I am absolutely unequivocally positive that we can and will end gender-based violence. Absolutely. Positive. The end might not be within my lifetime but I am hopeful it will happen within the lifetime of the next generation. Why am I so darn positive?
For decades, much of the work on domestic and sexual violence focused on providing individual assistance to victims – shelter, counseling, advocacy, and legal remedies. All critical and lifesaving. At HAVEN, in our 40 years, we estimate that we provided such services to over 400,000 individuals – women, children, and men. We know that we have made an impact and we know that we have helped save lives. And continue to both today.
And during those 40 years, we also provided critical prevention education programming to hundreds of thousands of school children. Teaching students about body autonomy, the dynamics of abuse, healthy relationships, consent, dating violence, sexual harassment, and gender respect. But over the past several years we have seen the direction of prevention education starting to make a significant shift, a shift from risk reduction (“don’t get raped”) to a strong focus on primary prevention.
And this shift is what is driving home my positive belief that we will end the violence.
When we as a society begin to address the root causes of gender-based violence, we stand an actual chance at ending the violence. Primary prevention becomes the means to an end. Let’s look at another serious public health issue as an example – smoking.
I am old enough to remember people smoking on airplanes, at movie theaters, in hospital rooms, elementary schools, churches – you name it – people smoked and smoked – with no one giving it a thought or a concern. Then we started to hear of health concerns for the smoker and eventually that led to warning labels on cigarette packaging. Next came concerns regarding second hand smoke and addiction. When the truth about nicotine addiction came out and big tobacco was held accountable, the tide started to shift. The effort began to focus on root causes – nicotine addiction and direct link causes to cancer for both the smoker and those breathing in those second hand fumes.
It took decades and yes, people of all ages still smoke, but in significantly smaller numbers. And where can one smoke? Not many places anymore. Starting this month, in some states, smokers will even be banned from smoking in their cars if minor children are present. A huge shift from just 20 years ago.
Although gender-based violence is a different public health issue, it is none the less a significant health problem in our society and around the world. This critical social issue is getting more attention than it ever has leading to accountability of institutions such as college administration and the military – institutions no longer being allowed to look the other way but to face and change the role in ending violence against women. Men are stepping up and accepting their role in ending the violence – standing beside women and becoming active and engaged bystanders, speaking up against men’s violence against women. Parents and educators are pushing for appropriate educational programming for children – insisting that all children have opportunities to learn about body autonomy, healthy relationships, and proactive bystander education.
Through social media, everyday voices are speaking up about the poor use of language by the media in describing violent acts and victim blaming. Corporate America is being challenged to stop objectifying women in their advertising and their promotion of products which perpetuates such objectification – even something so simple as Target eliminating the gender separation of children’s toys makes a difference.
On National Positive Thinking Day (yes there is such a thing!), join me and others in identifying how you too can make some positive steps toward the elimination of domestic and sexual violence.
My next positive step – I am going to share this blog and HAVEN’s Prevention Education Program information with friends and family members who have young children in school. I am going to give them tools to talk with their schools about making sure that their children have quality primary prevention education (not risk reduction education) made available to them and their classmates. A small but critical positive step.
What will you do today, tomorrow, and throughout future days?