This past Sunday, November 25th was an International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, a day devoted to the global effort to end the domestic and sexual violence a large portion of women worldwide endure. The 25th of every month has been designated as such as part of this year’s theme, Orange The World: #HearMeToo, and this November the 25th marks the beginning of 16 days of activism that leads up to International Human Rights Day on the 10th of next month.
The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, leads the effort to help people become aware of epidemic where women and girls are continuously, repeatedly victimized. Some of the more important dates to remember during the 16 days of activism are International Women Human Rights Defender Day on the 29th, and World AIDS Day on the 1st, both of these days are established on the idea that raising awareness and understanding about the intersections of sexual violence, vulnerability, and womanhood can aid in the destigmatization of being a victim, lessen the poor reporting experiences, and increasing criminal convictions.
When we talk about sexual violence, it’s important to remember that it is a global crisis, rather than just a local problem. The experiences of women in different regions and countries vary widely, but are all rooted in misogyny, toxic masculinity, and the disregard for the humanity of women and girls. To fully grasp the epidemic, it has to be understood that the intersections go even deeper than region. Women of color, disabled women, LGBTQ women, sex workers, impoverished women, and other marginalized groups of women are at a statistically higher risk of being assaulted and abused and their assailants typically see shorter sentences when criminally convicted. According to a Brandeis University study, researchers found that charges were filed by prosecutors in 75% of cases reported by white women who were attacked, while only 34% in cases where black women were assaulted.
A big player in the global aspect of sexual violence is the ongoing imperialism and colonialism occurring in second and third world countries. Sexual assault has become normalized in so many cultures because historically, it was to be expected. European settlers and emigrants used sexual assault and rape as tactics to control the cultures they intended to occupy and destroy. There are countless examples of this, looking back to the slave trade, the colonialism enforced by the Spaniards upon emigrating to Central America, U.S. occupations in Asian countries, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, etc. all either used sexual violence as a weapon of domination in order to destabilize governments or cultures. Other cultures used the same tactics as witnessed by the discussion about the Japanese use of “comfort women” during the war.
Understanding why and how rape culture of a whole has developed is a key point in understanding how to dismantle it and fight against it. UN Women believe that there are three key points to the decrease in sexual violence: education, victim support, and convictions.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about education and reinforcing behaviors that encourage body autonomy and preparedness, and like UN Women, we as a firm, value education highly as a part of our process in helping women find healing and justice through the legal system. On a much larger scale, a global scale, education is revolutionary. Providing quality, consent based sexual education, teaching our children how to treat others with respect, and groups such as NSVRC that hold conferences to provide advanced training in sexual violence intervention and prevention are all examples of things we can do on a smaller scale to make a global difference.
Victim support is absolutely critical for a number of reasons. The moments, days, weeks, months, and even years following traumas such as sexual and domestic violence are some of the worst in a survivor’s life. Offering your support and alliance to a victim can be the make it or break it in that person’s life, especially in situations where the abuse is ongoing. You may be asking yourself, “Well what can I do?” Even something as small as pointing them in the direction of a domestic violence intervention service or giving them the phone number to a hotline can be a massive help, but if you’re wanting to go even farther, offering to let them stay with you while they’re working on escaping the abuse can make a difference. Domestic abuse is so successful for the abuser because it leaves the victim feeling powerless and alone, so giving support in such a time gives the victim a chance to become a survivor.
Globally, one in three women have been victims of sexual or domestic violence in their lives, in the EU, nearly half of women have been victimized before their 16th birthday, but only less than 40% of women who experience abuse seek help. According to a survey completed by RAINN, of 1000 rapes, 230 are reported to the police, 46 reports lead to arrest, 9 cases get referred to prosecutors, 5 cases will lead to a felony conviction, and only 4.6 will be incarcerated. That translates to less than half of a percentage of rapists will see jail time. While these statistics are alarming and upsetting, we must understand why that is. To be frank, the justice system has failed women and girls when it comes to violence. These numbers are part of a painfully disheartening cycle where women see so few convictions and have seen or had so many poor experiences with reporting that they don’t even bother to report. Those statistics are not going to change until we prove to women, that they will receive support, they will be believed, and that they are safe to rely on the justice system. Sordas Sin Violencia believes that, “If [survivors] comprehend their rights and feel that they are receiving an adequate treatment from these services, then they will seek more assistance and get legal aid.”
It is 2018 and 49 countries do not have laws protecting women from domestic violence, only 52% of married women freely make decisions about their sexual relations and health, and 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. This holiday season, let’s remember the women who we have lost to sexual and domestic violence, and take strides in combating and preventing violence against women.
Koller Trial Law supports the UN in this endeavor. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation.