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Every April for the past five decades, advocates across the country have organized to promote sexual violence awareness and prevention. These efforts grew out of social change movements championed by Black women and women of color. The historical lessons and wisdom to work at the intersections of race-based and gender-based violence could not be more needed than now. It’s also clear that Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) this year will be unlike any other in recent memory. 
 
This SAAM, we want to uplift the incredible work of advocates during this very challenging time. All sexual and domestic violence programs in Massachusetts continue to provide services. Advocates are answering hotline calls 24/7, providing support to sexual assault victims seeking medical care, offering modified shelter, talking to survivors about safety planning and other needs, and using their creativity and resilience to offer virtual outreach and prevention education services. Programs have rapidly transitioned to providing many of their services remotely, utilizing technology to continue supporting survivors. Their commitment and passion to ending sexual and domestic violence is nothing short of awe-inspiring. 
 
So how do we mark SAAM while being mindful of the current challenges and concurrent trauma as a result of COVID19? 
 
At JDI, we’ve been talking a lot about the overlapping public health issues of sexual and domestic violence and the coronavirus pandemic. The similarities deserve our attention – both to ensure that our responses match our values and that we do not bake in the systemic barriers that leave people living at the intersections further on the margins. 
 
While everyone is being impacted, as is true with most public health issues, we are not all impacted in the same way when it comes to sexual violence and the current pandemic. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color) communities, LGBTQQI+ people, immigrants, people living in prisons or immigration detention centers are among the most vulnerable to sexual assault and the least likely to have access to services. We must address these disparities and inequities when it comes to this pandemic and to our ongoing work to prevent and end sexual violence, people living at the intersections of oppression will continue to suffer more gravely.
 
This SAAM, we will honor those who have experienced sexual violence by raising awareness of their needs now and always, by supporting JDI’s members and the broader network of sexual and domestic violence providers, and by advocating for funding and policy that centers those who are most marginalized. 
 
What can you do to honor survivors and mark SAAM? 
 
Stay Connected – Social isolation can feel scary and pose more risks for people experiencing abuse. We’re encouraging everyone to practice physically distancing ourselves while remaining socially connected. Find creative ways to stay connected and in community with your friends, coworkers, neighbors and relatives. And be prepared to connect someone to an advocate if they are experiencing harm. 
 
Model and Talk About Consent – Take the opportunity to learn more and have a conversation with your friends, partners/spouses, and children. Check out the materials created by NSVRC. 
 
Participate in SAAM – While in-person events have been cancelled, here are a few ways to participate.
 
  • Throughout April – engage with us on social media and spread the word. Watch for notices of online events hosted by JDI member programs and our allies. And join the #30DaysofSAAM Instagram challenge
  • April 5 -11: Survived & Punished Virtual Week of Action to defend survivors end carceral feminism
  • April 7 – Share a Teal Selfie with #IAsk and #SAAM on the National Day of Action
  • April 29 – Pull out those blue jeans for international Denim Day
  • April 29 – Join JDI for a Circle of Conversation on Reproductive Justice 
 
Support JDI and Your Local Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Programs – This April and throughout the year, we rely on the generosity of people like you who donate their time, talent and treasure. 
 
From all of us at JDI, I wish you all peace and good health.