Sexual Assault Awareness Month

graphic of a person standing and a person sitting in a wheel chair with text that reads "April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month"

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)

The theme of Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2024 is Building Connected Communities, which helps us reduce the likelihood of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment and create communities that take care of one another. Communities that make decisions to ensure the safety and well-being of all members are critical to ending sexual violence.

5 Things Correctional Agencies Can Do During SAAM to Build Connected Communities to Prevent Sexual Abuse:

  1. Share resources and tools with people in your care, staff, families, and the community about how to prevent and address sexual abuse in your facility.
    • During visitation, share your agency’s zero-tolerance policy and reporting options with friends and families.
    • Hold staff trainings on the topic of preventing and responding to disclosures of sexual abuse.
  2. Review and test agency functions that prevent and address sexual abuse.
    • Test the accessibility of contacting outside supportive services in your facility. (Do the numbers connect with the intended people who can provide services? Can they be accessed in confidential ways?)
    • Test the external reporting process to ensure reports are given to your facility in a timely manner.
    • Practice the facility’s coordinated response using scenarios with staff.
  3. Host SAAM awareness and engagement activities for those in your facility.
    • Promote creative activities, such as a poster contest related to sexual violence prevention.
    • Invite a community-based organization to hold an event at your facility.
  4. Participate in your community’s efforts to prevent and address sexual abuse.
    • Attend your community’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).
    • Collaborate with your community’s local rape crisis center, and attend their SAAM events.
  5. Build an internal community of staff and people who are incarcerated who are committed to addressing sexual safety in ways that are trauma-informed and survivor-centered. 
    • Establish a multi-disciplinary PREA implementation and incident review team to evaluate current institutional sexual safety practices.
    • Collaborate with those who are incarcerated to start a PREA peer-education group. 



SAAM Perspective Piece

Community members have the power and, arguably, the responsibility to look out for one another’s well-being. Whether your community is your neighborhood, a recreational activity with which you are involved, or, as we often discuss at the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Resource Center, the confinement facility in which you work, you can play a role in building and maintaining safety.

This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s theme is “building connected communities to prevent and address sexual violence.” To shine a light on community-driven prevention, we talked with representatives of confinement agencies and rape crisis programs that are doing collaborative work to enhance their prevention and intervention programs. Here is what they shared:

Thomas Yellow Boy, PREA Coordinator for the Wanbli Wiconi Tipi Juvenile Detention Center, reports that screening has helped his agency connect youth with the services they need.

“We identify unreported survivors of sexual violence in the community through PREA screenings at intake. Survivors in the community that have never reported are now safe to report and the process towards some type of healing can begin with advocacy, counseling, and programs.” Several of these programs are led by community organizations, including mental health counseling, which provides continuity of care when the youth are no longer behind bars, and treatment planning for substance use. Yellow Boy also points to the importance of shared responsibility for safety among staff within his agency. “Prevention is not one person’s responsibility .... All staff are in a position to prevent sexual violence in one way or another through vigilance and communication.”

In the South Carolina Department of Corrections, rape crisis counselors run Pathways to Healing programs for incarcerated survivors inside the walls of some facilities. PREA Coordinator Kenneth James explains that “having staff from the local rape crisis center within [a facility] allows people behind bars direct access to community advocates and emotional support specialists without having to call a phone number or write to an address.” Emotional support advocates provide a range of programs, including yoga classes, trauma-informed care classes, and support programs. “When there is an allegation of sexual abuse or sexual harassment, the emotional support advocates are on the scene, meeting with the survivors within minutes to hours instead of days,” James reports. “Having survivor community services inside of institutions shows survivors that the community is still invested in them, and they are not alone, which can have a significant impact on the reduction of sexual abuse.”  

Tatiana Piper, Community Advocate Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Coalition to Advance Respect, has helped several jails in Pennsylvania advance their collaborative work with rape crisis centers. For example, a county in northeast Pennsylvania brought together a community response team with a variety of stakeholders to strategize a creative way to assist incarcerated residents. Piper notes the importance of investing in relationships. “[T]he best collaborations to address and prevent sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in confinement come when the front-end work has been done to develop relationships rooted in humanity and mutual respect,” she explains. To be most effective, she encourages everyone committed to sexual safety in confinement to focus on the common goal of dismantling the culture that allows for sexual violence to occur.

To build relationships, Leyla Dost, Program Officer and Survivor Council Member at Just Detention International, advises confinement agencies to reach out to advocates and survivors to talk about challenges and find solutions together. 

“It takes having difficult conversations, learning from advocates, listening to survivors, and centering marginalized voices, then taking informed action based on the conversations and collaborating to find solutions. We must keep these conversations alive, and back that up by coming together as a team, putting the dialogue into practice, and implementing change.”

As individuals and as community members, as staff in correctional facilities and as members of our society at large, our voices and actions have power. By working together to achieve our shared goals, we have the ability to implement cultures in confinement settings where sexual abuse and sexual harassment are never tolerated, and where individuals who are incarcerated are safe, this month and always. 

Graphic of a person speaking to another person with text that reads "Every person has a role in preventing sexual violence. What role wil you play?"