On The Last Day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I said most of what I have to say about intimate partner abuse and the war on women here, but on this last day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I reprint my op-ed in the Courier-Journal from October 21:


Most of the talk about the “War on Women” has been in relation to attacks on women’s reproductive freedom. While the threat to women’s legal right to utilize the health care they decide is best for them is real and well-documented, I sat with a group of men and community members last week who broadened the scope of the war to include violence against women.

The men represented the Center for Women and Families, ACLU of Kentucky, Mens­Work Inc. and the Ali Institute and spoke on a panel at a community discussion titled “Men Respond to the War on Women.” In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Mens­Work hosted the event at theMuhammadAliCenteron Oct. 16.

The statistics the panelists shared truly depicted a war, one that’s long been ignored by everyone — except the nearly one out of four women who experience it in a lifetime, or survivors of the 1,247 women and 440 men murdered by intimate partners annually. Compare that to the 2,000 American troops who have died inAfghanistansince the invasion began 12 years ago.

Like any other war, this one is costly to all. The Corporate Alliance to End Intimate Partner Abuse cites a 2004 study finding domestic violence sucked $8.3 billion out of theU.S.economy the previous year. Yet with the economy at the forefront of this year’s election, and with the risk of intimate partner abuse three times higher for people with annual incomes below $25,000 than for people with annual incomes above $50,000, fighting violence against women isn’t on any candidate’s radar.

Violence against women is a bit of a conundrum. It stands out when we hear leaders make outrageous comments about “legitimate rape.” Or when we overhear one woman imploring another to leave her partner before he kills her. Or when a frazzled woman walks into the salon we’re in and exits elated to find a master weave specialist in the city she escaped to when her boyfriend yanked her hair out of her head. Or when we watch two women within one hour of one poetry slam perform pieces about surviving lovers who pushed them into television screens or out of moving cars.

But it normally lies under the surface.

I felt like I had stepped into an alternate universe the week I witnessed all of the above. Those women’s stories jarred me out of the world I’m accustomed to, where violence against women is entertainment on crime shows (or at a pep rally, as it was recently at a high school in Waverly, N.Y.), or it’s an accepted part of life. Women adjust to street harassment and take precautions to try to ensure their safety. Violence against women is so ingrained in our culture that it’s normalized and most people don’t notice it. But once you do, the barriers to ending it seem so insurmountable that you don’t know where to start.

As the panelists concluded, the obstacles to stopping the violence against women can be summed up in two words: power and privilege. Those who have the two P’s hold on to them and rarely see any benefit in giving them up. They have absorbed — through insufficient renderings of history, skewed religious teachings, and familial and cultural norms — the falsehood that any “other” is truly unequal to them and therefore doesn’t deserve the same (opportunities, jobs, salary, happiness, fill-in-the-blank here) they have.

In most cases, I would say exposure to more differences is the best solution to overcoming this complex, but given that everyone who exists had to come out of the gender that makes up more than half the world’s population, it’s not a lack of opportunity to interact with girls and women that hinders their equity.

It is the stubborn belief that you having more leads to me having less. Debunking this myth begins with us envisioning how much better our society would fare if, for example, we had more college graduates because mothers making as much as fathers could save more money for their children’s college education. But it has to go beyond that to asking, “So what if it does lead me to having less?” and “Having less of what?”

Human beings tend to be stingy, materialistic and competitive, but everyone, especially those with power and privilege, have to ask themselves what is worth the loss of humanity you suffer when you don’t treat others as human beings. That cost is catastrophic.

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