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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about sexual violence, how to prevent it, and how to support those who are affected by it.

Each year, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) identifies a theme for the month. This year’s theme“Building Safe Online Spaces Together,” focuses on promoting online communities that value respect, inclusion, and safety.

Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can take many shapes and forms and can happen anywhere, including online. When we connect online, it is essential to practice digital consent, intervene when we see harmful content or behaviors, and make sure that online spaces classrooms, social media platforms, work platforms, or other spaces are respectful and safe.

“Planned Parenthood is a trusted provider of sexual and reproductive health care, and thus is a place where patients can turn after experiencing sexual violence. We strive to make sure all of our staff are trauma-informed and are well-equipped to talk with survivors about their options, provide crisis intervention, and create a space for them to process their experience,” said Tessa, Care Coordination Program Manager. “Our Care Coordination staff are highly trained as sexual violence and intimate partner violence advocates, and we work to create a safe and supportive environment for all survivors.”

Ensuring young people have access to sex education that includes discussion of consent, boundary-setting, and healthy relationships is another important tool in preventing violence.  As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood helps people learn how to communicate about sex respectfully and confidently, make the best decisions for their lives, and engage in healthy relationships.

Consent is a necessary part of having safe, fun, and healthy sex and relationships. We define consent as the following:

  • Freely given Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Reversible Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
  • Informed You can only consent to something if you have all of the information you need. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
  • Enthusiastic When it comes to sex, you should only do what you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
  • Specific Saying yes to one thing doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to other things. For example, consenting to make out with someone does not mean you’ve consented to other acts.

Planned Parenthood also understands that while some people find catharsis and empowerment through sharing their experiences with sexual violence, others choose not to share their experiences for a variety of reasons.

We respect and support survivors’ decisions about whether or not to disclose or report their assault, and offer referrals for resources on sexual assault, including counseling and support groups. Planned Parenthood staff screen for abuse, provide referrals in a safe setting, and are committed to their roles as caring and trusted health care providers.