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The Culture of Violence

By Chandra Allen

As the images of our culture of violence continue to overflow across the media outlets, I am overtaken by the level of violence that is perpetrated within and against communities. I am saddened by our inhumanity towards one another and our inability to create institutions that are just. Recently, I have seen several instances of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault play out in the media: the video of Ray Rice and his fiancé, the allegations against Bill Cosby, and the numerous accounts shared by college women on their campuses. One of the articles that I read this week narrated the violent rape of a college student and highlighted the culture of violence against women that pervades many of our institutions of higher learning. College age women are more likely than any other group to experience intimate partner violence or sexual violence according to the Justice Department. The number of stories, of experiences, that I have seen in the media from women of all ages is disheartening: women who have been assaulted, raped, trafficked, or killed by partners (to learn more click here), law enforcement (to learn more click here), and others. As the mother of two daughters, this is beyond alarming to me. I want to protect them. More than this, however, I want to contribute to creating a world where I don’t have to fear the path that is ahead of them or anyone else for that matter.

These instances of intimate partner violence and sexual assault have in many ways raised awareness of this frequently silenced epidemic. It’s good that we are talking more about intimate partner violence and sexual assault in the media and in our communities, but are our conversations helping or hurting? Are we demonizing the alleged perpetrators? Are we chastising and ridiculing the alleged victims? It can be a tricky balance to strike, because if you are like me, the visual images and graphic descriptions of IPV and sexual assault are devastating and heartbreaking. It brings to the surface outrage, sadness, confusion and a desire to see relationships that adopt a better model of respect and care for one another.

The Center for Disease Control defines intimate partner violence as “violence that occurs between two people in a close relationship.”[i] It can include current and former spouses/partners as well as dating partners. Intimate partner violence is a pattern of behavior used to exert control over another person and can include: physical violence, sexual violence, threats, emotional abuse, isolation and/or extreme jealously.

IPV is frequently something that happens behind closed doors and can be easily hidden by silence and shame. Because it likely involves the people we love the most, it can be difficult to break the cycle of violence and abuse. Each person who experiences intimate partner violence has to make the choices that are best for her/him. It is so important for us to keep talking about the warning signs and prevention strategies for IPV, because chances are we have experienced it ourselves or someone we love has experienced it.

The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”[ii] This can include fondling, attempted rape, verbal or physical harassment, and any other unwanted sexual advance.

Consider these statistics:

•1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes

•1 in 3 teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year

•1 in 5 women is a survivor of rape.

•1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives.

•1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18[iii]

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Photo credit: http://www.rrsonline.org/?page_id=2702

These numbers are alarming and urgently call for all of us to create practices that change our current harmful behaviors and to challenge media, social norms, and institutions to promote relationships that are based on respect and mutuality. More importantly, however, these numbers represent the precious lives of our loved ones and our community members. These numbers represent people we interact with every day. Chances are intimate partner violence or sexual assault has occurred in your life or the life of someone you know: our parents, siblings, children, co-workers, friends, fellow students, or faith community members.

It can be difficult to know what to do when faced with situations of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. The best case scenario is to stop IPV and sexual assault before it begins – to educate ourselves, our families, and our communities about the risk factors and warning signs.   We have to be more vocal about how to create safe relationships in our families and in our communities. We have to hold each other accountable for how we treat one another. We have to support and advocate for our sisters and brothers who are impacted by intimate partner violence and sexual assault. This will be no easy task, because as I mentioned at the opening of this post, we are enveloped by a culture of violence. We have a culture that more often than not supports models of “power over another” as opposed to “power with” or “power in community.” We are bombarded with gender stereotypes that support unrealistic and unhealthy gender roles.  These are just a few of the obstacles (there are many more) that prevent models of healthy, respectful, safe, and caring relationships to prevail.

For me, the first step is education: understanding the characteristics of IPV and sexual assault, and learning more about the systemic structures that contribute to intimate partner violence and sexual assault. I encourage you to connect with websites that provide more information about intimate partner violence and sexual assault. I also encourage you to connect with agencies and/or organizations in your community and get involved in education, prevention, support, and advocacy efforts.

I invite you to join us at Scarritt-Bennett Center on Thursday, March 19, 2015 from 11:30am-1:00pm for our “Hot Topic” lunch discussion on intimate partner violence. Each month at the “Hot Topic” series, we’ll focus on contemporary issues, hear from an expert, and open up the floor for a group discussion. Scarritt-Bennett Center is committed to being a voice against intimate partner violence and sexual violence in our communities. The cost for the program is $6 and we encourage you to bring a sack lunch. Join us in March as we engage in discussion about the prevalence of domestic violence in our community, the resources that exist to support those affected by it, and the actions that we as a community can take to prevent it. Learn more and register here: http://conta.cc/1GqMLwq

A few helpful websites:

YWCA Nashville (http://ywcanashville.com/)

National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.ndvh.org)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (www.ncadv.org)

INCITE! (http://www.incite-national.org/)

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (www.nsvrc.org)

Family Violence Prevention Fund (www.endabuse.org)

No More (www.nomore.org)

Green Dot (http://www.livethegreendot.com)

End Rape on Campus (endrapeoncampus.org)

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[i] www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention

[ii] http://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault

[iii] www.nomore.org