Sexual Violence Awareness Week: why the language used around sexual assault is so important to get right
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Sexual Violence Awareness Week: why the language used around sexual assault is so important to get right

7 February - 13 February marks Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

According to charity Rape Crisis, one in five women have experienced rape or sexual assault as an adult.

As part of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, which runs from 7 February to 13 February, campaign groups are raising awareness of sexual abuse and violence and providing opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Recent high-profile sexual abuse cases, from the ongoing civil lawsuit against Prince Andrew to systemic “rape culture” within the Metropolitan police has brought concerns about the way we talk about sexual violence to the forefront.

In a powerful post shared via Twitter, The Rowan Project, an East-Anglia based charity offering free counselling for rape victims, highlighted the language we shouldn’t accept, use or normalise when it comes to sexual violence.

While it is common to hear the phrases “underage woman,” “child prostitute,” “sex with a minor,” and particularly when sexual abuse is discussed in a legal context, the project shared a simple but poignant reminder: “There is no such thing. An underage woman is a child.”

Showing the phrases crossed out and written over, the group shared “Children can’t consent. They’re rape victims or sexual assault survivors.”

Explaining how the terms can “trivialise sexual assault and add to rape culture,” the project wrote: “We really need to look at the language that we just accept as “normal” in the legal system.”

Highlighting the phrase “non-consensual sex,” it continued: “Rapists don’t deserve politeness and victims deserve validation for what they’ve been through.”

“It’s rape, call it rape.”

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In a separate Twitter post, which highlighted questions that victims of sexual abuse or assault should not be asked, the group continued: “It’s important to encourage the conversation and challenge the myths about rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse which minimise the gravity of the crimes and lessen the ability to hold perpetrators to account.”

Monitoring and changing the way we talk about sexual assault is just the beginning of what needs to be done to tackle the deeper issue.

As part of the awareness week, victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse are being encouraged to seek help from the NHS as part of a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of the support offered by the numerous sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) across England.

The campaign is being accompanied by a £20m boost to specialist services and the creation of two new clinical lead roles for domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Sexual assault referral centres provide a safe space and dedicated care for people who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. If you have been raped, sexually assaulted or abused and don’t know where to turn, search “sexual assault referral centres” to find out more or visit www.nhs.uk/SARCs to find your nearest service. 

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Images: Getty