Violence against Women and Children: A Worldwide, National, and Local Epidemic

Violence against women and children is a worldwide, national, and local epidemic.

Yesterday, a 23-year-old medical student died in a Singapore hospital of injuries she sustained December 16, 2012 in a gang rape and severe beating on a bus in New Delhi, India. She was attacked by six men who took turns raping her and beating both her and her male friend, stripping both of them, and then throwing them off the bus.  This is just one of many forms of femicide that have occurred in India, which include rape, sexual assault, honor killings, killing of girls 5 years and younger by starvation and violence, and dowry-related murders, among others.

This is just part of the world-wide epidemic of violence against women.  According to One Billion Rising, one in three women will be beaten or raped during her lifetime.  According to the United Nations,

Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse and rape to child marriages and female circumcision. All are violations of the most fundamental human rights.

Forms of violence vary by country, from sex-selection abortions in countries that value men over women, to female genital mutilation that leaves women maimed and traumatized, to forced marriages, to sexual harassment and intimidation at work, to trafficking and prostitution, to rape, incest, domestic violence, murder, and rape as a weapon of war. Some of this violence occurs within the family home.  Some of this violence occurs within the community.  And some of this violence is perpetrated by the state.  It can be physical, sexual, and/or psychological.  All forms are traumatic and in some instances, deadly.

UniFem’s data on violence against women is even starker than that presented by One Billion Rising.  They report that up to 70 percent of women and girls experience sexual or physical violence during their lifetime. Among women ages 15-44, the incidence of this form of violence – mostly perpetrated by husbands, intimate partners, or people the women know – accounts for more disability and deaths than occur from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control reports a pervasive problem of “intimate partner violence (IPV).”  This is defined as rape, physical violence, and stalking by a current or former intimate partner, either gay or straight of either sex or gender identity.  On average, 24 people experience some form of IPV every minute in the US.  This is over 12 million women (mostly) and some men each year, including 1 million women who are raped each year.

This violence occurs against both children and adults.  The majority of victims are women and girls, but they also include some men and young boys, such as the young boys here in Centre County, PA who were victimized by former PSU football coach Jerry Sandusky.  As a women’s rights activist, I have been speaking out against all forms of violence against women and children since at least 1994.  You can see a history of the local issues on the National NOW website here, and here as well as in The Nation.

There is a question that this info raises in my mind. What is the status of protections to reduce violence against women locally, in the US, and around the world? The picture/answer to this question is not great.

Locally, two cases of violence have made national news.  The most well-known case is that of former PSU football coach Jerry Sandusky; he was found guilty on 45 of 48 charges related to child sexual assault and is now essentially serving a life sentence in the state penitentiary.  Penn State University received a 60 million dollar sanction from the NCAA for failure to properly handle intimate partner violence, particularly child sexual abuse  within the Athletic department, and Judge Louis Freeh issued a scathing indictment against PSU’s upper administration, the Athletics’ department, and the Board of Trustees for covering up, failing to protect potential and actual victims of sexual violence, and failing to provide appropriate board oversight. And the University could face severe fines for failure to report IPV incidences to the US Department of Education under the Clery Act.  Despite these sanctions, violence on campus still continues.  The other case is the murder here in Centre County of PSU alumna Amy Homan McGee in 2001 by her husband, Vincent.  What happened in this domestic violence case was made into a 2010 PBS documentary titled “Telling Amy’s Story.”

These cases are just two examples among many that occur here at the local level. According to the State College, PA police department, there were 76 reported cases of domestic violence and 29 cases of sexual assault in the borough alone in 2011-2012.  Yet the incidence appears to be much higher.  According to the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, over 1,000 people in the county were known to be affected by domestic violence and another 200 reported being sexually assaulted throughout the entire county during the same time period.

To assist victims of stalking, domestic violence, and sexual assault, our local community created a county-wide task force of service providers and advocates to assist, education, and advocate for the reduction and elimination of all forms of IPV.  This task force has been in existence for 20+ years.  This task force is doing a decent job of working on IPV issues and providing services and education to the community, but is now facing ever increasing funding issues.

