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April 1, 2021

20th Anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

History of Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

Different members from Women’s Advocates’ staff periodically write posts on topics that are relevant to the work we do as an organization.  While Women’s Advocates is supported by Grant No. A-CVS-2018-WOMADV-00013, awarded by the Office on Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs – the opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice or Women’s Advocates as a whole.
*Content Warning: The following blog consists of information regarding sexual violence. Please proceed reading with care. 

April 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), but it is evident that its history runs even deeper than the past two decades. From its origin, SAAM was about raising awareness and prevention. The designation of this month is a part of the larger movement to end sexual violence of all forms. The first step in being able to end sexual violence is to increase collective awareness of this experience.

Because of this, it is very important to look at the roots and the history of SAAM and the movement to end sexual violence as a whole. A significant number of advocates for sexual violence prevention gained traction alongside the Civil Rights movement due to female activists of color constantly challenging the status quo. The first rape crisis center was founded in 1971 in San Francisco. This is the same city where the first U.S. Take Back the Night event was held seven years later, which is the earliest global movement to stand against sexual violence, especially violence against women. Over the following decades, survivors mobilized and called for both legislation and funding that would support survivors, including the Violence Against Women Act 1993 (VAWA).  Passage of the VAWA highlighted the national push for preventing sexual violence. 

Even before the establishment of SAAM in 2001, advocates around the world initiated efforts on different levels to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault. By the mid-2000s, SAAM incorporated prevention more heavily, delving into and extensively focusing on the issues in communities, workplaces, and college campuses. These campaigns of the mid-2000s discussed ways that individuals and communities could stop sexual assault before it happened, specifically by changing relational behaviors and promoting respect. This message of prevention outlined the groundwork for the SAAM that we can observe today. In more recent years, SAAM has focused on bringing in audiences beyond those that have ‘advocate’ in their job title, ranging from parents and faith leaders to coaches. Modern SAAM campaigns focus on how these folks can become agents of change, furthering the prevention efforts launched all those years ago. 


In 2006, survivor and activist Tarana Burke coined the phrase “Me Too” and founded the organization to help and unite folks who had survived sexual violence. The phrase and movement following the viral hashtag #MeToo has helped survivors all over the world recognize the fact that they are not alone in their experience and trauma. 

Once the hashtag went viral, the original grassroots movement expanded vastly worldwide. Millions of survivors were speaking out, and Burke and the rest of her organization recognized they needed help. Over a period of six months, the MeToo organization expanded its responsibilities to help survivors all over the world. 

Now, Burke and her team are constantly working to broaden their platform to help survivors of all different backgrounds: young people, queer, trans, the disabled, Black women and girls, and all communities of color. They are also working to address the wider, systemic issues that allow sexual violence to continue today, focusing on accountability for perpetrators and implementing strategies to create lasting change. 

Learn more about #MeToo and Tarana Burke’s mission here and about the current timeline of the global #MeToo movement in this article from the Chicago Tribune 


This blog was written by Mary McDonnell, a Women’s Advocates’ volunteer and student at Macalester College. 
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