The 18 million cracks in society's glass ceiling, first set in motion by Senator Clinton and then Governor Palin, during this Presidential election, signal a new era on the national political stage for women and should therefore elevate women's issues in the national political dialogue.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case. One issue which is too often given short shrift is the issue of domestic violence. A silent epidemic that affects one in three women in the world today, domestic violence will take the life of more than 1200 women in America this year alone (this equals three women every day). Children are particularly vulnerable; each year, some 15 million children witness some form of domestic violence. Sadly, it is young women aged 16 to 24, who will experience the highest rate of victimization.
The passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, co-sponsored by Senators Joe Biden and Arlen Specter was a significant first step to addressing this issue. Hailed as a huge victory, VAWA worked to make stricter laws preventing interstate stalking, created a greatly needed national domestic violence hotline number, and created specific standards for the use of evidence in cases involving domestic violence. VAWA paid for outreach programs in non-English-speaking immigrant communities, where many victims often have no knowledge what their rights are or the numerous resources available to them. Along with providing funds to open shelters and hire and train prosecutors, police officers, and counselors in dealing with domestic violence, VAWA also created new prevention and treatment programs.
But this is merely a first step in a long journey toward overcoming this social crisis. While VAWA has brought much relief to victims and their children, there is still much more to be done. Domestic violence, though it is so prevalent, is still not given the attention it deserves. Too often, we treat domestic violence solely as a women's issue, despite its impact on families, communities and societies as a whole. If we want to end domestic violence, we first need to change the beliefs surrounding domestic violence through awareness and education.
We need a national commitment to address this issue along the lines of the national campaign to end smoking. We need to develop a thorough prevention and early intervention agenda, with the help of community residents and community-based organizations that are not just women's organizations. This should include classes and training for the entire community that illustrate the warning signs, resources and places to go for help. Children in school need to hear that domestic violence is a crime and, if they see it happening, how and where to report it.
And violence against women isn't just a domestic issue - it's an international human rights issue as well. Women and girls suffer disproportionately from violence, particularly in times of war and armed conflicts like Darfur, when the rape and abuse of women becomes a tool of terror.
We need to change our frame of reference and intervention strategies to hold the batterers accountable instead of blaming the victim. Why does the question always return to why the victim hasn't left, for example, when the real question should be: Why does the batterer abuse? Laws governing domestic violence must be enforced to show abusers that they will be held accountable with severe consequences for their crime of abuse.
We must include boys and men in our education efforts not as potential perpetrators but as collaborative allies in an effort to help make our communities safer for women and children.
As the candidates head into the final round of debates during the month of October, which is recognized nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I hope that the issue of domestic violence will get the attention it deserves. Only then will the one in three women who suffer from this problem really bring down that glass ceiling once and for all - Freedom from Domestic Violence. It's our right.®
©2008 Becky Lee Women's Support Fund