Funding for programs at the local level come largely from state and national governments.  Both levels of funding are in jeopardy.  Here in PA, for example, Governor Corbett eliminated General Assistance funding for everyone on August 1, 2012; a larger plurality of the recipients of this very limited funding were women fleeing domestic violence who used the minimal monies available to find housing for themselves and their children.

At the national level, Congress has failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides funding to the Office of Violence against Women (OVW), to law enforcement, and to the judicial system to deal with all forms of IPV.  VAWA was originally created in 1995.  The bill must be reauthorized every 5 years. This means that the last reauthorization should have occurred in 2010!  The holdback?  Rather than improving the bill, many members of Congress, particularly Republicans in the US House of Representatives are calling for both cutbacks in funding and who will be covered.  We are now at a standstill since, appropriately, the US Senate is standing firm on ensuring that all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking – including college students, immigrants, Native Americans, and LGBTQ people – are covered.  The new session of Congress will convene in January 2013 and an entirely new bill will have to be crafted.  Meanwhile victims and survivors of IPV are surviving on a temporary funding basis through March 2013 to cover anti-violence programs to save and improve their lives.  Additionally, the looming “fiscal cliff,” sequestration will result in nearly 200,000 fewer victims receiving lifesaving and cost-effective services.

And returning to the international level, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has a clear statement that all countries that have signed the treaty take “appropriate” steps to eliminate violence against women and girls.  The US signed the treaty in 1980 but never ratified it.  India ratified CEDAW in 1993, but as can be seen from recent events there, doesn’t enforce this obligation.

So where does this leave us?

Action is needed.  We need to get out on the streets and call for full funding of programs designed to reduce and eliminate violence.  Eve Ensler is organizing One Billion Rising on February 14, 2013.  Her call states,

We are calling on ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence.

It is a one-day strike and an “invitation to dance” that calls for the end of all forms of violence against women and children. If you are interested in joining women and those who love them from around the world, you can download the One Billion Rising toolkit to plan your event here.

You can also take action by telling leaders here in India as well as here in the US and in your state that enough is enough.

  1. Tell the Indian Prime Minister to meet the three demands of the women of India – 1) talk directly to the women of India about how you will deal with this violence, 2) begin expediting cases against Indian politicians who have records of alleged rape and other charges of violence against women, and 3) immediately reinstate Police Woman Damayanti Sen who was fired after she protected a gang-rape victim;
  2. Contact your US Representative and US Senators. Tell them to immediately introduce a new bill similar to the 2011-2012 Senate bill (S.1925) that covers ALL victims of violence.  This needs to be passed before March 2013 when the temporary funding extension that passed in November ends.  The new bill needs to be comprehensive and include all current victims of violence as well as battered immigrant women, Native American Women, LGBTQ persons, and violence survivors on college campuses.  You can find out more information about this issue on the National NOW website, including several links to action alerts on VAWA.  Also, tell your US Senators to finally vote for and ratify CEDAW without any reservations.
  3. Learn more about what your state’s laws and funding for programs on violence against women provide.  A good source of information for each state can be found on the OVW website; there is a page on that website that links you to resources in each state.  Once you get to your state’s links, you should be able to find action alerts and information to help improve funding and programs within your state.

Season’s Greetings and Peace and Harmony to All

(Picture of our Shohola Peace Bell)

Season’s Greetings to everyone.
To those who celebrated Hanukkah December 8-December 16, “Happy Hanukkah!”

To those who celebrated Ramadan last July and August (July 19-August 18) and will be celebrating it in 2013 from July 9 to August 7, “Ramadan Kareem!”

To those who celebrate Christmas either today or on January 6, “Merry Christmas!”

To those who celebrate Kwanzaa December 26-January 1,  “Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self determination), Ujima (Collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Jmani (Faith).”

To those who celebrate the 2013 Chinese New Year of the snake (my birth-year symbol, btw) on February 10, Wish you or bless you New Year’s progress!”

I’m sure I missed someone’s celebration of peace, family, and community.  So to you, I wish you “Happy Holidays!”

And to everyone, “Have a joyous, prosperous, and, especially, a Peaceful New Year!”  May it be one of tolerance, acceptance, friendship, positive interactions with others, and an end to violence of all kinds.

