October is famous as Breast Cancer Awareness Month when stores are awash in pink products that often contain breast cancer causing chemicals are sold to women in an effort to fund various activities to combat breast cancer. However, I'll save that topic for next Monday. October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. In addition, one in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape, and 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime.
This is sober information. It is also important to understand that the general statistics can overplay or underplay risks that people face over the course of their lives based on geographic location, ethnicity, class, and gender and sexual orientation. For example, NCADV reports that one-third of "American Indian and Alaskan Native women are raped in their lifetime," and that "70% of American Indians who are the victims of violent crimes are victimized by a non-native individual." While domestic violence tends to be concentrated in densely populated areas, "rural victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are more likely than urban victims to be married to their abusers, according to NCADV, and resources to assist them are significantly scarcer than in urban and suburban communities. Feminist Peace Network notes that, "Approximately 50% of the lesbian population has experienced or will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes."
Given the disturbing amount of violence perpetrated against people supposed loved by the abuser, what are the causes of abuse? There are obviously many reasons why men (and sometimes women) abuse. Lori at Between Us Girls poses one reason:
These are just a few of the things that may contribute to a man's desire to beat or belittle the woman in his life. I wonder too about how our socialization of males contributes as well. Men are taught to be tough, unemotional and to resolve issues by exerting power or control, using physical force if necessary. They are led to believe that their worth is determined by their financial success, their physical strength and how powerful and in command they appear to be. If men were socialized to determine their self-worth in other ways, wouldn't they be less likely to feel the need to make their mark by controlling women when these other, external criteria of manliness fail them?
As part of her post alerting readers to Domestic Violence Awareness Month and explaining the impact of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Qiyamah A.Rahman of Ruminations of the Soul, wrote:
The Battered Women's Movement was where I found my voice and what eventually become my ministry. Women like Ruth Slaughter, Caitlin Fullwood, Beth Richey, Gwen Davis, BJ Bryson, Tilly Blackbear, Nan Stoops, Suzanne Pharr, Kerry Lobel, Barbara Hart, Diana Onley Campbell, and Deborah Muhammad are some of the women that I came to know and respect. They were my role models while I was trying to find myself and to heal from the violence of my childhood and adulthood.
I saw Caitlin Fullwood several years ago. We were both reminiscing about times gone by when she turned to me and said, "We old broads are still going strong." We both laughed riotously. I believe our laughter was partly out of a knowledge that we had survived and were not crazy, on drugs or dead. And partly just the joy of being alive, and older and wiser. Ginny NiCarthy just celebrated her 80th birthday folks, and she is still going strong and raising hell! I would love to see some of these individuals again. Occasionally I see their names associated with the wonderful things they are still doing, and I think about Caitlin's hilarious and insightful comment. Yes, we broads are still going strong!
I hesitate here because Ms. Rahman's comments on VAWA show how much politics can make a difference, and when I set out to write this, I had hoped to leave politics out of this discussion. Domestic violence is a serious problem for millions of people, and I worried that I might unfairly politicize it if I tied Domestic Violence Awareness Month to the current election. Yet I think leaving it out would not do activists like Rahman justice. This election offers a stark choice in candidates and their feelings about domestic violence. Kim at bonheur du jour cites some history and concludes with a chilling question:
The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law... signed as Public Law 103-322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. It provided $1.6 billion to enhance investigation and prosecution of the violent crime perpetrated against women, increased pre-trial detention of the accused, provided for automatic and mandatory restitution of those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted.
VAWA was drafted by Senator Joseph Biden's office with support from a number of advocacy organizations including Legal Momentum and The National Organization for Women, which heralded the bill as "the greatest breakthrough in civil rights for women in nearly two decades."
VAWA was reauthorized by Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 5, 2006.
VAWA will be up for reauthorization in 2010.
Will President McCain or President Palin reauthorize the bill in 2010????
This is a very good question. At Prosecutor Post-Script, Sarena Straus, a prosecutor at the Office of the District Attorney, Bronx County, shares the words of Jennifer Mercurio, the youngest state President of the National Women’s Political Caucus and the most recent past board Chair of the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, regarding VAWA's past and potential future:
I remember, as Joe Biden does, John McCain repeatedly saying that there was no need for VAWA, and that it was ineffective, unnecessary and ill-conceived. John McCain fought long and hard to kill VAWA, ultimately voting against it twice. VAWA has gone on to establish, among other things, help lines for abused spouses; this one bill has gone on to literally change our entire society’s understanding of what sexual violence, rape, date rape, domestic violence and hate crimes are. It was, and continues to be, a complete game changer. Without Joe Biden we probably wouldn’t have VAWA. Barack Obama stands with Biden in support of VAWA. If left to John McCain, VAWA would be rolled back, as he’s stated any number of times.
I'm leaving Sarah Palin out of this one because I honestly have no idea what she thinks of this. Her record is very mixed. She's stated that domestic violence is a priority (she recently signed a proclamation declaring October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Alaska, as well as released a statement calling on Alaskans to learn about and stand against domestic violence in their communities), yet also emphatically stated in various forums that government is not the solution to people's problems. Then there's the whole issue with rape kits, which her handpicked police chief cut from Wasilla's budget, noting that the taxpayers were already overburdened. When the state of Alaska passed a law forbidding local governments to charge rape victims for their rape kits, he publicly objected to the unfunded mandate. Palin said nothing, but she didn't cut the funds herself, either. (A much longer discussion of this incident and relationship to domestic violence policy was written at The Huffington Post by Amie Newman.)
Thus politics do play an important role in how our society address domestic violence. I don't think it is an insult to anyone who has survived an abusive relationship or situation to tie domestic violence awareness to politics. We can have all the awareness in the world about domestic violence and its causes, but if there is no concerted effort to do something about it, what does it matter?
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