By Megan Widman, HAVEN Social Action Program Director
In December, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a 124-page report outlining the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States as measured by phone surveys to over 16,000 households. For those of us who work at HAVEN, the report was not as noteworthy for its content as it was for the attention it garnered from many media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC – and rightfully so.
After all, it should be front page news when we discover that nearly 1 in 5 women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape, and that over half of these victims were raped by their intimate partners. Our country should be shocked when we learn that more than one out of every three women (35.6%) has experienced rape, physical violence or stalking at the hands of their intimate partner. We should be taking to the streets upon hearing that nearly half (48.4%) of all women in our country have experienced psychological aggression and abuse by their intimate partner.
This extensive report confirmed what we already know – that intimate partner violence is an epidemic in our country. It is a crime that disproportionately affects women and girls. Perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault use these tactics deliberately, to gain or maintain power and control. And, because of this, intimate partner violence and sexual assault are now widely recognized as preventable public health issues. It is exciting that the CDC is now approaching violence prevention in the same way that they have approached the spread of infectious disease – and understanding the scope of the problem is an important step in approaching prevention in a systematic, informed manner.
But the fleeting attention this report received is not enough. And we at HAVEN are again reminded of how much work we still have left to do. And the questions still abound: How can we raise consciousness on these issues every day of the year? How do we work in our community to change the attitudes and norms that support these crimes? How do we continue to engage our community members to do this hard work?
And, so, numbers are powerful. They paint a picture. They lend credibility to an issue. And we are thankful for any public attention that is given to the issues of domestic and sexual violence. But we brace ourselves as the spotlight fades – because we know the next time the media shines a light on these issues, it will probably be because a tragedy has occurred. We hope that through our advocacy, counseling, and prevention work in our community that we can perhaps prevent the next murder-suicide or violent sexual assault.
We believe that intimate partner violence affects all of us. If you or someone you love has ever experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, you know that even one person is too much. Isn’t that the only number we need?