said they preferred to hold sexual assault awareness activities in the month April.
On April 1, 2001 the U.S. first observed Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) nationally. Since then, the NSVRC promotes national unity for SAAM activities. We encourage interaction and feedback from across the nation. This builds momentum to prevent sexual violence.
The NSVRC developed a 5-year plan to increase national awareness. It started by promoting the color teal, month of April, and symbol. The NSVRC sent out teal ribbon pins on small cards with information about SAAM. We also held a nationwide contest for a new slogan.
NSVRC shared the winning slogan from the 2002 contest in 2003. The winning slogan was “Decide to End Sexual Violence.” The NSVRC used the slogan to create campaign materials. The campaign encouraged people to “Shout Out” against sexual violence. The first SAAM poster was created this year and the NSVRC offered national recognition through an awards process. This award recognized individuals doing positive anti-violence work at the local level.
On April 20, 2004, the NSVRC promoted a Day to End Sexual Violence. The poster Faces of Rape and Sexual Abuse highlighted photos by the photojournalist Nobuko Oyabu. The NSVRC also created and sold stickers for the Day to End Sexual Violence.
Starting in 2005, the NSVRC shifted the focus of SAAM to prevention of sexual assault. This began with the campaign “Build healthy, respectful relationships.” This campaign was positive and action-oriented. It gave concrete tools to help programs end violence.
For the 2006 SAAM campaign, NSVRC again promoted prevention of sexual violence with the slogan “It’s About Time to Prevent Sexual Violence. Speak Out.” This campaign connected awareness with prevention and promoted collaboration. This was the first year that the NSVRC provided a “Toolkit” with resources like fact sheets, book lists, and tips for a successful SAAM. The current SAAM logo was introduced this year as well.
The 2007 theme was “Prevent Sexual Violence… in our communities.” This broad focus told communities across the country that everyone can prevent sexual violence, and we all need to work together in creative ways. The NSVRC chose a film screening of NO! The Rape Documentary by Aishah Shahidah Simmons as the featured event.
In 2008, we worked to “Prevent Sexual Violence… in our workplaces.” It helped employers to see workplace culture’s role in preventing sexual violence and recognize the prevalence of sexual violence that occurs in the workplace. The NSVRC also focused on the impact a healthy work environments can have on prevention of sexual violence. To encourage outreach to local businesses for SAAM, the featured event was Shop to End Sexual Violence, where businesses provide information about sexual violence during April and donate some portion of their profits to the cause.
With the goal of giving the anti-sexual violence field more time to develop relationships with local workplaces and promote workplace-related prevention messages, the NSVRC chose to continue the workplace theme in 2009. To keep the campaign fresh and emphasize the focus on healthy, respectful workplaces, the new slogan was “Respect Works! Prevent Sexual Violence… in our workplaces.” Additional resources were added to the Toolkit including a Workplace Outreach Guide, and a PowerPoint presentation with a bystander intervention message.
The 2010 campaign focused on preventing sexual assault on higher education and college campuses. College students experience disproportionately high rates of sexual violence. In addition to serving the many survivors on campus, there exists an opportunity for prevention and social change that will have a lasting effect on students throughout their lives. The toolkit included a Presidential Proclamation, Spectrum of Prevention, and Campus Resource list.
In 2011, the campaign was centered on engaging bystanders with the bystander intervention approach. The slogan was “It’s time… to get involved.” This approach was aimed at preventing sexual assault before it happens by giving bystanders the courage and resources for when and how to speak up. Resources included providing scenarios where bystander intervention might be needed to make bystanders more confident when the time comes.
The 2012 SAAM campaign “It’s time… to talk about it” encouraged communities and individuals to join the conversation on healthy sexuality. Tools and resources promoted positive expressions of sexuality and healthy behaviors. This included encouraging consensual, respectful, and informed sexual interactions and behaviors. Social media elements were added this year with daily posts on social networking sites and a SAAM blog.
In 2013, the SAAM campaign focused on healthy sexuality and child sexual abuse prevention. Resources for adults, communities, and organizations helped with identifying risk factors, supporting healthy boundaries, and challenging negative messages. Additional resources helped parents talk to their child about sex and healthy development.
In 2014, the campaign again focused on youth with resources on healthy adolescent sexuality. The goal was to promote healthy relationships, development, and sexual violence prevention. The NSVRC hoped to encourage young people to become activists for change while providing resources to adults and communities on engaging young people in conversation.
In 2015, the SAAM campaign focus was on preventing sexual violence on college campuses and institutions of higher education again. The toolkit was aimed towards both campus personnel and students with messages about bystander intervention, consent, and healthy sexuality.
With the slogan “Prevention is Possible,” the 2016 SAAM campaign was focused on how to take action to prevent sexual assault before it happens. The message was that individuals, communities, and the private sector can help promote safety, respect, and equality.
This year, the SAAM campaign is Engaging New Voices. The focus will be on involving coaches, faith leaders, parents, Greek Life, and bystanders with preventing sexual assault. Many groups know about sexual assault and believe it is a problem, but they don’t know how they can help. With this year’s toolkit and postcards, the NSVRC hopes to help these new voices begin to talk about preventing sexual assault.