With respect for, and in solidarity with survivors, The Waterfront Project recognizes April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month
This month is dedicated to increasing public awareness about sexual violence, advocating for survivors, and educating communities on how to prevent sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a pervasive issue that affects people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives. These statistics are staggering, and they illustrate the urgent need for more awareness, education, and support for survivors.
Survivors of sexual assault face a multitude of challenges, including physical injuries, emotional trauma, and societal stigmatization. Many experience feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame, which can exacerbate their trauma and prevent them from seeking help. This is why it is so important to raise awareness about sexual violence and to promote a culture of support and healing for survivors.
As attorneys, we are dedicated to helping survivors navigate the legal system and obtain the justice they deserve; we advocate for their rights, providing emotional support, and ensuring that their voices are heard. The Waterfront Project is committed to working with survivors to help them heal from the trauma of sexual assault and to create a world where sexual violence is not tolerated.
However, the fight against sexual assault requires a collective effort from everyone in society to address the root causes of sexual violence and to create a culture of consent and respect. We must educate ourselves and others about the dynamics of sexual violence, challenge harmful attitudes and beliefs, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
There are many ways to get involved in Sexual Assault Awareness Month, whether you are a survivor, an ally, or a member of the community. Some suggestions include:
- Educate yourself and others about sexual violence: There are many resources available online, including the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and RAINN, that provide information on sexual violence and its effects.
- Speak out against harmful attitudes and beliefs: Challenge stereotypes and myths about sexual violence, and promote a culture of consent and respect.
- Support survivors by listening to them, validating their experiences, and offering emotional support.
- Advocate for policy changes and support legislative efforts to improve laws and policies that protect survivors of sexual violence.
- Get involved in local organizations that provide support and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence. Consider volunteering or donating to these organizations.
Challenges with the Legal System
The legal system can be a daunting and challenging place for survivors of sexual assault who are seeking help. Despite the many laws and policies that have been put in place to protect survivors, there are still numerous obstacles that survivors may face when navigating the legal system.
One of the biggest challenges survivors face is the stigma and shame that is often associated with reporting sexual violence. Many survivors fear that they will not be believed, that they will be blamed for the assault, or that they will face retaliation from the perpetrator or their community. This fear can prevent them from coming forward to report the assault or seek help, leaving survivors feeling isolated and unsupported.
Another challenge that survivors may face is a lack of resources and support. The legal system can be difficult to navigate. Survivors may struggle to find legal representation, understand their rights, or access resources such as counseling or medical care. This lack of support can make it difficult for them to feel empowered to pursue justice and can exacerbate the trauma of the assault.
The legal system itself can be a challenge as court proceedings can be lengthy and stressful. It requires survivors to recount their experiences in front of strangers and relive the trauma of the assault. Survivors may also face aggressive cross-examination by defense attorneys, which can be re-traumatizing and further undermine their credibility. The criminal justice system can also be unpredictable, with cases often taking years to resolve and outcomes that may not feel like justice for the survivor.
Finally, survivors of sexual assault may face systemic barriers to accessing justice, particularly if they belong to marginalized communities. Women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those with disabilities may face additional discrimination and bias within the legal system, making it even harder for them to receive the help and support they need.
Despite these challenges, it is important to remember that there are resources available to help survivors navigate the legal system. Advocacy organizations, such as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and RAINN, provide information and support to survivors and can help connect them with legal representation and other resources. Victim advocates can provide emotional support and help survivors understand their options within the legal system.
New Jersey provides a variety of resources for survivors of sexual assault to seek help and support. Here are some of the resources available in the state:
- New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA) – NJCASA is a statewide coalition of sexual violence prevention and intervention programs. They provide resources and support to survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones. NJCASA also offers training and technical assistance to professionals who work with survivors.
- New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice (NJDCJ) – The NJDCJ administers the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program, which provides specialized forensic medical services to sexual assault survivors. SANE nurses are trained to provide medical care and evidence collection for survivors of sexual assault.
- New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) – The DCF provides services to children who have been victims of sexual abuse, including counseling, medical care, and legal advocacy. They also offer support services to non-offending caregivers of child sexual abuse victims.
- New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline – The Domestic Violence Hotline provides crisis intervention, safety planning, and referrals to survivors of domestic violence, including those who have experienced sexual violence. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) – The VCCO provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime, including sexual assault. The program can help victims with medical expenses, counseling, lost wages, and other costs related to the assault.
- New Jersey Office of the Attorney General – The Attorney General’s office oversees the state’s sexual assault policies and initiatives. They also provide information and resources to survivors of sexual assault, including information on how to report the assault and where to find support.
- New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women – The Coalition for Battered Women provides services and support to survivors of domestic violence, including those who have experienced sexual assault. They offer crisis intervention, counseling, and legal advocacy services.
- Hudson Speaks – Hudson Speaks is a sexual assault prevention, intervention and after care center in Hudson County that strives to empower individuals and elevate the voices of survivors through diversity initiatives, culturally relevant advocacy and trauma-informed direct services.
- WomenRising, Inc. – WomenRising is a community based organization that provides supportive counseling, crisis intervention, workforce development, shelter, advocacy and more for survivors.
Ultimately, it is essential that we continue to work towards creating a legal system that is supportive and responsive to the needs of survivors of sexual assault. This includes addressing systemic barriers to justice, increasing access to resources and support, and promoting a culture that believes and supports survivors of sexual violence. By working together, we can create a society where survivors of sexual assault can feel empowered to seek justice and heal from the trauma of the assault.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about sexual violence, advocate for survivors, and educate communities on how to prevent sexual assault. Waterfront urges everyone to join the fight against sexual violence and to support survivors in their journey towards healing and justice.