April 2024 marks the 23rd anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

SAAM is part of a broad herstory of anti-violence work and was founded by the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre in the US to educate, call for political and legal reform and to end sexual violence against women.

BWSS recognizes that the herstory of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is rooted in decades of feminist advocacy work and can be dated back to the advocacy of Black women before and during the civil rights movement.

For over a decade before her well-known role in sparking the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks was active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as an organizer and an investigator.

One of her many roles within NAACP included organizing against sexual violence and supporting Black women who had been sexually assaulted by white men. She played a lead role in drawing public attention to the 1944 sexual assault of Recy Taylor, a young Black woman in Alabama. Parks’ advocacy led to the case receiving national attention and shifting public opinion towards equality for Black women.

Left out from herstory, Rosa Parks’ lesser-known role as an organizer against sexual violence towards Black women in America’s south paved the way for other women and organizations to take action against the failure of the justice system to protect women, including BIPOC women, from sexual violence.

Advocacy specific to gender-based violence and sexual violence prevention and response began through peer-based community building with and for survivors.

For decades, survivors and allies advocated for awareness, law and policy reform and community support.

Drawing on these decades of work, the first Take Back the Night march in the US was held in 1978 and led to an increased awareness of sexual and intimate partner violence.

It didn’t take long for the movement to gain more traction and grow. In Canada, the first rape crisis centre was opened in 1981 and its creation paved the way for further anti-violence organizations in Canada.

BWSS remains committed to working to combat sexual violence with an emphasis in intimate partner sexual violence.

Intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV) is any form of sexual assault that takes place within an intimate relationship. It includes not only marital rape, but all other forms of sexual assault that take place within a current or former intimate relationship, whether the partners are married or not.

BWSS recognizes that sexual violence is pervasive in our society and that individuals, institutions, and political and social structures perpetuate sexual violence against women and femmes.

States are accessories to individual acts of violence through their silence and their lack of willingness to sentence perpetrators according to the severity of their actions. Lenient sentences do not serve as deterrents and the legal system often functions to retraumatize the victim and to protect the perpetrator.

In Canada, the legal system aids and abets perpetrators by weaponizing the recent R v. Jordan framework. Originally intended to uphold the right of a defendant to be tried within a reasonable timeframe the Jordan framework is used instead as a tool to further victimize women by being invoked tactically to favour perpetrators of gender-based violence. For more information on the Jordan framework, see our recent blog post here.

BWSS stands with women and femmes the world over and honours the incredible work done over the decades to shed light on and combat sexual violence against women.

The work to prevent sexual violence continues both on the local and national levels in recognition of the fact that women’s bodies are sovereign, that BIPOC women are particularly vulnerable and that sexual violence is a human rights and social justice issue that demands our attention.