SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: The history of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

In the early 1970s social activism surrounding sexual assault was at an all-time high. It started with support for survivors and the creation of a heightened sense of awareness around the topic.

Kori Nelson Support Within Reach column WEB.jpg
Support Within Reach

You usually hear that Sexual Violence Awareness Month is in April, but until we know its history, we cannot fully understand the extent and scale of its importance.

In the early 1970s social activism surrounding sexual assault was at an all-time high. It started with support for survivors and the creation of a heightened sense of awareness around the topic.

The first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco in 1971. Advocates in the 1970s were primarily female, survivors of rape and had no access to funding. The movement was political — at that time women were still fighting for rights in the United States.

Sexual assault was yet another issue they faced and needed to bring awareness to. The first “Take Back the Night” was held in San Francisco in 1978. In the United States, this tradition of awareness has continued into the present day. The awareness events put on in 1978 helped pave the way for the advocacy agencies of today.

The change that advocates against sexual violence needed was in the works but took many years and many challenges to see results. The first piece of legislation, the Violence Against Women Act, VAWA, was passed in 1993. VAWA recognized that something had to happen to help prevent and create awareness around sexual violence.


In 2001 the first Sexual Assault Awareness Month took place including marches and community gatherings. Community gatherings are vital to awareness and prevention because they engage people on a personal level. Through dialogue with our neighbors, we begin to understand the impact sexual violence has on our overall community.

In the year 2000, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center was formed. This led to Sexual Assault Awareness Month and understanding how we can make a bigger impact in the communities we live and work in.

Each year the NSVRC develops Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaigns with resources, graphics and tools needed to hold events in communities around the U.S.

They reach out to organizations to help create topics that need to be talked about; past themes include Building Healthy Relationships (2005), Speak out (2006), Respect Works (2009), I ask for Consent (2020) and Build Safe Online Space Together (2021).

So now what can we do in our community? Support Within Reach has several events happening in the surrounding communities.

March 24: Karaoke for a Cause will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at Fozzie’s Smokin’ Bar-BQ. Prizes will be given away for the best vocals, so come sing your heart out to your best jam. The Mix 103.7 will be DJ’ing and Fozzies will be donating a portion of their daily sales to Support Within Reach.

April 7: Our Executive Director Evett Ellis and I will join Denae Alamano from the Bemidji United Way’s Podcast with Kev Jackson at Paul Bunyan Broadcasting. Be sure to listen in.

April 21: A Take Back the Night event will be held at Bemidji State University's Lakeside fire pit from 6 to 8 p.m. Join us for a night of solidarity while supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence.


April 30: Amazing Race: Supportive Style Fundraiser. Join us for an adventure through Bemidji while raising awareness about Support Within Reach in a fun way. We are now recruiting teams to participate in the race. The team registration fee is $100. Teams can be up to four people. You can head to the Support Within Reach Facebook page and look under events for the registration link. Teams will get a clue to find out the stop location. Then race from stop to stop completing fun and unique tasks then get a clue to the next location. The first team back wins. Prizes are still being gathered so stay tuned to our social media pages for updates.

During the entire month of April, we will be tabling from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday, at MarketPlace Foods in Bemidji. We will also have a huge social media presence with posts every day. Posts will cover a variety of sexual violence topics, but also talk about healing and survivor resiliency.

Our social media pages include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube. So, head over today and "Like" or follow our pages to ensure you get event updates and post notifications. We will also have an awareness display about sexual violence up at Paul Bunyan Mall by Claires and JoAnn Fabrics.

There will be a screening of “The Tale” in Cass County during April with details to be announced. In Hubbard County, local businesses will host fundraising events including Healthy Hangout, Clancy’s on Island Lake, Bella Café and WineNot. In Itasca County, we will host a Start by Believing campaign at Itasca Community College.

We encourage you to reach out at if you want to support the ongoing supportive work in the communities we serve.

Kori Nelson is the Development and Volunteer Coordinator at Support Within Reach.

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