Over the past few days, it has finally started to feel like spring. After a dark and harsh winter, the beginning of April has brought us warmer weather and abundant sunshine; we see the buds of flowers poking through the dirt and we begin to feel a sense of hope that winter might be finally over.
As some of you may know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). For me, April has been a time of personal reflection as well as a time that I have worked hard to organize community events. Ten years ago I co-founded the first Take Back the Night event at American University. It was a balmy rainy April night in Washington D.C- we didn’t know if anyone would come. I remember the feelings of anxiety I felt in the pit of my stomach as we waited by the gates to our campus, the “meet-up” point for our first march. It started with a couple friends, and then a few more. And suddenly I was surrounded by over 100 community members who joined together to publicly denounce sexual and domestic violence. The march was loud and raucous; we blew whistles and yelled chants into the night. We ended the march at the campus spiritual center where the group quieted down and began to listen as one survivor, and then another got up to tell their story of surviving physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. We stayed there, listening and sharing, until the early hours of the next day. Many of the people who spoke had never shared their story with anyone before; many of them reflected that they had just come to support a friend, and as they listened they realized that they were not alone and that they were ready to break their silence. It takes so much courage to tell our stories; I was in awe of how many people found the courage to tell theirs for the first time in front of hundreds of strangers.
It was overwhelming to hear so many stories that night. But what I remember most was seeing complete strangers walk up to one another to offer their support and thank them for sharing their story. Never in my life had I seen a community of people reach out to each other in such a way before.
You may hear of marches, walks and events in your community throughout the month of April to raise awareness about sexual assault. To me, the true power of an awareness month is when it just gets a conversation started.
I ask you to join REACH, and many others, to raise awareness about sexual assault this month. It can mean going to an event or simply starting a conversation with a friend. When we open up this conversation, when we support one another to heal, we can create a ripple effect that can heal and transform entire communities.