Groups Work to Build Safe Online Spaces This Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Lily Bohlke | Public News Service
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence urges people needing support around issues of sexual violence to go to or call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) to be directed to the nearest crisis center. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Nearly one in five women in the U.S. have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, and advocates want survivors to know resources are available to them.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said this year in particular, they’re hoping to raise awareness of online sexual harassment and violence.

She pointed out with the pandemic, people are not only using online spaces for leisure, but also for work and school.

“Online abuse and trauma are somewhat commonplace in online spaces,” Palumbo explained. “People making victim-blaming comments or sexual-harassing comments, people preying on children or young adults in online spaces.”

Palumbo argued it’s important for workplaces and schools to create expectations for what safe and healthy conduct looks like online, as well as how to ensure online spaces are secure, to prevent things like “Zoom bombing” or other harmful activities.

Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said a culture shift is necessary to be more supportive of survivors.

She noted New Hampshire has made progress in recent years, removing the civil statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault, and requiring colleges and universities to implement sexual misconduct policies, but contended there is still room to grow.

“We know that most sexual assault victims don’t come forward because they fear being blamed,” Schollett remarked. “They fear being shamed. And we as a society have an obligation to create an environment that is more welcoming, that is more in a position to believe victims when they tell us what happened to them.”

In Washington D.C., Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Schollett stressed the legislation is crucial for survivors in New Hampshire.

Not only does it provide funding streams to Granite State crisis centers, but she added it also ensures a wide array of rights for survivors, from protecting confidentiality at crisis centers to protecting survivors who need immigration relief.

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