As scary as it is to admit, I don't think Americans care much about violence against women and children. As heartbreaking as this statement is, particularly for a human rights activist -- I believe it to be true. Perhaps I am scared it is true. This past week we launched my new documentary Tapestries of Hope. The movie explores the story behind the myth perpetuated in Zimbabwe, that raping a virgin cures aids. That myth had my assistant, myself, a camera and a box of underwear travel to Zimbabwe in 2007 to meet up with top 10 CNN Hero Betty Makoni and her organization, the Girl Child Network.
Over the last three and one-half years that it took to get this movie finished, both Betty and I were imprisoned. Robert Mugabe put a price on Betty's head. He created a smear campaign around her work and the embezzlement of funds. She and her family went into exile. I had to deal with the fallout from stepping in feces and getting parasites, then Lyme, and am just now recovering my health.
We worked round the clock, with Brainstorm Media's "Something to Talk About" and Screenvision to get theaters to open their doors, one night to tell this story.
We lived on Diet Coke until we passed out in bed, and lined up as many speakers as we could around the country. We were understaffed and overzealous, because we wanted to change the world, and naïve enough to still believe that we could.
We set up screenings in over 107 theaters around the country, Facebook, Women's International Perspective, Palindrome Advisors, IndieGoGO, Women Thrive Worldwide, Care, Red Hat Society, all worked together to get people into theaters and push CONGRESS to sign and fund I-VAWA: The International Violence against Women Act:
Some theaters were sold out or were close being to sold out. Many audiences were made up of all women. Fellow Huffington Post blogger, Cheryl Saban's article on the "Ghettoizing" of women's issues, rang true to the mostly all-female audiences. Men, this is far from a gender issue.
We in America have the proud distinction for the amount of violence we inflict on our boy children. 1 out of 5 boys will be molested before they are 13. Experts believe these figures are quite low as there is a significant stigma for boys to raise the issue. When sexually abused boys are not treated, society must later deal with the resulting problems. These issues include crime, suicide, drug use and more sexual abuse. For males, one third of juvenile delinquents, 40% of sexual offenders and 76% of serial rapists report they were sexually abused as children.
Suicide rates amongst sexually abused boys is 1.5 to 14 times higher and substance abuse amongst sixth grade boys who were molested was 12-40 times greater than those not abused. Most experts believe that 10-20% of ALL boys have been sexually abused in some way. Because of the inconsistent US methodology in gathering statistics the scope of the problem and its numbers often get discredited.
The movie had a terrific PR firm, Glover Park Group, that could not get the mainstream media interested in this story. This just adds to my theory that this issue just doesn't make it on anyone's top ten lists. We had always thought of "Tapestries of Hope" as a mission, not a movie. And it was not about a country in Africa, but violence inflicted around the globe. What's not important about that?
It's time to wake up. In 1979, the United Nations established the Convention on the elimination of ALL forms of discrimination against women. (CEDAW). This was the largely the precursor to I-VAWA. President Carter signed the legislation and sent it to the Senate Foreign Relations committee (The same one voting on I-VAWA) for a VOTE in 1980. This legislation has yet to be signed over 30 YEARS later, putting us in the company of other non-signers like Sudan, Iran, Somalia, and Zimbabwe.
The Senate's inaction sends a message to the world community, a wink and nod, that we aren't really serious about protecting the human rights of women at home. It also weakens the effectiveness of US foreign policy around the globe. American arrogance at its' finest, "Do as I say, not as I do."
The toll of violence against women and children on our villages, our families and our everyday lives is acute. The economic cost is far worse than you could imagine. Take this example:
The cost of Just partner Violence:
• In the United States roughly 6 billion a year
• In Canada roughly 1 billion a year
• In the United Kingdom 23 billion a year
In this one sample segment the total is 30 billion dollars a year. If we took the time to sum up the global tally in all categories, the costs of global violence is astronomical.
Still we dawdle. ERA has yet to be passed, the I-VAWA bill was postponed until November at the earliest. The Senate Foreign Relations committee did not have enough representatives there for a quorum. The whole agenda was postponed because a number of our representatives choose to go out and campaign instead of voting on the day's issues.
Will this blog get enough of you to sign the petition to get Congress's attention? Will those of us who refuse to pull our ostrich like heads out of the sand and be counted, actually pop up and read the writing on the wall? Will readers go online and request a theater near them and help spread the word? I just don't know.
After 3.5 years, a huge campaign, we raised very little money across the country. We had some theaters that were almost empty. I think back to early in this fight, when a fellow activist, sent an email to me as I lay in my hotel room weeping after a frustrating day on Capitol Hill.
He wrote the following:
First you rage, Then you weep Then you start again...
Follow Michealene Cristini Risley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mcrisley,@tape