CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- It has been nearly 40 years since activists first started to use this month to bring attention to sexual violence. However, in 2001, for the first time, the U.S. observed Sexual Assault Awareness Month nationally during April. President Barack Obama was the first U.S. president to proclaim April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. It has become an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate the Benelux community and individuals on how to prevent this crime from occurring.

Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter your age, your race or ethnicity, your gender identity, or your sexual orientation. The World Health Organization conducted comprehensive global surveys and reported that one in three women will experience sexual and/or physical violence in their lifetime. In some countries, that number ascends to 70 percent or higher. U.S. researchers have found that one in six men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before the age of 18 and that one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

Perpetrators can be any gender identity, sexual orientation, or age, and they can have any relationship to the victim. Like all perpetrators, they might use psychological and emotional coercion tactics or physical force. Most perpetrators are known to their victims.

It doesn't have to be this way. We all can get involved in making a difference and ending sexual violence.

I ALWAYS WONDERED WHY SOMEBODY DIDN'T DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT; THEN I REALIZED I AM SOMEBODY!

How can you prevent sexual assault? It is essential to learn how to intervene in a way that is appropriate for the situation and your comfort level. Being an active bystander can make all the difference and save lives.

1. Create a distraction. This can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.
2. Ask directly. Talk directly to the person at risk and offer your help.
3. Refer to an authority such as the police, security guard, bartender, another employee, etc.
4. Enlist others. Ask someone to come with you to approach the person at risk; ask someone to intervene in your place.

By speaking up and stepping in, you are potentially preventing a sexual assault, and you are also helping change the way people think about their role in sexual assault prevention. If you have been or are a victim of sexual assault or suspect that someone you know has been sexually assaulted you can contact the 24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline at 0476-76-22-64, DOD Safe Helpline at 001-877-995-5247, or the Belgium SOS Rape Helpline: (French): 02-534-36-36.

For more information on SAAPM, visit www.safehelpline.org or www.aideauxvictimes.be.