60 Percent of Americans Know a Survivor of Domestic Abuse or Sexual Assault: No More Excuses

Our tolerance for overlooking and excusing this violence never ceases to amaze me. While violence is complex, the basic issue, the right of children and women to live lives unmolested, is not. And it is rarely framed in terms of justice for girls and women within homes.
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Sixty percent of Americans know a survivor of domestic violence. One in three women (30 percent), one in seven men (14 percent) report living with intimate violence. The bad news, when it comes to domestic violence, is that the situation, globally, is stunningly in its scope. The good news is that we have defined issues and well-developed solutions. Even if the problem is complex, there are approaches that are clear. What is ambiguous is whether we care and have the will to change the statistics.

As it is, the idea of returning to the "safety" of one's home is elusive for huge swaths of the our population. It is safe to say that justice for women, still difficult to achieve in a public context, is only now being considered something that should extend into the private sphere. This harsh and discriminatory reality, historically, has been considered a private matter, rendering it silent and invisible, and largely encouraging the notion that the violence is inevitable.

Globally, the situation is well-documented: pandemic, global violence against girls and women, primarily at the hands of men, usually men they know and often in their own homes. A study conducted in Asia revealed that men themselves understand violence, especially sexual violence, to be a male entitlement. We don't have recent a study in the U.S. that asks the same questions.

Many people think that this is an "over there" problem. It's not.

  • 22 percent of Americans report being victims of domestic violence; that's one in three women (30 percent), one in seven men (14 percent). Almost twice as many women as men report being a victim of domestic violence. In total, 54 million Americans are victims of domestic violence.
  • 13 percent of Americans report being victims of sexual assault. That's 20 percent of women, 6 percent of men or 32 million people.
  • 60 percent of Americans know a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault
  • "Only 15 percent think it is a problem among their friends."
  • 73 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 said that they have not talked with them about domestic violence or sexual assault
  • 67 percent of Americans "have not talked about domestic violence with their friends."
  • 73 percent "have not discussed sexual assault with their friends."
  • Even though 75 percent of Americans say that they would step in and help a stranger being abused, the reality is most people do not help.
  • Of the 70 percent of women who've experienced domestic violence and then told someone about it, 58 percent said that no one helped them.
  • 64 percent of Americans say if we talk more about domestic violence and sexual assault, it would make it easier to help someone
  • Men are less likely to discuss domestic violence than women

These statistics come from a new study "NO MORE Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Survey of Attitudes and Experiences of Teens and Adults," released yesterday by No More, both an anti-domestic violence coalition and a symbol representing anti-domestic violence work. It was commissioned by the AVON Foundation for Women. It comes quick on the heels of a global study by the World Health Organization, which revealed outrageous levels of domestic and sexualized violence all over the world.

Here are some additional facts about the U.S. from the US Department of Health and Human Services:

  • On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States every day.
  • As many as 324,000 females each year experience intimate partner violence during their pregnancy, and pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.
  • Domestic violence constitutes 22% of violent crime against females and 3% of violent crime against males
  • Eight percent of females and 0.3% of males report intimate partner rape
  • Females experience more than 5 to 10 times as many incidents of domestic violence than males.
  • Approximately 33% of gays and lesbians are survivors of domestic violence
  • African-American women are three times more likely than women of other racial groups to be victims of domestic violence; for Native American women the chances are 50% higher than other racial groups
  • Women with disabilities face higher rates of abuse as well as different, not commonly understood, definitions of what constitutes abuse
  • Women who work experience higher rates of domestic violence
  • And, lastly, given the daily occurrence of mass shootings in this country: women and children are the most frequent victims of mass shootings, many if not most of which start in incidences of domestic violence.

The solution lies in dismantling cultural entitlements to violence, confronting victim blaming, teaching people why domestic and sexualized violence are not inevitable and giving them the tools to intervene. Not easy. But not impossible.

The fact is that, unlike the cartoonish, fictional violence that is so commonly glorified in movies and games, real violence is hard to contemplate. The number are jarring and ugly. You want to look away. In a rare media exploration of domestic violence in action last year, TIME magazine featured a difficult and complex graphic essay in which photographer Sara Naomi Lewkowicz captured a series of assaults as they happened in a home. Pictures say a lot, but so do words, as evidenced by the moving testimony of men like Sir Patrick Stewart, a supporter of Bell Bajao, a global movement to end domestic. Stewart's extremely personal revelations about his own abusive father are a searing indictment of perverted masculinity.

Occasionally, incidents explode in very public and arresting ways, like when celebrities are involved. When Charles Saatchi strangled his wife Nigella Lawson in public, something he called a "playful tiff," during the summer it was shocking. (Strangling is a very common domestic violence technique because it does not leave immediate marks that law enforcement can see. However, there is a sevenfold risk of attempted homicide for women who have been strangled by their partner.) When famous couples like Rihanna and Chris Brown publicly live out cycles of domestic violence, people are riveted, but unwilling to discuss connections with people in their own lives. In truth, famous men who are violent in these ways, and the boys, girls and women who watch them get away with it, can easily reach the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with what they've done because there is very little public censure or negative response. As a class, athletes, for example, seem to engage in domestic violence at higher than normal rates, but are held responsible at lower than average rates.

Prominent men who abuse can still do so with relative impunity. They don't lose their fans or their jobs, their incomes and statuses are largely unaffected, their membership in elite institutions remain in good standing. I mean, really, Seth McFarlane told a thigh-slapping joke about Brown's brutal assault at the Oscars and no one stood up and walked out. Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Mel Gibson are just a handful of men who have been involved in domestic "disputes" as we so politely describe incidences involving battering other people.

The flip side of impunity is assignation of blame. Women must be doing something to provoke men's violent responses and deserve what they get. This happens to men who are survivors as well. "Domestic violence is a two way street" that women are responsible for is a powerful idea, casually normalized in catchy tunes, jokes and other trivializing habits. Indeed, international studies repeatedly demonstrate that these blame-the-victim rationales continue to prevail.

This isn't surprising considering the way media cover the issue. It is very common that news reports shifts the narrative away from holding perpetrators responsible to blaming survivors, through language, implication and sometimes overt text. Add to media family and community efforts to "explain" abuse away.

Our tolerance for overlooking and excusing this violence never ceases to amaze me. While violence is complex, the basic issue, the right of children and women to live lives unmolested, is not. And it is rarely framed in terms of justice for girls and women within homes. Addressing impunity for these crimes, and their lifelong harms, is the core of V-Day's One Billion Rising 2014 #rise4justice campaign.

No More is trying to change that as well. The study was released yesterday in conjunction with a series of public service announcements (like the one above) featuring celebrities, athletes, corporate leaders, and advocates openly discussing violence against women and what people can do to help. The PSA campaign, spearheaded by Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation, is designed to run over three years with the objective of raising awareness, generating dialog and encouraging people to step in and help.

*Because it is inevitable that this piece will be greeted by erroneous claims of gender symmetry in domestic and sexualized violence, I am here putting a link to XYonline's resources which provide dozens of papers by thoughtful, knowledgeable, trained, rigorous researchers and experts on the topic of men, masculinity and gender violence.

Organizations where you can find more information, resources and bystander intervention techniques:

Also, Jackson Katz's The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help is a good book on the topic.