April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and one of the themes this year is “Building Safe Online Spaces Together.” The National Sexual Violence Resource Center coordinates a national campaign each year for this commemorative month and explains that the 2022 theme reminds us to encourage digital consent, intervene when we see harmful content and behaviors, and promote online communities that value respect, inclusion, and safety.
In his recent proclamation, President Biden referred to sexual assault as a public health crisis, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that “nearly 1 in 5 women in America experiences a rape or attempted rape, and nearly 44 percent of women and about 25 percent of all men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.”
Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is recognized by both civilian and military communities, including by the Department of Defense (DoD). Their 2022 theme—STEP FORWARD. Prevent. Report. Advocate—is a call to action for individuals at all levels of the DoD to use their personal strength to advance positive change in preventing sexual violence.
Recently, members of my staff and I attended a proclamation signing for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month at Fort Meade. At the event, 1st Lt. Rashan Legard, an advocate for sexual assault survivors, delivered a spoken word performance that was moving and powerful. A version of his performance is available on the DoD website. I encourage you to take a look.
In addition to supporting each other’s campaigns to promote sexual assault awareness and prevention during this important month, OVC and the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office collaborate on the Strengthening Military-Civilian Community Partnerships To Respond to Sexual Assault training program. This program, which is offered through the OVC Training and Technical Assistance Center, trains local community victim advocates on building effective partnerships with local military installations to enhance and extend the system of support for sexual assault victims in the military. In 2021, we delivered 3 trainings and trained 73 participants. Since its inception in 2011, we have delivered 53 training events and 4 Train-the-Trainer events and have trained 1,555 participants.
And just last week, we released an interactive, 2-hour supplemental training—Responding to Military LGBTQ+ Survivors of Sexual Assault. Throughout the training, community- and military-based advocates and allied providers will learn the current language and terms used when working with LGBTQ+ communities, identify statistics of LGBTQ+ military sexual assaults, discuss trauma-informed approaches to serving military LGBTQ+ victims, and identify on- and off-installation resources. Contact OVC TTAC at [email protected] for more information.
OVC also funds several programs to reach victims of sexual assault in underserved communities. In Fiscal Year 2021, OVC made 9 awards to establish or expand sexual assault examination programs, including sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs and sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) programs that focus on improving the provision of sexual assault care using a community-based approach, such as through a campus community, nonprofit, community-based, and/or Tribe-affiliated victim services provider. The International Association of Forensic Nurses was awarded $1.6 million to provide proactive, action-driven, flexible, victim-centered, trauma-informed training and technical assistance to the selected campus and community SANE programs throughout the United States and its territories.
In 2016, OVC launched a telehealth initiative to increase access to SANE care for victims of sexual assault in rural and underserved areas. That funding, which went to Pennsylvania State University, ultimately led to the creation of the SAFE-T Center. This spring, the SAFE-T Center will release a final report detailing 5 years of the planning, development, and implementation of a comprehensive tele-SANE program to enhance access to quality sexual assault care for adolescents and adults in rural and underserved communities. I am so excited for the field to read this report, so stay tuned!
Sexual assault is also a serious issue in juvenile detention centers. Studies show sexual victimization is less prevalent in facilities where there are enough staff to monitor what takes place in the facility and, consequently, there are fewer complaints against staff. Unfortunately, although the juvenile justice system is filled with youth who have endured this trauma, whether before or during their time in custody, victim services are rarely available.
OVC seeks to address this problem through our FY 2022 Safety, Support, and Services for Survivors of Sexual Abuse in Youth Detention solicitation. This $2.75 million program intends to support the development and enhancement of partnerships between juvenile detention centers or jails and community-based victim service providers, with the goal of increasing access to outside support services for incarcerated juvenile survivors of sexual abuse.
View our Current Funding Opportunities page to learn more about our open opportunities, including Advancing the Use of Technology to Assist Victims of Crime. OVC anticipates awarding a total of $3 million under this program to increase access to victim services and build the capacity of victim services providers to meet the needs of crime survivors through technological innovation. Applicants are encouraged, but not required, to focus on addressing online gender-based abuse and harassment and using technology to reach underserved communities.
We also anticipate awarding $6 million under the Building Capacity of National Crisis Hotlines program to enhance or expand the capacity of national hotlines that are essential for providing crisis intervention services, safety planning, information, referrals, and resources for victims of crime in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Visit the Fiscal Year 2022 Department of Justice Grants Program Plan for information about other funding opportunities that we expect to release this fiscal year.
In closing, I encourage all of you to visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center website to learn more about this year’s theme and access messaging and graphics to assist your awareness efforts about sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. Let us join the White House in pledging our commitment to “stand with survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and dismantle a culture that is complicit in allowing sexual violence to continue.”