Violence against women: A social disease with an identifiable cause

Cheryl Thomas (courtesy photo)

As the news about sexual assaults in the military and at least 13 deaths of women in Minnesota from domestic violence this year continue to horrify us, I have the nagging sense that we are profoundly and dangerously naïve to be shocked at the brutality. 

The perpetrators are not the “aberrant” monsters we would like to believe. Thinking they are uncommon may bring a measure of comfort because their acts would then be considered rare and those victimized few in numbers. 

They are part of a greater whole, a continuum of tragic acts of violence against women happening every day in every corner of the United States and the world. 

Too many men still cling to a need to control women, and they violate and abuse women and girls – their bodies and their lives – to accomplish the control. 

Local, national, worldwide

Hardly a day passes without headlines of another woman or girl murdered or kidnapped by her husband or boyfriend, forced into sex trafficking or sexually assaulted. Think of the tragedies of Danielle Jelinek and Kira Steger (Trevino), whose bodies were missing for weeks. There’s 16-year-old Anna Hurd, stabbed to death in March by her boyfriend in a Maplewood park and the three little Schaffhausen girls whose throats were slit by their father in their River Falls, Wis., home, a place where they should have been safest. 

There’s a girl shot in the head in Pakistan because she wants to go to school; women in Egypt raped and sexually harassed because they demonstrated for democracy; and women in Saudi Arabia fighting for the legal right to defend themselves from assaults by their husbands. 

The stories are endless, an epidemic. We profess our horror, but are seemingly complacent. We appear unwilling to diagnose and cure the disease. 

Focus on attitudes, behavior

Until we accept that many men remain intractable in their goal to dominate women through violence, these types of headlines will continue. We must focus on these attitudes and behavior. We must be strong in creating accountability for violent acts. We must be willing to reject the social messages and institutions that support views about women that lead to this violence. We must also reject public actions that diminish women and trivialize violence. 

While it may be easy to forget, Minnesota leads the United States and the world with decades of efforts to end violence against women and girls. And it is true, as Chuck Derry of the Gender Violence Institute states, “It is a minority of men who are doing the abuse.” Derry goes on to say that abusers rely on the majority of men to either remain silent in the face of these atrocities or to participate routinely in the social environments which support male domination and violence. Men are often supporting male domination and violence, whether they are being directly abusive or not. 

There is much we can – and must – do. While essential, it is not enough to support victim’s shelters and services and encourage the abused to seek help. We must increase focus on the men who are the perpetrators and the social context in which they act. 

It is time to name the cause of this brutality and go about the hard work of fixing it. 

As Derry says, “This is not an individual problem … this is a community problem with community solutions.”