The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently released a study regarding global statistics on physical and sexual violence and the related deaths of women. The information the WHO released proved that physical or sexual violence affects a third of all women…globally. They rightfully consider this an epidemic.
Of course, one can assume that such violence against women occurs mostly in third world nations, or nations experiencing war, and that would be a mostly correct assumption. One would think that a nation such as the U.S. would have the lowest statistics, they would be right, but these statistics are by far not low enough. The percentage differences between the most violent regions and the least is less than 15 percentage points apart.
So the questions remain: why is this happening at all, and why is this such a huge problem in the 21st century? Why is there no relief in sight for millions of women and girls?
In developed nations, our societies have evolved with women gaining many of the rights denied to our ancestors. We can vote, choose our occupation, buy property, and decide who, when, and even if we marry.Yet we are hardly immune to the violence perpetrated against us, often by our romantic partners.
It seems that sometimes we women are determined to be our own worst enemies. We buy “romance” novels by the gross ton where the plot sometimes has the “heroine” fall in love with her rapist and they end up supposedly madly in love by the end of the book. The book series 50 Shades of Gray was a runaway best-seller, featuring a very controlling, sadistic psychopath male and a female who was written to purportedly enjoy his mental, physical, and emotional abuse. The primary target reader of this book? Women. Does our apparent acceptance of such casual violence in fiction mean that we assume that either such violence doesn’t occur in real life, or that the women who find themselves on the victim side of things “like” or “deserve”it?
Our politicians certainly don’t help. They continue to cut funding for rape crises and battered women shelters They either misrepresent or outright lie about facts concerning sexual violence in order to promote legislation or gain votes.
Our judicial systems have weak laws, passed by the legislative branches of our governments to prosecute people who physically abuse women, and yet most rapists are never arrested, much less prosecuted.
Does our frustration with our political and judicial systems mean that we give up, accept the status quo, hope it doesn’t happen to us or someone we know and buy more books glorifying emotional, mental, and physical abuse?
The Bible that so many Christians revere doesn’t seem to offer much help either. There are civil codes where if a woman is raped in a field, she won’t get stoned for adultery, but if it happens in a city and she doesn’t cry out, she is guilty of adultery, and is therefore stoned. We don’t know for sure of course, but is possible that such a scenario may have happened to the woman accused of adultery in the New Testament. We have men stealing women from a neighboring town to make wives out of them, women ordered to marry their rapists, women enslaved as the result of war and forced to marry their conqueror. Does this not seem wrong to us? Or do we essentially ignore those portions of our Bibles?
One would think that in Christianity such things as physical and sexual violence against women would be rare. Unfortunately, it’s not, and that’s what really bothers me. So many Christians are so very focused on women’s issues – so much so that it has crossed the line from religion to politics…but the problem of violence against women has oddly not been given its deserved focus. Instead these groups have chosen to focus their attention on other topics such as abortion, birth control, or demoralizing the efforts of LGBT groups gaining equal rights.
When it comes to the truly important topic of violence against women, not much is being done by religious groups. If a woman were to turn to her pastor or church for help, more often than not she’s told to stay with her abusive husband, to “submit”, to stop being “disobedient”, to pray more, or that their abusive husband would have to commit the “real” crime of adultery before God would allow a divorce. I have to wonder: how many women feel trapped in a church-sanctioned abusive relationship with nowhere to go, and nowhere to turn? How much longer will this travesty continue?
How many sermons do we hear about Deborah, who ruled Israel for 40 years? How often are the names of the female prophets in scripture mentioned? What about all the women who were considered disciples? Why are women not given an equal role in the history of the church? Why are women still being denied equal roles in the church today? Why are they not also given equal protection when abuses occur?
You and I all know someone who is a victim of violence. You and I know someone who has been abused emotionally, physically, and/or sexually. You and I may know someone who died as a result of such violence. You and I may be one of those people who can list themselves in the victim list. You and I may live in fear of being a victim in the near future. As a result,you and I are the ones who understand the pain, the despair, and the feeling of utter isolation felt by victims of gender-based violence.
We can be the ones who do something about this, who work to reduce the list of victims and to ensure that all people live more peacefully and safely. We can be the ones who work to ensure that the fear of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by one half of our population becomes much less of an issue for the other half.
We need to stop ignoring this problem. We need to stop mourning the deaths, and drying the tears while we sit idly by and watch lives and hearts and souls and families shatter. We need to insist that women, all women, decide that we deserve better, and then we need to work together to rid our culture of the violence that threatens half of our species. We need men to insist that their gender conduct themselves with consideration, maturity and integrity. We need to work together, persistently, until we end this epidemic once and for all. The question is, will we?