The NRA, Schools, and More Shootings and Threats of Shootings

I live in central Pennsylvania where there are a large number of hunters, many of whom are members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). It is also a place where this week, one man was immediately arrested after allegedly making terroristic threats that he would go on a “shooting spree” and where this morning in Blair County (the county immediately southwest of where I live), four people were killed and three others wounded after another man went on a shooting spree.

In both of these cases, there was no school targeted. In the first case, a man from Breezewood told a bank teller that he would go on a shooting spree “like at the school the other day ” by killing everyone at the local Weis Market (a grocery store) where he works and would then return to the bank and kill everyone there. The bank teller immediately notified police and he was arrested within hours for making terroristic threats, which is a felony.

In the second case, a woman was shot and killed at a church in Gesseytown—a small rural town 70 miles west of Harrisburg near Altoona, PA. Three others—including the shooter—were also killed in the area after he left the church. Two police officers were wounded by the shooter and a third officer was injured in a head-on collision during the shooting rampage. According to the Blair County District Attorney, these shootings occurred over a large area of the county but were apparently perpetrated by, once again, a lone gunman.

In all of these cases—in Newtown, Breezewood, and Gesseytown—there was a lone shooter or person threatening to go on a rampage. In each case, these men expressed their frustration, anger, and or manifestation of a mental illness by threatening or carrying out a shooting spree.

And what did the NRA have to say? Just two suggestions to further arm the country and stigmatize a vulnerable part of the population – both of which, I believe could make matters even worse.

Put armed security guards in every single school in the country.

Create a mental health registry and mandate that anyone who has ever seen a psychologist or psychiatrist or a social worker be placed into this registry.

Let’s look at both of these suggestions. First, the NRA recommended that armed security guards be placed in every single school in the country. This suggestion turns our schools from a place of learning to a fortification or day-prison for children. As Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) said right after the NRA press conference,

“You don’t want to make this an armed camp for kids. I don’t think that’s a positive example for children. We should be able to figure out other ways to enhance safety.”

This recommendation seems to be based on the idea that if every entry into the school were protected, then a shooter could not get into the school. How many schools only have one entry? Even one-room schools usually have at least two doors. The high school I went to had at least 8 doorways. The high school my son goes to has at least 8 entrances in addition to the doorways to the auditorium and gymnasium. The elementary school he attended has 10 entryways throughout the school.

What I hear the NRA saying is that had there been an armed guard at the door to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, there would not have been a mass shooting. This might only be true if there was a guard at every single entrance into the building since any potential shooter could just go around the building and shoot or enter through an entrance where there is no guard. So is the NRA suggesting that every school district in the country hire as many full-time, armed security guards as there are doors into their school buildings? I doubt it.

Second, the NRA suggested creating a mental health registry so that anyone who has any form of mental health issue would, like convicted sex-offenders, be listed in a registry. This is an overly broad and discriminatory suggestion. According to the National Association of Mental Illness, approximately one in four people in the United States experience a mental health issue in any year. This includes, for example, people experiencing depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress (think of soldiers or crime victims or survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault), and people with brain injuries or illnesses that result in some form of mental health issue. Yet only a small minority of people who have ever experienced a mental disorder become violent, according to a study issued by the Surgeon General over a decade ago.

Currently, less than one-third of those needing mental health care receive that care. There are many reasons for this, including, but not limited to:

  1. The lack of health care coverage for mental health issues. Depending on the regulations implemented under the Affordable Care Act, this will likely improve, but only if the regulations make it clear that this new law clearly mandates mental health parity coverage.
  2. A lack of screening for mental health issues across the life span. Currently many health insurance policies do not pay for screening for mental health problems and thus screenings are not done. Routine mental health screening should become part of standard practice so mental health conditions are identified early when they can most effectively be treated.
  3. A lack of training of professionals and the public on how to recognize potential mental health issues. School professionals, law enforcement, community service providers, families and the general public need to be educated and trained on identifying potential problems and sources of help. Public education should also be provided to help reduce the stigmatizing of people needing and seeking out mental health services.
  4. Under IDEA – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – students with emotional disorders are supposed to receive services in school so that they can remain in school and succeed in life. However due to the high cost of these services, school budgetary cuts, and the lack of knowledge by parents that these programs are mandated, but not fully implemented, many young people drop out or do not receive the services they need.

