One Man’s Perspective on Violence Against Women

Breast bruised, brains battered,
Skin scarred, soul shattered
Can’t scream-neighbors stare,
Cry for help, no one’s there

Stanza from a poem by Nenna Nehru, a battered Indian Woman

Despite differences in cultures and ideologies, women seem to face a consistent bias regardless of where they live. Tied to the social expectations of feminine behavior, victimization of women reflects a universal value placed upon them by men.

Violence against women occurs throughout the life cycle: Pre-birth is marked by sex selective abortion (China, India); battering during pregnancy (emotional and physical effects on woman, effects on the birth outcome); and coerced pregnancy (i.e. mass rape in war). Infancy carries the threat of female infanticide; emotional and physical abuse; and disparity in access to food and medical care for girl infants. Adolescents can be scarred by child marriage; genital mutilation; sexual abuse by family members and strangers; more disparity in the access to food and medical care; and child prostitution. Dating and courtship violence (i.e. date rape in the United States, acid throwing in Bangladesh) as well as economically coerced sex ( Africa); sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment, forced prostitution; trafficking of women. The reproductive age carries the risk of abuse of women by intimate partners; marital rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner homicide; psychological abuse; sexual abuse in the workplace; sexual harassment; rape; abuse of women with disabilities. Being older does not reduce the risk of victimization. In the U.S. the only country where records exist, elder abuse affects mostly women.

Quite consistently, women are, “defined according to traditional patriarchal images and within the patriarchal ideologies and structures of national and international relations”. Judith Zinsser, researcher for the United Nations.

Crimes against women are based on their role in society, as a daughter, mother, wife, and sister. Women are never judged as persons, and always judged as passive to their roles. A man is evaluated as a man, aggressively responding to his situation, within his roles in life, as father, son brother, husband, secondary to his gender.

This subjectivity to patriarchy is well illustrated in dowry burnings, popular in India. Murder, generally accepted as a crime against humanity takes on a different persona when related to brides who for one reason or another, experience with their husbands and husband’s families conflict over their dowries. In areas that require a marriage settlement, dowries become a powerful tool for moving up through social strata. In a firmly patriarchal society, the esteem of the male depends on the “purity” of the female. Not only a financial inheritance, the dowry reflects the moral purity of the bride. Indian dowry effectively functions to disinherit women and promote their economic dependency on men which is the real crux of dowry murders. When the dowry is no longer satisfactory, the bride becomes vulnerable to harassment, assault, and death.

Murder is illegal, but social norms in India validate the acceptance of such practice, marking it virtually impossible to punish anyone participating. Families involved in this practice place tremendous significance upon the material value of the union between two families and a financial gain for at least one. When the woman is sacrificed, the families protect each other from civil prosecution, further ingraining the value of men and valuelessness of women.

Think about rape. In our culture evidence of rape is evaluated by a perceived participation by the woman (i.e. how was she dressed, did she invite sex and then change her mind, was she using drugs). A recent story of a young girl in Pakistan who became pregnant as the result of rape. Unable to convince the court that rape had occurred and since her pregnancy was taken as proof that sexual intercourse outside of marriage had taken place, she was thirty lashes and three years imprisonment. She gave birth to the child in prison (a girl). Because of this situation, women are more afraid than before to bring a case of rape to court, and in turn this could, of course, encourage rapist. There is an easy transformation from victim to offender. Her actions did not change, only the subjective political observation of them. In the United States, a woman illustrated how she was victimized into criminalization:

“She was a Chicana introduced to drugs at the age of eleven; a victim of brutal domestic violence that caused her to miscarry twice; a drug user addicted first to heroine then to the so called cure, methadone; finally a mother forcibly separated from her daughter on account of her convictions and incarceration, and, finally, a woman who died in prison of a brain hemorrhage, the cumulative effect of a lifetime of beatings”.

Written from her death bed.

I hope to have shed some light on the epidemic of violence being perpetrated by us (men). I hope that we will no longer live by a “criminal code” of silence and non action. Its not what you say and do when women are around. Its what you say and do when they are not. Take a stand in the fight to end violence against women.

What Does She Look Like?

