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University of North Alabama observes Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and across the nation, there are remembrances for the victims of sexual assault crimes including here in Alabama.

The awareness month got its start in the 1940s and 1950s when social change and equality movements started to gain more attention.

One major piece of the month is the national Take Back the Night (TBTN) movement. TBTN began in the 1970s following violence against women in San Francisco gained media attention.

Following those events, TBNT began to make its way onto college campuses across America.

“In the 80s, hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the U.S. began holding marches and rallies on their campuses in honor of Take Back the Night,” said Andrea Hunt a professor of sociology and the executive director of the Mitchell West Center for Social Inclusion at The University of North Alabama. “And this has continued to evolve over time, and now includes rallies and vigils, gatherings, all of these to help survivors in the healing process and to educate others on ways to affect change and to create a culture and community centered on safety.”

UNA is no exception to Take Back The Night’s efforts. The campus will be hosting their very own TBTN event called Shine Your Light: Take Back the Night on April 17 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the campus’s Rivers Hall Patio.[

Hunt said the purpose of the event is to raise awareness to the rate of sexual assaults across America.

“We want to make sure that we are continuing to bring awareness around the rates of sexual assault that happen all across the United States, but also how we can continue to combat this. And so having these events during sexual assault awareness month creates an opportunity for students and for our campus to come together and to really take a stand around sexual and domestic violence,” she said.

Hunt explained that the signs of that someone experiencing sexual or domestic violence can vary from hypervigilance to social isolation, and said it’s not a one size fits all reaction. She also said there are several misconceptions surrounding sexual assault.

“Some of the common misconceptions are around gender. That these things don't happen to men, that men are not victims and survivors, which prevents men from coming forward and seeking help. There's also some common misconceptions that it only happens to certain people, which then makes people feel sometimes that they've done something wrong, if they're in a relationship, where they're experiencing this,” Hunt explained. “We also have common misconceptions that sexual assault, perpetrators are always stranger[s] or somebody that's jumping out of the bush. And that is also a common misconception, because oftentimes, it's somebody that you know, or that you're familiar with.”

Hunt also said that combatting sexual assault is education.

“It starts with really educating ourselves. And so learning about the rates of sexual and domestic violence, learning about those warning signs, and then getting involved in your community. So right here in the Shoals community, we have One Place of the Shoals, which does a lot of work on combating these issues, and they are always seeking volunteers. And so there's all kinds of ways to not only educate ourselves, but to be a part of this work, even in a volunteer capacity to create that larger support system in our communities,” she said.

For more sexual assault related resources and the national sexual assault hotline, click here.

Andrea Tinker is a student intern at Alabama Public Radio. She is majoring in News Media with a minor in African American Studies at The University of Alabama. In her free time, Andrea loves to listen to all types of music, spending time with family, and reading about anything pop culture related.

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