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.