On Friday, March 31, President Donald Trump dispensed with a fairly routine part of his Presidential duties—he issued a proclamation.
This particular proclamation, which was also issued by his predecessor President Barack Obama during each of the eight years of his presidency, recognizes the month of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Internet, never missing a beat to politicize a worthy cause while denigrating the President, snapped into action. Judging by the headlines across media outlets and the backlash on Twitter, it almost seems as though nobody was aware of the existence of Sexual Assault Awareness Month before Trump issued this fairly routine proclamation.
The folks at BuzzFeed collected some best-hit tweets in “Trump Declared April Sexual Assault Awareness Month And People Were Like ‘Sorry, What?‘” It’s worth noting that the headline’s use of the word “Declared” rather than “Proclaimed” (the more accurate and proper term) certainly seems designed to give the impression that this month of recognition, currently in its 16th year, was the ironic brainchild of Trump’s. To their credit, BuzzFeed does note in their second paragraph that “In fact, April has been proclaimed National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month every year starting with President Obama in 2009.” Among the tweets featured in this column are folks sharing his objectionable statements about women, while others wondered aloud if the timing of his proclamation had something to do with April Fool’s Day.
Let’s be very frank: Donald Trump has said some vile, heinous things about women. There’s no getting around that, and even those who supported him have pretty consistently acknowledged this and expressed dissatisfaction with it. Ivanka can decorate her West Wing office in pink vagina curtains and walk in in a pink vagina hat every day while her father, the President, brings her chai tea in a vagina-shaped mug—and it’s still not going to change this fact or make it better.
Ultimately, he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t—because we all know that had he not issued this highly-precedented proclamation, the backlash would have rightly been much worse.
The tremendously sad thing here is that our polarized country’s instinct to make everything a hyper political topic isn’t helping raise awareness about sexual assault and violence at all. Rather, it’s making the President the star of the show.
I’ve observed Sexual Assault Awareness Month in some way for several years. My sister, a sexual assault crisis counselor who was inspired to do this work in part because of my own experiences, participates in a 5k every year in Central New Jersey to support social change and prevent sexual violence. I’ve joined her for many of them. We regularly donate to support community organizations that raise awareness, promote prevention, and provide support for survivors through 24-hour hotlines, escorts to police interviews, medical examinations, and court dates. Every year, my sister gets teal extensions in her hair, even though she is a paralegal and probably looks ridiculous walking into the office with a bright teal hairpiece popping out of her light-brown hair. I even sport a teal manicure on my nubby, chewed up fingernails in solidarity and reflection of what I’ve been through.
Yes, invoking the name Donald Trump catches the eye and grabs people’s attention. No pun intended. But writing columns whose headlines lead by replacing his name with “Accused Sexual Predator” and firing out tweets with quotes from a 12-year old hot mic don’t raise awareness about sexual assault—they raise awareness about Donald Trump’s transgressions. If the awareness about them could possibly be raised any more, that is.
So, if you’re in the business of looking forward with a plan instead of looking back with hostility and a thirst to trend on Twitter, here are a few things you can do to observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April:
- Don’t sexually assault people (obvious).
- If you know somebody who has been sexually assaulted, be there for them, but do not—under any circumstances—try to fix it, or worse, fix them. When it happened to me, the most helpful people were the ones who didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with idle chatter or try to make it better. The least helpful people were the ones who told me what to do and made it about them.
- Learn about the resources available in your area for sexual assault prevention and support. Sadly, you never know when you or a loved one will need to use them.
- Support your local advocacy organizations: Some receive a very modest level of government funding, but the need is tremendous and it doesn’t come close to covering their operating costs. I’ve seen how these organizations operate; they are staffed almost entirely by volunteers, their budgets are lean, and there is next to no waste. That plus the tax write-off makes it a great investment.
- Talk about it: If you’ve been through it, if you know somebody who has been through it—it’s tough, but it’s important. Writing about my own experiences so publicly was difficult, especially considering how long it took for me to even talk about it with friends in the first place, but in the weeks and months that followed, I had dozens of wonderful conversations with friends and strangers who found it helpful to hear somebody’s story and experience with sexual assault.
- Ask questions: But not jerk-off questions like “how much did you drink” or “what were you wearing,” helpful questions like “is there something I can do to help?” or “how are you feeling?”
- Show up: Attend rallies, 5ks, events to raise awareness, support survivors, and promote prevention.
- Acknowledge and thank the people doing the real hard work of preventing sexual violence and providing support to those affected by it. It’s a lot harder to spend your Friday night talking to people on an emergency hotline than it is to fire out your thoughts about Donald Trump in 140 characters or less.