About 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of intimate-partner violence-related impact.
About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse. Someone known to and trusted by the child is responsible for 91% of instances of sexual abuse.
---CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS)
Violence against women and girls in this country is common, shockingly so. Those who wish to minimize this truth often claim that “boys will be boys” – as if men are controlled by forces beyond themselves. These apologists imply that something in the Y chromosome combined with testosterone is responsible. Thus, men’s behavior is both natural and unfixable. But even a cursory look at international data on violence against women shows that it varies widely between cultures, country income levels, and attitudes about equality. That it varies between countries demonstrates that men’s violence against women is socially constructed, not a matter of genetics or hormones. A decently wealthy, equality-promoting democracy like Ireland has much lower levels of violence against women than, for example, Afghanistan, a poor nation where women’s status is so low and the local ideology so extreme that girls are banned from higher education and independent movement. Culture matters, prosperity matters. And attitudes about women’s equality matter. (https://www.indexmundi.com/facts/indicators/SG.VAW.1549.ZS/rankings)
The United States is a country struggling to emerge from a culture that started with the genocide and forced relocation of an entire people. The nation’s founding economy was race-based plantation slavery, with enslaved women (men, too) being legally designated as property, to be treated as their “owners” wished. Women who were not enslaved, murdered, or relegated to reservations (white women) could not own property, were not the legal guardians of their own children, and were allowed by law to be beaten by their husbands or other relatives (The infamous “rule of thumb” is the stipulation that the tree switch used be no bigger around than a man’s thumb.).
Women were not thought capable of making an independent political decision until 1920 – and then, mostly only white women were allowed to vote. We had a second era of race-based oppression culture in the South (Jim Crow) after a bloody civil war fought over whether slavery should be allowed to continue. African American women (and men) have only had voting rights enshrined in national law since 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed. Women still did not have the right to a modicum of bodily autonomy until 1973, when, in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decided that the privacy rights presumed to be covered in the 14th Amendment included the right to choose abortion (within limits).
Only for 49 years have women had some sort of limited legal equality. That’s not long in historical terms. We were still fighting for equal pay, equal representation in institutions of power, equal health care, equal ability to pursue our livelihoods (which for many can be realized only with ready access to childcare), to name just a few ongoing battles. Then came the 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, and thus, our national right to bodily autonomy. It’s now up to the states (again) to decide which of us is deserving of equality under the law.
With such a violent history, Black women’s enslavement, the mass murder of Native American women, the paternalistic control of white women, it is unsurprising that the United States of America has such high levels of violence toward women and girls. Now Americans have the right to own murderous weapons whose only purpose is to threaten and kill other human beings. Largely, these weapons are owned by and used by men, against each other and against us [On average 70 women a month are murdered by their intimate partners with a gun. (Everytownresearch.org)]. Women, stuck in patriarchal culture on the bottom of the heap (especially women of color in our racist society), are bound to suffer most from our culture of violence.
There is only one cure for violence against women and girls. That cure is cultural transformation – a transformation based on equality among all people.
Over our history, we’ve made tremendous progress (frustratingly slow progress, but progress nonetheless) toward equality, for women, for people of color, for LGBTQ people. Eventually, this progress would have resulted in less violence against women and girls, less violence against everyone, because equality-based societies are less violent societies. Sadly, in the summer of 2022, our nation took a huge step backwards in our quest to assure equality under law. Bodily autonomy underlies any notion of equality. We used to have that right. Now, some of us don’t.