This is part one in a series of articles that will explore the issues surrounding violence against women in America.
It is perhaps too often the impression of Americans that injustices such as violence against women are battles fought mainly on the shores of other nations; that within our borders, women have it easy. Certainly, the majority of women in America have a level of safety and piles of belongings that women in the developing world can only dream about.
Conceptions about the issue in this country are often grossly misconstrued, however, many choosing to ignore how common and damaging it truly is. It is without a doubt a societal problem that is largely underreported, misunderstood, and ignored (more on this to come later in the series). Buzz words like “rape” are uncomfortable, even anxiety provoking, so many find it easier to turn a blind eye.
Painting a Clearer Picture
If one’s impressions about violence against women are defined by the news and TV shows, it is easy to assume that a stranger almost always perpetrates rape or attacks on women. But what is most shocking is that the numbers prove otherwise, and by a large margin.
Take these statistics from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN):
- One out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
- 73 percent of rapes are perpetrated by a non-stranger.
Or this from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
- One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
It is enraging not only that so many women are traumatized by gender-based violence but also that the perpetrators are, more often than not, known to the victim.
In this traditionally women’s movement, it is rare to find men who are motivated enough to consider themselves activists. “I am the only guy in the room,” reports a friend of mine who volunteers for the DC Rape Crisis Center. “Though I can’t say I am surprised I am disappointed.”
Here are the stories of two men who are breaking this stereotype.
What Dr. Phil and a former war journalist have in common.
I was talking nonchalantly with a friend Monday about Dr. Phil and my skepticism of his insights. “I think maybe he is easier to take in writing,” she reflected. I agreed that it was likely his on-screen delivery that didn’t jive with me and that perhaps I shouldn’t cast too much judgment about his therapeutic abilities. Our conversation moved on but the issue of Dr. Phil came full circle later that evening when I saw him on “Larry King Live.” I un-muted the television when I read the topic of the conversation at the bottom of the screen: “Dr. Phil combats domestic violence and bullying.”
During the interview, Dr. Phil reflected back on his motivations for starting his show. “I said that [I was] going to … talk about the silent epidemics in America. Those things that are so important, but don’t get a lot of airtime. And one of those things is domestic violence. It’s one of the most underreported phenomena in America,” explained a passionate Dr. Phil.
To that end, the “Dr. Phil Show” launched a season-long campaign Monday called “End the Silence on Domestic Violence.” Each week, the show will tell the stories of women who have dealt with abuse in some form.
“For the rest of the year, we are placing this issue squarely in the center of our daily platform,” Dr. Phil wrote on his blog. “I’m taking the fight to all fronts.”
Dr. Phil is also targeting what is perhaps the most important audience: school children. The show is working to create curriculums that re-frame what is appropriate in relationships and educating both boys and girls about the realities of domestic abuse.
This week I stumbled across the tale of another man taking a stand. Former war journalist, Jimmie Briggs, writes in his article The Uncomfortable Silence, of how he heard first hand the unspeakable crimes perpetrated against women and children, and made it his mission to change the endings to these stories.
As a man, it has been a unique challenge. On a visit to his daughter’s school to talk about his career, he reflects, “I … couldn’t tell my daughter’s class about my struggles as a man in a traditionally woman’s movement, because I barely understand them myself. I frequently meet with people to talk about my ideas for confronting violence against women, and I run into a lot of suspicion—as if I have an ulterior motive for doing this work,” Briggs says.
His friends, too, find it hard to relate. Briggs talks of a weekly dinner where, when his present work comes to the fore, someone systematically changes the subject to a more comfortable topic. Such as dessert. More avoidance, he thinks with dismay.
Despite the obvious skepticism, Briggs started an organization called Man Up in September 2009 that engages youth in the movement in countries around the world and here at home.
The organization uses universal interests such as music, the arts, technology, and sports, to interest the youngest generation while also providing training and education. Through social media and regional summits, Man Up has created a global community and forum that connects youth with each other and with organizations in their region. The organization also provides training on organizing, planning, and capacity building to foster the skills they need to become effective advocates.
Calling All Men
Violence against women may be considered a “women’s issue” but it is a travesty that affects not just the victim but friends, family, and community. There are of course men who, knowing a victim or not, feel anger for the women who are so deeply affected by this violence. But there are far too many, both women and men, who would rather run away from the inevitable awkwardness that follows when the word “rape” is said. It is glaringly obvious that, for any movement to be effective, those who are part of the problem need to be involved in eradicating it. Jimmie found his motivation in his daughter; he wants the world to be a safe place for her to grow up, unscathed by such trauma. So let’s take part in this re-writing.
What You Can Do
Volunteer, donate, and become involved with organizations like RAINN or Man Up. Follow 4WomenWorldWide for information on pending legislation impacting these issues and contact your congressperson to pass important bills. Don’t be afraid to get angry and speak out. Every movement needs passion. Every movement needs a collective voice.