Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

It is officially April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). This year marks the 22nd official anniversary of SAAM, and we thought it would be the perfect time to talk about sexual harassment in the workplace. But before we get started, here is a brief history of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

History of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month, also known as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, was created to bring more attention to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment crimes. Although SAAM became an official month 22 years ago, the fight against lewd sexual acts began long before, with Black women at the forefront. 


The earliest record of an anti-rape movement can be traced to 1866, when a group of Black women testified before Congress. During the three-day Memphis Riot, a white mob gang-raped at least five Black women. Lucy Smith, who was sixteen, testified before Congress detailing the gruesome violence that took place in her home. She and her friend Frances Thompson were raped by seven men, including two police officers. Their perpetrators and other women’s rapists did not endure consequences. 

Unfortunately, there are many more stories like Lucy and Frances’s. Between 1865 and 1968, countless African American women were raped. The most violent rape cases were during the Reconstruction Era (1865 to 1877). Since slavery had been outlawed, the Ku Klux Klan sought to regain racial control by raping Black women and lynching Black men. These horrible, immoral events propelled Black women to stand up and fight against sexual violence, but for decades, their voices would go unheard.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The Political Shift

The unheard voices of Black women only made their voices louder and more assertive. In the 40s, a decade before the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks became a leading anti-rape activist. In 1944, she founded the Committee for Equal Justice to fight sexual crimes against women. Rape survivors like 24-year-old Recy Taylor, who seven armed white men raped on her way to church, and 15-year-old Flossie Hardman, who was raped by her boss, drove Rosa Parks and other activists to fight even harder. Hardman’s rapist was found not guilty after a five-minute jury deliberation. African Americans boycotted his store shortly after, putting him out of business. 

In the 1970s, other women of color and white women joined Black women, forming a more significant movement that would catch the eyes of the public. The cases of Inez Garcia in 1974, Joanne Little in 1975, Yvonne Wanrow in 1973, and Dessie Woods in 1976 opened the door for the issues of rape to enter political spaces. Each woman, a rape survivor or protector, fatally fought back against their assailants and was imprisoned because of it. Joan Little was the first woman to be acquitted for murder in self-defense. Yvonne Wanrow was released in 1978, and Garcia was released after serving 15 months. Woods was eventually released in 1981 due to activists’ hard work and organizing efforts. Each case became a turning point in the success of women’s rights and the feminine movement.

Feminist Takeover

As the fight against sexual violence movement grew more fierce and political, rape crisis centers were established in politically active cities, including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Berkeley. These accomplishments attracted middle-class white women to political activism. As a result, Black women’s voices would go unheard again as white women gradually took over the rape crisis movement, becoming center stage. Although Black women and women of color gained more visibility between 1976 and 1980, white women remained dominant in the power structure of the majority of rape crisis centers.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

More Accomplishments

Despite hidden agendas and unfortunate circumstances, activists have made outstanding achievements. Here are some notable accomplishments that took place:


  • In 1971, the first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco
  • In 1972, one of the first campus-based rape crisis centers was effectively lobbied for at the University of Maryland
  • In 1973, students effectively lobbied for a rape crisis center and a women’s studies program at the University of Pennsylvania 
  • In 1974, the Feminist Alliance Against Rape (FAAR) was formed
  • In 1975, Susan Brownmiller published Against Our Will, acknowledging the systemic role of rape in maintaining the social order
  • In 1976, students effectively lobbied for campus-wide prevention programs for the University of California system
  • In 1985, Ms. Magazine published “Date Rape: A Campus Epidemic,” featuring the groundbreaking research of Dr. Mary Koss, bringing media attention to campus rape
  • In 1990, The Clery Act was passed by Congress 
  • In 1993, The Violence Against Women Act of 1993 was signed
  • In 2000, National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) was launched
  • In 2000, the Resource Sharing Project (RSP) and the NSVRC polled state, territory, and tribal sexual violence coalitions to determine the official color and month of SAAM. Teal and April were declared the ribbon color and month.
  • In 2001, Sexual Assault Awareness Month was nationally observed for the first time
  • In 2001, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes was created
  • In 2009, Barack Obama was the first president to proclaim April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month officially.


Sexual assault, abuse, and harassment needs continued awareness and preventable measures. Join us over the next few weeks as we continue this conversation and discuss how it relates to the workplace environment.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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