In recent days, journalists and media outlets have been doing a side by side comparison of the way that the sexual assaults in New Delhi and Steubenville have been framed for the public. In late December, a 23-year-old student was gang-raped on her way home from a movie, assaulted so viciously that she died two weeks later. In Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players are accused of repeatedly raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl, instigating ensuing commentary from other team members and community members. The recent debate has focused on why the media portrayal of the cases has been so different. Some articles have claimed that American media sources are quick to point the finger at India’s flaws while neglecting to admit that we in the United States have a lot of work to do to improve victim services and overall response. Others have written about the need to report on the two incidents differently, to reflect cultural values and the cultural context in which the assaults occurred.
I think the debate on the framing of the two assaults is circling around and subsequently missing the main take-away: violence against women is endemic in the culture we all collectively share, and our corresponding collective level of outrage dwarfs in comparison.
As Nicolas Kristoff pointed out in his recent opinion piece:
Not only did [Congress] fail to renew the Violence Against Women Act, but it has also stalled on the global version, the International Violence Against Women Act, which would name and shame foreign countries that tolerate gender violence.
Congress even failed to renew the landmark legislation against human trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The obstacles were different in each case, but involved political polarization and paralysis (NY Times)
Our outrage has been focused on two assaults and we’ve neglected to report on the thousands of incidents of sexual violence that are perpetrated against men and women around the world every day. Kristoff made this point in his second opinion piece (written in response to the first). Here are some of the stories he learned about in recent days that received little to no media coverage (especially in comparison):
A 13-year-old girl dying of injuries caused by rape in Liberia. A separate incident in which an 8-year-old girl is kidnapped by a pimp in Liberia. A woman in San Francisco allegedly doused with gasoline by her boyfriend and set on fire. A girl in Nepal burned alive because she refused a marriage offer. (NY Times)
As Jessica Valenti points out, we are also missing an opportunity to discuss victim blaming and the way we respond to survivors of sexual assault. We are missing an opportunity to talk about social injustice and gender equity. As David Lee noted last week, we are missing an opportunity to talk about lessons for prevention.
One opportunity that we cannot afford to risk? Utilizing the momentum and interest generated by these two news stories to advance the sexual violence prevention and intervention movements. CALCASA has designed a number of tools to help rape crisis centers, advocates, and preventionists connect with their local media outlets to gain attention and built awareness (the first step towards primary prevention). We plan on utilizing these tools to connect with media outlets, legislators (on both the state and national level), and community members to reinforce our message: it is time to end violence against women.
What are your main take-aways and how will you build upon the momentum generated by recent assaults to increase support for the violence against women movement?
Photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4427315172/