Stigmatizing mental illness by placing people on a registry if they have ever sought services will result in more people not seeking the services they need or referring their family members for treatment. And doctors and other professionals may not do screenings for mental  health issues either because they are afraid their clients’ records will be confiscated without cause (which is a violation of HIPPA – the Health Information Patient Privacy Act) or that their clients will disappear and not receive needed treatment. In addition, once a mental health registry is created, people on that list (and their family members) could and will be discriminated against in work, housing, and other forms of public accommodations whenever their name is found on such a registry.

We live in the most violent country in the world. We also have the greatest access to guns. Some of these guns are rapid fire, semi-automatic guns. According to Tom Diaz, a policy analyst for the Violence Policy Center, these weapons were designed by the military to spray bullets into crowds by soldiers who were not sharpshooters. These guns were never intended for hunting, but for shooting people. According to many sports hunters, shooting game with semi-automatic assault weapons results in little, if any, animal trophies or game food. These are the types of assault weapons that were banned in 1994; the ban lasted for ten years, but failed to be continued in 2004. Since then, these forms of weapons have proliferated.

Let’s work for a safer America. A better America. Let’s not give in to the fear mongers. There is a better route than fortifying all public places (which is where this NRA suggestion leads us) and forcing people with mental health issues underground.

There IS a better route. Ban all assault weapons – any weapon that allows high-capacity magazines (e.g., 20, 40, 60, 100, 110 + rounds of ammunition). Teach tolerance and peace-oriented forms of conflict resolution rather than arming and fortifying our schools. And make sure that mental health services and training for professionals to recognize potential mental health problems are provided through the ACA and professional training programs so that those with mental health problems can both seek out services and be helped.

Friday, Dec. 21: National Moment of Silence for Victims of the Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Moment of Silence for Sandy Hook Victims on Dec. 21
Please join in a national moment of silence in honor of the Sandy Hook victims called for by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. At 9:30 a.m. EST, spend several minutes reflecting quietly on this terrible tragedy and take a five minute pause from all online activity.

Gendered Racism or the Treatment of Black Women who Speak Out

This afternoon I read an article about what I would call Gendered Racism in an online magazine called The Root.  The article is titled “What Really Makes Black Women Angry at Work.”  It is about a black meteorologist (Rhonda Lee) who was fired for speaking out on for an attack on her looks and about Susan Rice’s anger over her treatment by Republicans.

Ms. Lee was a TV meteorologist at KTBS-TV in Shreveport, LA who respectfully responded on the TV station’s Facebook page to attacks on her looks and how she wears her hair.  Her statement appeared after the station refused to respond to these attacks. This refusal was a very different response than that taken by another ABC affiliate in LaCross, WI that allowed Morning Anchor Jennifer Livingston—a white woman—to defend herself on-air when she was attacked in a similar manner.

Ms. Rice, the current US Ambassador to the United Nations, told President Obama and the nation last week that she would not accept a nomination to be the next US Secretary of State once it “became clear that [her] potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle.”

Here’s a snippet from the article in The Root:

The reception and treatment of black women can be vastly different, as evidenced by Lee’s case and the railroading of Rice. Race can complicate an already complicated situation and perhaps add another layer of stress to the workplace. Why should Lee have to endure criticism about her appearance that is directly related to her racial and cultural heritage as opposed to being evaluated on her performance?… Rice had to bow out of the running for the secretary of state position in order to avoid the difficult prospect of defending herself — and perhaps being perceived as coming off as belligerent — against a campaign aimed to block her from the job.

That Rice can be discouraged from pursuing the position — a job for which she perhaps has prepared for some of her adult life — is troubling. In a similar way, there’s Lee’s reality — a black woman who got fired from a job because, God forbid, she stood up for herself. Even though Lee used a friendly tone and took the road less traveled by many Americans — a respectful response — she has been
punished and portrayed as an angry black woman. When it came to Rice, she faced harsh assessments about her competency and ultimately had to stand down.

