April marks both a somber and hopeful month for sexual assault awareness and prevention. Indian Health Service staff, along with many tribal partners, have taken part in events around our great nation to highlight the experiences of sexual assault survivors, educate our staff and the public about local resources, and to celebrate our community strengths.
However, sexual assault awareness and prevention should not only take place in April. There is still much to do to support survivors in our communities and for sexual assault to be prevented in the first place. Here are a few ways everyone can take action throughout the year to prevent sexual assault and to help sexual assault survivors recover and be supported:
- Modeling respectful behavior- The best way to show respect for personal and emotional boundaries is to ask directly. Promoting and practicing the use of consent within our everyday interactions sets an empowering example for our partners, friends, and loved ones. Reinforcing messages such as “It is normal to ask first,” “It is ok to say no,” and “Your choices are valued” model respectful behavior and is a powerful daily sexual assault awareness campaign in itself. For more resources on consent and the, I Ask campaign, please visit: https://www.nsvrc.org/saam
- Teaching respectful behavior to children-Can sexual assault prevention be taught during late childhood and early adolescence? Yes! By teaching the use of consent in everyday interactions, teaching concern for how one’s actions affect others, and helping children and adolescents react appropriately to negative responses will not only prevent sexual assault but may also prevent intimate partner violence and bullying. For additional sexual violence prevention strategies, please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s sexual violence prevention site: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/prevention.html
- Becoming a Medical Forensic Examiner-Responding to sexual assault survivors appropriately is the responsibility of all healthcare workers. However, there is a particular need within the Indian Health Service and tribal communities for increased access to high-quality forensic health care. Professionals trained as Registered Nurses, Physician’s Assistants, Family Nurse Practitioners, and Doctors (MD or OD) that are serving American Indian/Alaska Native patients are eligible to participate in free forensic examination training for adult/adolescent sexual assault, pediatric sexual abuse, and intimate partner violence through the Tribal Forensic Healthcare website.