October and the color purple, with hashtags #CATURNSPURPLE, #DVAM2017 spread across the Golden State and social media, remind the nation that this is Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Month, designed to increase awareness and understanding of a topic not often brought into the open. You would think that domestic violence is a thing of the past, but instead of diminishing, it keeps growing in our societies. Campaigns such as ENOUGH, NO MORE, There’s No Excuse for Violence or Abuse, SPEAK OUT, REAL MEN DON’T HIT, ME TOO, still haven’t Put The Nail In It.
According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, domestic violence threatens the lives of more young women than cancer, malaria or war. It affects one in three women worldwide who has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her. Studies show that everyday more than three women are fatally killed by their husbands or boyfriends while survivors are left mentally scarred for life.
MEN, you should be outraged that in 2017 you can allow for this escalation in abuse, violence and death to occur at the hands of your gender. We live in a society where violence and disrespect against women—both in action and in speech—is prevalent. Every woman (consider for one moment your sister, your mother or your daughter) is at risk for becoming a victim of domestic violence. DV has no regard for socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, employment status, physical aptness, age, education, marital status, or sexual orientation. Sexist, patriarchal, and/or sexually hostile attitudes are growing because men and women acquiesce to these attitudes and dismiss derogatory comments and behavior to “locker room talk” or machismo culture.
Cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behavior in the use of violence. They perpetuate the problem. The traditional beliefs that men have a right to control or discipline women through physical means makes women vulnerable to violence by intimate partners and places girls at risk of sexual abuse. The “tradition” of not interfering in matters between family members that occur in private, leads to reluctance for government, the criminal justice system, and other systems to respond to domestic violence, even after it becomes a crime. In many cultures, admission of abuse is to acknowledge the ugly side of one’s humanity, therefore the problem is denied and swept under the rug. One of the biggest challenges today is getting domestic violence laws implemented, such as making sure that women are able to go to the police to report violence, to have the support of their churches, or have access to shelters for protection. Clergy and secular counselors are trained to see only the goal of “saving” the marriage at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the abuse; police officers do not provide support to women and treat domestic violence as a domestic “dispute” rather than a crime and discourage the victim from pressing charges; prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute cases, and judges rarely impose the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers; the abuser is quickly discharged only to return and repeat the assault/crime.
Legislation is a key tool in changing behavior and perceptions of cultural and social norms. Laws and policies that make violent behavior an offence send a message to society that it is not acceptable. While nearly all countries have laws that criminalize most forms of homicide, only some countries have laws in place to protect women from intimate partner violence. However, even when laws exist, this does not mean they are always compliant with international standards and recommendations or implemented. There is much abuse in the system. Hollywood, New York, Washington are prime examples! Much progress is still needed and especially in countries such as Algeria, Armenia, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Haiti, Iran, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen to name a few that DO NOT HAVE laws in place to identify and criminalize offenders, the solution is to change the mindset of “traditions” of patriarchal culture.
MEN, unless you are willing to see DV and abuse for what it is–a crime and violation of human rights—you put your own mother, sisters and daughters at risk. Do not normalize sexualized violence. Notice it. Be outraged. Share your outrage with others. Do not hide behind closed doors, remain silent, or turn your backs and say “it’s not my problem,” and allow for the abuse and violence to escalate. Become more educated. Like all good prevention, fathers and mothers, teach your sons—not only your daughters—by example that violence, abuse and harassment are unacceptable under any given condition. Education should go beyond what girls can do to prevent being victims, to the attitudes that boys have about women and about masculinity, and the actions that men can take to promote mutual respect and egalitarianism. Teach your boys at home and at school. Athletic coaches, start delivering programs designed to engage young men in questioning and challenging harmful gender norms with the goal of reducing sexual violence and dating/relationship abuse.
MEN, your influence in the global push to stop gender-based violence cannot be underestimated. Step forward. Transform the problem into becoming the solution. Join forces with women to end violence against women. Break the wall of silence and taboo still surrounding violence against women and the sheer magnitude of this most widespread of human rights issues and become the solution to the problem.
MEN and Women must prioritize ending violence against women in laws, policies, and funding at every level until every woman is safe at home, at school, and at work. There is no amount of justice that can restore the lost lives of countless victims of domestic violence locally and in other countries including Armenia, but we can honor their memory by collaborating to end domestic violence in our communities so that no other family or culture will ever bear this kind of pain.
MEN, it’s time to step forward and earn your purple ribbons. Stand up, speak out, and act.