April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an annual assault campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault. The campaign urges to prevent and eliminate sexual assault by educating people about different ways to prevent sexual assault and by directing victims of sexual assault to the appropriate authorities. The campaign is usually launched by non-governmental organizations, where they organize educational and public events, addressing the state agencies and urging them to make legislative changes to eliminate sexual assault.
The month of April was not chosen as Sexual Assault Awareness Month at random, as there is a story behind it. In the 1970s, organizations and coalitions were formed in the United States to support rape victims. Thus, the movement against rape and sexual harassment was gaining momentum and in 1976, during the “Take back the night” march, women walked to inaccessible places where they usually felt insecure, as they were more likely to be sexually assaulted at night in those areas. This march became the basis of the April activist movement, which at the same time spread throughout the United States and Europe. As a result of this movement, other large-scale actions were taken to raise awareness about violence against women. In 2000, the turquoise ribbon became a symbol of raising awareness of sexual assault, and in 2001, April was officially declared Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
But what does sexual assault mean? Sexual assault is any sexual act or attempt of a sexual act, an unwanted sexual comment or suggestion that is directed at a person’s sexuality and is done forcefully.
The main types of sexual assault are rape, sexual harassment, and sexual assault against minors.
Rape is the act or attempt of having sexual intercourse against a person’s will. This type of violence is usually singled out as primary sexual assault because in the wider society only rape is considered to be an act of sexual assault.
Rape is manifested in various ways, in the form of marital rape or rape by a partner, rape on a date, or rape in any other circumstance. It is noteworthy that in Armenia and several other societies it is accepted that sexual intercourse in marriage should be mandatory, which means, it is the wife’s duty to regularly have sexual intercourse with her husband, even if it happens without the wife’s desire or consent. However, it is necessary to categorize this phenomenon as an act that goes against the will of the person, therefore, it is an act of sexual assault.
It should be noted that sexual assault is not limited to rape․ It also includes many types of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be manifested in different ways: touching a person against their will in public places, touching different parts of the body, exhibitionism, which is the compulsive exposure of genitals in public places with the intent of showing it to people, voyeurism, the act of gaining sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked, changing their clothes, taking a bath or engaging in sexual activity without their knowledge or consent. Sexual insults, incitement to sexual intercourse through blackmail, and a sexualized look at a certain person are also considered sexual acts against a person’s will.
As for sexual assault against minors, it can also be manifested in different forms. This includes the exploitation of a child for sexual pleasure, any sexual activity against a child – glances, touches, kisses, etc., the rape of a minor, which can be committed not only through the genitals, but also through penetration by objects or genitals into any other part of the body.
With this in mind, it is necessary to use the term consent when talking about sexual assault. Consent is an agreement between people who have sex. Both parties must get conscious consent from each other before having sex.
The victims of sexual assault in Armenia are not only heterosexual people but also people from the LGBT community. According to reports by human rights organizations, LGBT people are being sexually abused by other members of the LGBT community or by their partners, as well as by people who are not part of the LGBT community.
Given the shame, stigma, and discrimination associated with victims of sexual assault, it is extremely important to raise the issue of sexual assault so that steps can be taken to prevent it.