April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). For the past 20 years, the global campaign has fought to raise visibility about sexual assault and share how it can be prevented. Sexual violence is not a personal problem – it is a public health, human rights and social justice issue. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. SAAM aims to end sexualized violence and achieve a world free from abuse through educating communities and individuals on healthy sexuality, consent and bystander intervention.
This year, SAAM is bringing awareness to the shadow pandemic after seeing a significant increase in online sexual harassment and domestic violence during COVID-19. Themed “We Can Build Safe Online Spaces”, the campaign is focused on preventing sexual abuse online and providing survivors with trauma-informed spaces. Lockdowns moved harassment from the streets to social media, causing the same psychological damage. Victims have been left feeling unsafe with cyberviolence having the potential to lead to physical harm.
In Malaysia, the Sexual Harassment Bill has still not been tabled although online sexual harassment continues to rise amid the pandemic. An Anti-Stalking Law has not been passed either to protect individuals from both offline and online stalking and harassment. Among the increase in digital misogyny and harassment, local online searches related to intimate partner violence has grown by almost 50% and searches seeking domestic violence has grown by 70% since the Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented.
We must work together when it comes to ending sexual assault, harassment and abuse. Join us this Sexual Assault Awareness Month as we raise awareness, show actional support to survivors, promote equality and change social norms. We all share the responsibility to create safer communities, online and offline, that are free from sexual violence.
If you or anyone you know is a victim, you can contact the Women’s Aid Organisation Hotline at 03 3000 8858 or SMS/WhatsApp TINA at 018 988 8058 .