Let me add my welcome to all of you as well, on behalf of all of us at Independence House.
Take a look around the room. Some of our colleagues and friends in this room have been the victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence and some are perpetrators/potential perpetrators of Domestic and Sexual Violence.
I say this with confidence and conviction because I am backed by statistical data about the evidence and prevalence of Domestic and Sexual Violence and informed by the number of survivors we see at Independence House and hear from in the community; and so here is what the data tells us.
One in four women and one in seven men aged 18 or older in the US have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Nearly three in ten women and one in 10 men have experienced rape, physical violence and or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Nearly one in five women and one in seventy-one men have been raped in their lifetime by any perpetrator and 81% of women who experienced rape, stalking or physical violence by an intimate partner reported significant injury or long-term impacts such as PTSD symptoms and injury.
Finally, an estimated 13% of women and 6% of men have experienced sexual coercion in their lifetime (unwanted sexual penetration after being pressured in a non-physical way) 27.2% of women and 11.7% of men have experienced unwanted sexual contact by any perpetrators.
Hearing these statistics, how do you feel?
Do they matter?
Are you appalled?
Do you say” that is not about me? I don’t do that “or do you wonder what’s wrong with those victims? Why didn’t they come forward?
Well we know victims don’t come forward for many reasons,’ one significant one being backlash or not being believed, or being blamed.
Fortunately we are experiencing a seismic shift that may eventually transform our culture moving us closer to decreasing these statistics dramatically
What is this seismic shift? Well, it is the dialogue about sexual assault and sexual harassment resulting from the #MeToo movement. This movement is providing a crucial humanizing narrative and a deeper national appreciation about the reality of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the lives of American women.
This #MeToo movement was originally started years ago by Ms. Tawanda Burke to give voice to other Black women and girls who like her had been sexually assaulted, but had no platform or voice and while this is a movement led and driven by women who are survivors, let’s be clear that the #MeToo movement is about casting light on sexual violence regardless of race or gender and in order to reduce/eliminate sexual violence, you are all needed because the undeniable truth is that in order to effect change in behavior and thinking of some men, it will take all men committing to the change they wish to see for their loved ones.
As I have followed this movement over these past few months it occurred to me that in one instance with the exposure of Harvey Weinstein, millions of survivors breathed a collective validating sigh of relief saying yes me too. All of a sudden those whose voices that had been muted are now amplified, signifying an eruption of the scope and magnitude of experiences of sexual abuse in the lives of women.
Yes, I have heard the criticisms of the movement and the remedies that have a resulted “witch hunt” going too far, but let’s remember that this is a powerful and affirming moment for survivors who had lost hope.
We are in a transformative moment. It’s the moment that we should reflect on these statistics I started with. Do they bother you? Do you think the #MeToo movement highlights the extent of sexual violence/harassment or do you have other thoughts? Are you skeptical? I believe your answers to these questions will inform your own actions after today.
In closing let me say this… my remarks are not about the stats, or about the #MeToo movement. Instead, my remarks are intended to highlight how the #MeToo movement validate the stats and demonstrate the deep seated problem of sexual violence in our culture. Furthermore, the #MeToo movement demonstrates a cultural shift in how our society can and should respond to sexual violence; #MeToo activates us to move beyond, looking at each individual instance of sexual or domestic violence as isolated incidents, instead we are called to ask and answer the question of why these acts are so prevalent, and we are challenged to increase our understanding of cultural norms and organizational and institutional practices that provide fertile ground for Domestic and Sexual Violence to occur and continue.
So where do we go after today?
To close my remarks I have 3 thoughts for us to consider and act on
Ask yourself how have I been complicit in contributing to Domestic and Sexual Violence? And alternatively how am I or my organization /institution committing to addressing these issues. What more can I/we do?
Listen to this story (story shared with members of the assembly)
Take the (White Ribbon Day) pledge and live the pledge.
Be Proactively attentive to norms that contribute to Domestic and Sexual Violence, and do your part to interrupt the current norms – know you may be out of your comfort zone and know the women in your life and in our country will welcome it.
I believe we all envision a world and a community free from violence and abuse in all its’ forms, let’s seize this moment. We are closer to achieving this vision than we have ever been! Let’s do it together.