By Heidi Schnakenberg
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
October is domestic-violence awareness month. As Joe Biden and other men think, talk and do more to combat the problem, Heidi Schnakenberg says more of that kind of male activism is urgently needed in a troubled economy.
(WOMENSENEWS)--A 3-year-old girl was raped and sexually assaulted by an adult male and the act was recorded on a videotape discovered in Nevada.
Authorities investigating the case at the time seemed traumatized by what they saw and made the unusual decision to show the girl's face on television in a nationwide call for help. A haunting image of the girl dressed in leopard print lingerie appeared all over the news.
As we watched, my husband was mortified in a way that I had not seen before. "I can't take it. I feel sick," he said.
That was about a year ago.
At the time I was interviewing an inmate at a New York correctional facility for a separate project and asked him what he thought about it. He coldly replied, "The man who did that should receive the death penalty. No, send him to jail and let the inmates kill him. Because after that, they will."
My husband, this inmate and other men I know displayed the same kind of instant and visceral reaction to this story that most women show when they so much as hear about rapes and other types of gender-based violence. The knowledge that there was a video seemed to make it more real.
Most domestic and sex crimes occur in private and it's rare to witness the violence. It's even rarer to have indisputable evidence of the crime.
Ever since I was a kid and witnessed my mother suffer domestic abuse, I have wondered at men's lack of direct involvement in preventing violence against women and girls in the first place.
The focus is usually on women not doing enough to protect themselves or their children, while far less attention is paid to the perpetrators. Why aren't more men outraged at their fellow males' actions and motivated to end it, once and for all? Why are women left to pick up the pieces? Isn't this a man's problem?
I believe many men feel out of touch with normally well-hidden violence against women and girls and have a hard time absorbing the reality of their plight.
Fortunately, a shift on this seems underway.
Joe Biden, the Democrats' vice presidential nominee, has been proudly citing his authorship of the groundbreaking 1994 Violence Against Women Act throughout the campaign, including during the debate earlier this month with the GOP's nominee, Gov. Sarah Palin.
As the U.S. economy heads into rough times the need for more of this kind of male advocacy couldn't be more urgent.
Across the country, reports of violence against women are on the rise.
The souring economy has been blamed for dramatic spikes in domestic violence in recent headlines in California, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and West Virginia. Pennsylvania has had a devastating increase in domestic violence fatalities.
An extensive 2004 report by the National Institute of Justice found that the rate of violence against women increases as male unemployment increases. When a woman's male partner is employed, the rate of violence