The Double Standard for Violence

The mass shooting of young children in Connecticut rightly set off a national outcry about gun control, and the sexual abuse of boys at Penn State justly brought strong condemnation from the NCAA and state officials.

But where is the outrage over the on-going violence against girls and women in schools and college campuses, in the armed services, and across American communities? Where are the editorials in prestigious national publications condemning the U.S. House of Representatives' recent refusal to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), leaving U.S. women without federal protection? Why this double standard?

This double standard for violence is unfortunately hardly new. Until recent times, violence against women (for example, the "right" of a husband to physically "chastise" his wife) was accepted even by many women themselves. Even after laws were passed to protect women from domestic violence, there were few prosecutions, much less convictions. If a man beat his wife, even if the police came, they simply "walked him around the block" until he "cooled down." As for rape, a woman rarely filed charges because the law basically put her on trial as having "brought it on herself" and any prior sexual history was considered a valid defense.

Only in recent times, thanks to the determination of women and their organizations, has this begun to change. As data accumulated from official sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the United Nations' UN Women, it became clear that there is a global pandemic of violence against women (as well as girls, for example, worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16). U.S. statistics also began to be taken seriously, for example that according to the CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly one in five American women has been raped or has experienced an attempted rape, that one in six women has been stalked, and that one in four have reported being beaten by their intimate partner.

Legislators often talk about how we must support our armed forces. But, as reported last Sunday by Congresswoman Jackie Speier on MSNBC, a woman in the military today is more likely to be a victim of violence at the hands of her fellow soldiers than by enemy combatants. Yet female members of our armed forces are not being supported or even protected, as dramatically shown in the recent documentary, The Invisible War.

Legislators also like to talk about how important our nation's young people are. Yet violence against girls and women in schools and colleges is a national disgrace, like the repeated recent rape of a young woman allegedly by several members of a high school football team in Steubenville, Ohio, or the alleged rape of two students by football players of the vaunted Notre Dame team, resulting in at least one suicide. Notre Dame officials even tried to hush this up, as has been the pattern at other schools, from the University of Colorado to that of North Carolina, which covered up similar acts of violence against female students. As David Zirin and Jessica Valenti reported in The Nation, there is little outcry against the violent crimes committed by players of storied football teams and on college campuses, where 95 percent of rapes are under-reported and often covered up through intimidation of victims and even by high-level university officials changing reports.

A few days ago VAWA was re-introduced in both the Senate and House as S. 47 and H.R. 11. Now it is up to us to see to it that reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is a first order of business for the 113th Congress.

We must hold accountable the legislators who cast the unconscionable votes to let this important protection for women and girls lapse, raise their awareness and insist that they change their votes. Together we can see to it that financial and legal resources worldwide are used to leave behind the shameful double standard for violence against women.

Co-authored with Kimberly Otis, and Karen Hessel

Riane Eisler is President of the Center for Partnership Studies, a pioneer in advocacy for women's human rights, and author of The Chalice and the Blade.
Kimberly Otis is Director of the Center for Partnership Studies' Caring Economy Campaign
Karen Hessel is Coordinator of the Center for Partnership Studies' Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence