I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.American writer, feminist, civil rights activist and professor
Content Warning: Please note that today’s material has themes and examples of domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking. Please take care of yourself as you go through today’s email. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, sexual violence or human trafficking and need support you can receive free and confidential help at TurningPointMacomb.org or through their 24-hour hotline at 586-463-6990. A list of National Hotlines is also available through the Victim Connect Resource Center.
Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at someone based on gender. It is also a general term to capture violence rooted in exploiting the unequal power dynamic between genders in the private or public sphere. Earlier this week we learned more about systems of oppression and violence. It’s important to keep front and center that gender-based violence is perpetuated by the system of patriarchy that works to keep men in power in society, even when it is experienced by men. Boys under 18 and gay/bisexual men or trans men are targeted for sexual violence, for example, as an expression of age-related power to serve the patriarchy.
We approach today’s challenge with the recognition that women and girls will experience disproportionate rates of gender-based violence and even more so when taking an intersectional approach that includes gender expressions, races, ability statuses, sexual orientations and more.
Although sometimes misunderstood, gender-based violence is a serious human rights and global public health issue. Gender-based violence includes, but is not limited to:
Intimate partner violence refers to behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors. It is also known as domestic violence.
According to the World Health Organization, one in three women worldwide have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, most often perpetrated by an intimate partner, family member or someone known to the survivor. Gender-based violence requires a broad intersectional lens to understand the full picture. BIPOC, disabled and transgender women and girls experience gender-based violence at overrepresented rates.
It’s important to recognize that sexual assault and Gender Based Violence is less likely to be reported than other crimes. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), for every 1,000 assaults, only 310 are reported, 50 lead to an arrest, 28 lead to a felony conviction, and 25 lead to incarceration.
There are many reasons why a survivor may choose not to report; the top reason, according to RAINN, is fear of retaliation. Remember, most sexual assault perpetrators already know their victims; nearly 80% are partners, family or friends. It can be challenging to name someone you know as a “criminal” despite the enormous pain they may have caused. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ survivors are often reluctant to engage in criminal reporting of perpetrators from their own communities because of fears of what law enforcement or the criminal justice system may do to the person who harmed them.
A top tactic to combat gender-based violence is to believe victim-survivors. Victim-survivor is a term that has been used to express the intersectional experiences of the most marginalized groups affected by sexual assault, violence and abuse such as Black cis-women, Black trans-women and gender non-conforming folks of color who have historically never been seen as victims in the eyes of culture, community or the law. Sexual violence is more likely to be doubted or blamed on the victim compared to other crimes. The occurrence of false reporting is dramatically overestimated. In rigorous research, rates of false reports are meager, ranging from 2% to 10%, meaning that 90-98% of survivors are telling the truth. Victim blaming is also highly damaging to survivors of sexual assault, who find themselves subject to stereotypes and disbelief. Violence survivors often have very little to gain and much to lose by coming forward. Sexual violence can have a lifelong and devastating impact on its victim and their family.
Imagine for a moment what the world could look like if we centered on survivors and listened to their stories and believed them; if we collectively worked to prevent violence in our communities and ensure our homes are safe; if we fought for a world that is free from all systems of violence that maintain our current power structures. There would be no limits to our shared freedom.
To the survivors engaging with us today, we see you and we believe you. Together, we can build a world without gender-based violence.
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