Why I’m in the Novo Foundation’s Move to End Violence Program

Why I’m in the Novo Foundation’s Move to End Violence Program



Blogger and Movement Maker Dorchen Leidholdt at a Press Conference Outside New York’s City Hall on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

By any standard, the movement to end violence against women weighs in as one of the most powerful and effective social justice movements in history. With its American roots in both the Nineteenth Century campaign for women’s suffrage (a little known fact is that one major goal was the passage of laws to enable women to divorce abusive husbands) and the Twentieth Century’s civil rights movement for racial equality, the movement to end gender violence has a formidable list of achievements: the construction of a national infrastructure of shelter and services for victims; an influential body of research and scholarship;  the transformation of our nation’s criminal, family, and immigration laws; the passage of international human rights and criminal treaties; and major inroads into public discourse and values.

As a young feminist activist confronting the denial of justice for rape victims in 1975 I never would have dreamed that only a quarter of a century later the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, would condemn violence against women as “the most shameful, pervasive human rights violation,” and subsequently issue a report identifying it as a cause and consequence of gender inequality while denouncing governments’ failure to protect victims.

Then why have we not seen more change on the ground? To be fair, there has been progress. Between 1981 and 1998, there was a 47 percent decrease in intimate partner homicide. Unlike statistics concerning domestic violence reports, which are skewed when victims don’t call the police, intimate partner homicide statistics are reliable measures. And what they documented was a substantial 30 percent decline in cases in which the decedent was female and a staggering 68 percent decrease in those in which the decedent was male. While a few derided this trend as evidence that the domestic violence victim advocacy movement was benefitting men more than women, what it really signified was increased safety and real alternatives for many battered women.

Another important sign of change on the ground is that women who report domestic violence and sexual assault are more likely to be treated like other crime victims and less likely to be left in harm’s way than at any time in American history.  Abused women in the United States are more likely now than ever before to enjoy the fundamental human right to personal security, to the protection of the justice system.

But gender-based violence still has staggeringly high proportions. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, American women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year. And some women and girls have heightened risk—young women (one out of five will experience rape or attempted rape during her college years); poor women (experiencing six times the rate of nonfatal violence as women in the top income category); and women and girls of color (disproportionately subjected to all forms of gender violence, including sex trafficking).

For Native American girls and women, victimized by gender violence at a rate double that of other women, not only is violence a horrifying daily reality but they are far less likely than other women and girls to receive law enforcement protection. Sexually assaulted women and girls on reservations, as a series of media exposes have documented, have largely been abandoned by the federal justice system. And men and boys who identify as GBTQ are not only experiencing gender violence at approximately the same rates as their sisters but too often are encountering bias and stereotyping instead of help.

One likely reason for the continuing high rates of gender violence, especially against the most vulnerable among us, is that until recently the mainstream movement ignored the link between violence against women and girls and the burgeoning global sex trafficking industry, including its public relations arm, the pornography industry. Public education campaigns about the harm of domestic violence are undermined by the private education in power and control men and boys receive when they patronize strip clubs and “massage parlors” or order up an “escort” for the night.

And think about the message sent to sex trafficked  women and girls: instead of protection, arrest and prosecution, while their abusers on both the supply and demand side, the pimps and johns, are ignored.

If only urgently needed exhortations to men and boys to “live respect, “stop rape,” and “man up” could counter daily sessions with internet and video porn, whose use has skyrocketed.  What was a four billion dollar a year business in 1978 became a 13 billion dollar a year industry in the U.S. alone by 2006.  An escalation in misogyny and racism has paralleled the growth in revenue, as NYU Professor Chyng Sun’s documentary “The Price of Pleasure”  and Wheelock College Professor Gail Dines’ book, “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality,” reveal.

“The movement to end gender violence in the United State and throughout the world is at a crossroads.”

This state of affairs is precisely why the Novo Foundation’s Move to End Violence Initiative is so urgently needed. The movement to end gender violence in the United States and throughout the world is at a crossroads. While its gains are real and must be celebrated, without new leadership, new ideas, and a new vision, without a growing cohort of activists committed to taking the movement to the next level and beyond, women and girls and too many of our brothers–brutalized by and under the constant threat of gender violence—will continue to be second-class citizens in a country and a world that permits gender violence to serve as the paramount obstacle to gender equality.

I’m so proud to have been selected as one of the Move to End Violence’s pilot Movement Makers, and I’m in awe of the energy, vision, and achievements of my fellow MEV social justice activists. At the same time that we’ve been strengthening our movement building skills, we’ve been strategizing to lay the groundwork for the future – to help figure out what it will take to end violence against girls and women in the United States and the world. If you, like us, are committed to a world without gender violence, a world in which girls and women are valued and work in respectful partnership with pro feminist men and boys, please consider joining us. You can be part of the next cohort of Movement Makers by dedicating your leadership to this lifesaving and world changing mission.

Dorchen Leidholdt
Dorchen Leidholdt
Director, Center for Battered Women's Legal Services
Sanctuary for Families

Dorchen A. Leidholdt has served as the Director of Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services since 1994. She also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), which she helped found in 1988. Learn More

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