Why Sexual Assault Awareness Month STILL matters in the pandemic of COVID-19 — A Call to Action

This April marks the 20th year of national recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and one year of living in the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain in deep reflection about and gratitude for those before us in this work, and for the tools that folks in anti violence fields have relied on. As we move into this anniversary, we must also reckon with how our work has been lastingly impacted by the other global pandemic currently raging.

Last year I wrote an article that stated “As we are now beginning to understand the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also understanding how deeply the economic, political and social ramifications reinforce the existing lines of race, gender and class disparities in our country. Although some of what we experienced over the last year of this pandemic is novel, this crisis is still not new for those of us who work in anti-violence field. For years we have been fighting for housing justice, health care access and safer communities for survivors and folks living in marginalized communities.”

“Unlike the coronavirus, sexual assault is not novel.”

Crisis situations always have a heavy impact on victims/survivors of violence, especially those who are also members of marginalized communities (such as people of color, LGBQ/T+ folks, immigrants, people with disabilities and lower incomes). Those who are at highest risk of danger are those who are often already unsafe were further devastated by the pandemic.

For some, being “trapped” means being without the income or other resources to escape an abuser, experiencing discrimination in ways that affect your education, health and well-being. It is a daily experience of micro-aggression and macro-oppression that place real barriers to healing in your path. For African American/ Black women, sexual assault and violence are incredibly pervasive issues that routinely go unreported and under-addressed. This fact echos in our minds still everyday, we think about the increase in online violence, child sexual exploitation, sexual assault of young men and boys and racist violence. We think about Toyin Salau, a creator and activist who did not have housing, sexually assaulted and murdered, we think about Breonna Taylor, an essential worker gunned down in her sleep, we remember Domininique Rem’mie Fells and the Black Trans Women who have been murdered at epidemic proportions.

The pandemic affirmed for us that our work is vital and our community building/healing practices are needed. We have been working against both crises collectively, nationally, statewide and at the grassroots level. We saw a rise in mutual aid, something that Black and Brown communities have been practiced for a long time and that Queer and disabled folks have used in order to survive and push back against violent systems of oppression. We celebrate the power and work, resilience that has been happening, the voices that have been speaking about these issues even before the pandemic.

As we reflect, we must allow ourselves to be with what this year has taught us, the lessons that have made our collective transformation possible. It remains as important as ever that survivors know we are still here and that we haven’t forgotten them. It is our intention and attention that matter most.

This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let’s pay attention. Click here for a calendar of events hosted by CHH this SAAM.

By Isa M. Woldeguiorguis (she/her),
Executive Director, The Center for Hope and Healing, Inc.