Apparently I Am “Overly Concerned” With Sexual Assault
According to someone I know, I am “overly concerned with sexual assault” as the women’s issue that I am fixated on.
I don’t think you can be overly concerned with sexual assault. I don’t think it is possible to be overly concerned with something that impacts 20-25% of the population. I also don’t think it’s possible to be overly concerned with domestic violence.
Honestly, I don’t think it is possible to be overly concerned with gender based violence. At all. Ever. Truthfully, I think most of the world is under-concerned with gender based violence.
Today, I had the privilege of attending an event hosted by the Wilson Center here in Washington, DC, on domestic violence in post-conflict zones. Among the speakers were two representatives of the International Rescue Committee and the Deputy Minister of Gender and Development for Libera. I have incredible respect for the work done by ever member of the panel that spoke, and the way that they framed domestic violence in the context of development and peacebuilding really hit home for me.
“Violence in the home normalizes violence in the streets, normalizes violence in communities, normalizes violence by the state”-Pamela Shifman, the NoVo Foundation
That quote, more than anything, stood out to me as the core reason why we cannot afford to keep writing off domestic and sexual violence as “private matters”, putting them on a back burner as nice things to work out but not really priorities. Without dealing with Gender Based Violence, we will never stabilize societies, we will never equalize the sexes, we will never create lasting peace in communities. We will continue to normalize not just violence against women but violence in general.
As Gloria Steinem so perfectly stated, “You cannot have democracies without democratic families”.
It’s not just here in the United States that we should be concerned with gender based violence. It is one of the universal problems of the world. In Liberia, almost 80% of ALL violence perpetrated against women is perpetrated by a husband or boyfriend. That’s a pretty freaking big percentage. We like to say that “empowering women” will change the social structure so that violence against women will cease, but this has NOT proven to be the case, no matter what development practitioners are trying to pitch. I am all for empowering women, and there are MANY good results that we see coming from women’s empowerment initiatives, but this is not one of them. You could make a strong case that women have been empowered in the US, and possibly an even stronger one for Sweden, but in reality, both of these places have serious problems with sexual violence and domestic violence. If straight up empowerment isn’t the answer, then that leaves us staring into space wondering what on earth the real solution might be.
And with that kind of question still hanging over our heads, I really don’t think it is possible to be overly concerned with this problem. In Liberia, a huge number of DV cases lead to the death of the woman involved. While in the US the problem does not as often reach that level, the fact remains that our justice system still often has trouble dealing with domestic violence, continuing to treat it as a “private issue” when in fact it is a violation of the law and a serious public health problem.
And it all boils down to attitudes towards women. But it’s not about how women think about themselves; its about how men think about women. And when we continue to write this off as a women’s issue, when women’s issues never get the attention they deserve, we do a disservice to those who are suffering in silence, both in America and around the world. When we continue to write this off as a lower-tier priority, we abandon women to years of abuse and in many cases death. When we continue to let our society judge this as a private matter, we are failing to protect those who truly need help-~-the vulnerable, the abused, the terrified. And when we classify this as a women’s issue, we forget about male survivors. In all of these cases, we are failing as a society.
I am a rape crisis-counselor. My experience is with sexual violence-~-with sexual assault. If I seem “overly concerned”, it is because I am acutely aware of the impact that this problem has on the lives of millions of women AND MEN. But I am just as concerned with other forms of gender based violence, especially domestic violence.
One in three women around the world will experience some sort of violence over the course of her life.
That’s not something you can be “overly concerned” about.
That’s something that we need to change.