April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an important time to raise awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault and to cultivate resources for survivors. This year, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, has chosen the theme We Can Build Safe Online Spaces. This is an essential topic and more important than ever with the impact of the internet and social media on our culture.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes any type of unwanted sexual contact — either in person or online — including sexual assault, harassment, and abuse.”
What does online sexual violence look like? This might include youth being groomed for exploitation by predators online through social media or apps, individuals receiving unwanted sexual content from others, feeling coerced or forced to send sexual content to others online, and Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), which is also called child pornography. It also impacts adults in many ways such as being sent unwanted sexual content, being asked to send sexual content, ignoring clear boundaries, and coercive communication.
If you are a parent looking to support your child in creating a safe space online, talk to them openly about the content they are viewing. Be sure to speak from a place of curiosity without judgement. Share an interest in what they find interesting. Many kids will be happy to talk about the things that they find interesting, and it will help them to feel seen and understood. Educate your children about how to stay safe online by talking about what is and is not appropriate content, how to report inappropriate content, and how to speak up to you about seeing something that feels inappropriate.
How can we facilitate a safe space online for ourselves and our loved ones? For ourselves, we can start by being mindful of the content that we intentionally engage with. We can use social media intentionally by liking, commenting on, and following pages that feel safe and enjoyable. We can block, mute, unfriend, or unfollow people or pages that post harmful or invasive content. We can take time away from social media and the online world by intentionally turning our devices at night and engaging in activities that feel mindful and promote feelings of peace and calm.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can create a safe online space for yourself in many ways, such as:
Connect with a support group, online or in person. You can find a directory of support groups for sexual assault survivors by going here: https://www.211oc.org/sexual-abuse-support-groups.html
RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incent National Network) hosts The National Sexual Assault Hotline, which also has an online chat option. You can contact the hotline at 800-656-HOPE(4673) or utilize the online chat function by going here: https://rainn.org/
Engage in a movement practice that support healing. A great resource for survivors is the organization Transcending Sexual Trauma Through Yoga, which trains individuals in providing trauma informed yoga and offers an 8-week class program, which is also being offered virtiually. You can find more information by going here: http://www.zabieyamasaki.com/about/transcending-sexual-trauma-through-yoga
Listen to podcasts that provide support in healing from sexual assault. You can find more information by going here: https://unapologeticallysurviving.com/rec/podcasts/
Listen to podcasts that provide education on sexual assault. You can find more information by going here: https://www.nsvrc.org/podcasts
Connect with online communities that support sexual assault survivors. You can find more information by going here: https://www.womenslaw.org/find-help/national/chats-and-message-boards
Follow social media pages that support survivors in their healing. One amazing example of social media accounts that promote healing for survivors is @speakoutcuse on Instagram. You can find their page here: https://www.instagram.com/speakoutcuse/ and you can read an amazing written about how this page is empowering BIPOC survivors by going here: https://www.thenewshouse.com/off-campus/can-the-internet-bring-salvation-to-survivors-of-color/
Find supportive resources online. Metoo published A Toolkit for Survivors During Covid-19. You can find more information by going here: https://metoomvmt.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/MeToo-COVID-Response_TOOLKIT.pdf