Home should be a place of safety and sanctuary, but for a third of women, this is not the case. Around the world, 800 million women are subject to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands and partners. Per the World Health Organization, intimate partner violence (IPV), also includes emotional abuse, such as threatening to take children away, and controlling behaviors, including isolation and restriction of financial resources, employment, education, and medical care.
IPV causes injury and death, mental health and substance abuse issues, and harm to children who are born to women abused by their intimate partner. That being said, intimate partner violence isn’t a women’s issue. IPV is a social concern that runs rampant and largely unchecked in any society that supports – implicitly or explicitly – sexual assault and rape. Counter to the woman-as-victim trope, violence can occur in any intimate relationship, including between same-sex couples.
What can we do to help millions of men, women, and children in violent homes? Dismantle those structures which facilitate power imbalance between partners as well as systems that support sexual violence.
Rape culture is a term that is bandied about in regard to leniency and light sentencing of perpetrators, especially on college campuses, in the military, or if the perpetrator is an athlete. Instead, victims of rape bear the brunt of the burden, such as in the case of a 14-year-old student raped repeatedly by her 49-year-old teacher. The rapist was sentenced to one month in jail. The victim took her own life. A judge declared that the victim was equally in control of the situation because she “seemed older” than her chronological age.
Rape culture doesn’t exist just in our most esteemed institutions, but in the laws that govern our behavior. A 2010 article published in The Georgetown Law Journal speaks to one of these laws, which allows rapists to seek visitation and custody of children conceived through rape. Contrary to former State Representative Todd Aiken’s assertions, women can indeed get pregnant as a result of rape as the female body has no mechanism to “shut the whole thing down.”
Once again, we confront another myth of rape culture: that children conceived through rape are unloved and women who choose to keep these children are not true victims. Statistics show that 80% of rape victims know their attacker, and without laws to revoke paternal custody, some will be forced to continue association with their rapist for at least the next 18 years.
What other institutions contribute to domestic violence? Child marriage itself is a form of violence perpetrated on some 37,000 girls each day. Girls who are married before the age of 18 are twice as likely to be beaten and three time more likely to be raped by their spouse. Abuse is so endemic to this institution that a third of girls married before age 18 believe that, under some circumstances, a man has the right to beat his wife.
For society as a whole, rates of intimate partner violence are intricately associated with the state of society as a whole:
On issues of national health, economic growth, corruption, and social welfare, the best predictors are also those that reflect the situation of women. What happens to women affects the security, stability, prosperity, bellicosity, corruption, health, regime type, and (yes) the power of the state. The days when one could claim that the situation of women had nothing to do with matters of national or international security are, frankly, over.
As you can see, there is a lot of work to be done.
Sexual Violence is a tool of war, but we have the weapons to end that. The Guardian
Guatemala sexual slavery verdict shows women’s bodies are not battlefields. The Guardian
Ten Things to End Rape Culture. The Nation