What does she look like?  You know who I am talking about.  We hear the names on the news sometimes but dont see a face.  Sometimes we dont even get a name.  The media will often say “a woman”.  That child who’s sexually abused? That woman who’s raped? I can tell you.  She looks like your girlfriend, wife, mother, aunt, sister, and any other woman in your life that you have cared about. For the woman, she may look quite a lot like you. Statistics say one out of every four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. We don’t see a lot of the victims. Most of the time, she is right next to us.  Hopefully, if you are one of the four that when you look in the mirror you don’t see a victim either. I hope you see a survivor. In my work inside prisons, dealing with the victimizers I often wonder about the women I read about in the offense conduct of Pre-Sentence reports. Almost every day, a court documents crosses my desk, telling the tale of yet another woman who’s been battered, beaten, raped, sexually assaulted, and even murdered. An unscientific guess tells me that over 90% of the men I deal with have some type of domestic assault in their past. Either arrested or told to me in a group setting. Some are even getting visits from their victims. It’s important to note that experts say there’s a link between child abuse and sexual assault. I happen to think they’re right. I often wonder what happened to that woman, that left her so vulnerable that she tolerates a relationship where she gets beat up. Sometimes I know there is no reason or rationale and it could be a coincidence – but quite often, it’s because she was a victim of another kind of abuse, while still a child. I say this because of what the experts say: A 2002 report says that 75 percent of women who reported being raped were under age 18, with 37-percent of that group being 11 or younger. And anyone who’s spent much time working with battered women knows that the experience of childhood abuse can linger on – often in the form of more abuse, by different abusers, down the road. A few years ago, I decided to volunteer in a woman’s shelter and those statistics looked underreported. I wanted to see the victims of the victimizers I see everyday. I wanted to meet them and ask questions. Maybe find answers to this epidemic. The stories of neglect and abuse are heartbreaking. One woman who was open about her past and was truly a survivor. I asked about any childhood abuse. She said, “Was I an abused child? No, but perhaps I was neglected. Not with regard to food, clothing or shelter, but as the child of a “single” mother (since my parents lived apart much of the time) I experienced neglect of another sort. It’s the same kind of neglect that many parents exercise, by placing their firstborn in the position of caretaker for the younger siblings. As a result of such “neglect,” I was one of at least three siblings who was abused by a child molester.” It didn’t stop there. It not only happened once but twice. Married two different men, many years apart, both of them batterers. She certainly did not go looking for a man who would beat the living daylights out of her. It’s just that when that man – as he did, in her case – came looking for her, her self-esteem was low enough, or even non-existent, she just settled. Settled because she thought that was all she was worth. For the past two years, while speaking publicly about these issues at local colleges or advocacy and awareness programs, I decided to discuss the victims and the victimizers. Then something amazing started happening. Victims started talking to me about their past abuse. They became comfortable enough to reject the anonymity so many victims choose to live with. They felt comfort that someone knew that they did nothing wrong, and have nothing to be ashamed about. The shame belongs to the people who truly deserve it – the child molesters, sexual offenders and wife beaters. Abusers come from all walks of life. Confirming this helped people (especially skeptics) realize that child abuse, rape or domestic violence doesn’t just happen to women on the lower socioeconomic ladder, or to women of a certain color, size or intellect. It also happens to smart, savvy women who have careers and supervise employees, to college-educated women who are doctors, lawyers or scientists. It even happens to mothers and wives. In short, it can – and does – happen to anyone. What’s the justice in all of this? What does rape or domestic violence do to you? It makes you stronger. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you put yourself in harm’s way just to become a potential target, because there are other ways to gain strength that are far less painful. But I’ve learned that when you use what you’re given – even if it happens to be something pretty nasty – you’ll quickly find yourself on the path to empowerment.

I leave you with this from Sojourner Truth: And ain’t I a woman?

Look at me Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head me. . . And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man– when I could get to it– and bear the lash as well and ain’t I a woman? I have born 13 children and seen most all sold into slavery and when I cried out a mother’s grief none but Jesus heard me. . . and ain’t I a woman? that little man in black there say a woman can’t have as much rights as a man cause Christ wasn’t a woman Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him! If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, all alone together women ought to be able to turn it rightside up again.

Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 3:51 am  Comments (5)  
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