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May 27, 2020

Trump’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is problematic

By GILLIAN LELCHUK | April 6, 2017


Susan Sullivan/cc by-sa 4.0 The Engaging New Voices campaign poster features a protest.

On April 1, President Trump declared that April would be Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, eliciting a collective “Seriously?” from the greater population of Trump resisters. Not only has Trump been accused of sexual assault, but Sexual Assault Awareness Month was established in 2001.

The pure irony in Trump’s declaration was not lost on anyone. In fact, I saw memes and jokes about it before I saw any actual news reporting on his decision. I thought this was a newspaper’s April Fool’s joke that had spread far and wide because it was so funny.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Trump actually put out an order. April is now officially, as dictated by the President of the goddamn United States, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

I texted a friend about it, thinking about whether having a month devoted to a cause I support was adversely colored by the fact that it was instigated by a president I very much do not support. She joked that maybe it was Trump’s April Fool’s prank. Again, it was not.

I needed to do research, because this declaration really had me spinning. How could I ignore a month completely devoted to sexual assault awareness and prevention? But how could I ignore the nuances of an actual sexual predator putting his weight behind something like this?

In supporting this month, Trump brought an issue to light that many Americans probably ignored. There are plenty of people who are going to learn about sexual assault in ways that they hadn’t previously, and they probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Trump. However, this feels like an incredibly strategic move to me.

Trump is hiding his past actions behind some pretty words and a nice gesture. If he can get away with it in such a public light, that signals to millions of Americans that they can get away with it, too, that sexual assault doesn’t have any consequences.

It might even redefine what some people consider to be sexual assault. What Trump did wasn’t sexual assault, because he’s aware of what it is and how to prevent it, right?

I scrolled through a Google search, past articles and videos denouncing Trump and musing if this whole thing was just a big Presidential April Fool’s joke, and I learned that Sexual Assault Awareness Month — in April, I might add — was already a thing. In fact, it’s been a thing since 2001. Sixteen years. And now Trump has rebranded it and stamped his seal of approval.

Is it a publicity stunt? Is he making amends? Is he trying to hide? Is he honestly so ignorant that he didn’t know it was already a thing? All of the above?

What’s with adding more words to the name, anyway? Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. It doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue. It doesn’t have a cool acronym. I mean, he had to come up with a new name, because otherwise it would be obvious that he stole the idea from someone else, but why “and Prevention”?

That got me thinking about how we talk and think about sexual assault and survivors. Would “prevention” mean education about consent? Would it entail improving bystander intervention training and requiring it in high schools, colleges and workplaces?

Or would it mean telling women how they should and shouldn’t dress, because men might think “they’re asking for it”? Would it mean telling women they were flirting too much, and that’s why they were assaulted? Would it mean telling women not to get drunk, because how would a man know not to touch them?

Would Donald Trump’s “prevention” unravel rape culture or perpetuate it?

While Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month might bring more attention to sexual assault and rape, it might all be the wrong attention.

We can’t support “activism” that perpetuates victim blaming, but we also can’t let the Donald Trump of it all distract from what has historically been an informative, progressive and far-reaching campaign led by the National Sexual Violence Research Center.

This year, their campaign is called Engaging New Voices, and they are focusing on raising conversations about sexual assault in group settings like Greek life and athletic teams.

Let’s think about what kind of Sexual Assault Awareness Month we want to promote, and let’s throw our weight behind the one that is aware of its setbacks and where it’s needed the most.

Gillian Lelchuk is a Writing Seminars and mathematics double major from Los Alamitos, Calif. She is the Opinions Editor.

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