Gendered racism is the intersection of two forms of discrimination—that of sexism and racism.  It is the discrimination of a subset of people within each of these groups of color and gender. It can also be called double discrimination.

The actions by the GOP on Ms. Rice’s work and by KTBS-TV on Ms. Lee for standing up for herself are both acts that are, as The Root article states, attempts to silence black women in the workplace.

Acts like these are hurtful to women of color.  They send the wrong message that bullying is ok; that prejudice is ok; and that when women, particularly women of color, stand up for what’s right, it’s ok to silence them in any manner you can think of.  This, in my opinion, is discrimination pure and simple.

As part of The Root article, there is a link to a petition to the KTBS-TV calling for them to rescind that decision.  I signed that petition.

I also went searching for a petition that condemns the GOP attacks on Susan Rice.  Although the petition was created before Ms. Rice said she would not seek the Secretary of State position, I still think the petition is apropos. So here’s the link for that one in case you want to sign it as well.


My Holiday Gift-Giving Wish

During this holiday season, I’m hoping my friends and family will join me to help raise funds for The National Organization for Women Foundation through Causes Wishes. My donation page is located at

I chose The National Organization for Women Foundation because the NOW Foundation provides educational outreach and information to the public that focuses on a broad range of women’s rights issues. These include economic justice, pay equity, racial discrimination, women’s health and body image, women with disabilities, reproductive rights and justice, family law, marriage and family formation rights of same-sex couples, representation of women in the media and government, and global feminist issues.

Please consider giving to my Holiday Wish, and together we can make the world a better place. Any donation is fully tax-deductible. If you can’t afford to donate, I’d really appreciate if you’d share this request with your friends.

Note, the Causes Wishes program is run on Facebook by Network for Good. They have a link on their website to the NOW Foundation’s GuideStar report showing that they are a legitimate charitable organization. If you do not have a Facebook account you can donate through GuideStar’s donation page or directly to the NOW Foundation.

Thanks so much! Happy Holidays!

Talking to Children

Tragically this morning, at least 20 young children and 7 adults were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and home of the alleged shooter in Newtown, CT. This is a very sad day for the families and community of Newtown as well as with the rest of the country. My heart goes out to these families.

And my concern also goes out to all of the children across the country who hear about what happened and start questioning “why,” “could this happen at my school,” “who can we trust,” etc. Parents and other that deal directly with young children may also be asking similar questions.

How do you answer these hard questions when violence occurs like this? What do tell your child or the children next door?

As a member of the Board of Directors, I have a connection with one woman who works directly with children. Her name is Nancy Baskett. She also serves as a member of the National NOW Board of Directors. Her main job is as a 4-H Extension Educator in Pierce County (Tacoma), Washington. After this tragedy this morning, she emailed out a help sheet entitled “Talking to Kids About Violence, Terrorism, and War.” I’m posting the link to this help sheet so that those of you who read this can use it and/or spread the information in case you have any children that are asking questions.

Highlights from this sheet include the following suggestions:

  • Listen to the kids and don’t overwhelm them with what you know
  • Ask them what they are worried about, what information they have and don’t have, and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings
  • Listen and listen some more
  • Model open discussion
  • Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions that can’t easily be answered with a yes or no
  • Ask clarifying questions about what the kid means since their ideas of violence may be very different from yours
  • Answer the questions they ask to the best of your ability.
  • Acknowledge their feelings and don’t deny or play down either the seriousness of the situation or the feelings they present
  • Help them to feel physically safe. This includes:
    • Maintaining normal routines and schedules
    • Stop them (or yourself) from stereotyping people from different backgrounds, cultures, or countries
  • Help kids maintain a sense of hope by helping them to take action when they feel the need to do so. This could be things they want to do like writing a letter or finding their own unique way to support their schoolmates or communities either locally OR in this case, providing support for the kids in Sandy Hook, CT.

There are many more suggestions on this help sheet. Please take the time to read and help others.

This is a sad day in the lives of everyone. Please take a moment to hug your family and friends. And listen.