By Somila Tiwani
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Each year, this month offers an opportunity to raise public awareness and educate communities and individuals about sexual harassment or assault. Many activists started organising programs and events during the month of April in the late 1990s, promoting the concept of a nationally recognised month for sexual violence awareness and prevention. Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first observed nationally in April 2021.
Sexual assault is a very important issue because it can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or race. It is a troubling issue with long-term consequences for victims, relatives and even society as whole.
The increasing public conversation about sexual assault and harassment is a critical step towards addressing such a harmful and prevalent issue. However, the legal concept of sexual harassment is not always straightforward. Let us breakdown what constitutes sexual assault, harassment, abuse and so forth in the eyes of the law; sexual assault can be defined as any kind of sexual activity or contact, including rape, that occurs without your consent. Sexual assault includes marital rape, unwanted sexual touching, sexual interaction with minors (whether consensual or not), sexual harassment, incest (sexual intercourse between family members) and more.
In South Africa, sexual assault awareness still has a long way to go. The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is among the highest rates in the world. The stories of Cheryl Zondi, Uyinene Mretyana, Khensani Maseko and many more women and victims of sexual assault has proven that indeed, such campaigns are needed in our society.
Our country has seen a devastating climb of sexual assault offences daily. Sexual assault awareness should not only be offered an opportunity of public awareness in April, but rather in each month.
It should be emphasized that sexual violence poses a threat to peace and security. “There remains what seems like an impenetrable wall of silence around violence and we must all play a role in breaking this silence” – Reese Witherspoon.