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The United States' 'Violence Against Women' Problem

Posted by Elizabeth Ullrich on
Elizabeth Ullrich

In the last month, there has been a lot of coverage of domestic violence involving male athletes. The media has been repeatedly asking: how strict should the NFL be with players who are accused (and/or found guilty) of committing violence against women?

In men’s athletics (at all levels: high school, collegiate, and professional), there is a long history of avoiding the topic of violence against women, protecting the “good ol’ boys club,” and prioritizing profit over morality.The advent of social media has brought a centuries’ old problem to light in a way that prompts even the “good ol’ boys” to take action.

It is one thing to talk about prominent male athletes abusing women. It is entirely another issue when you see it play out on our television screens a million times over. To watch it in such a visual (and visceral) fashion seems to change peoples’ minds about the severity of the issue and prompts many to act, when they would not before.

We have a severe problem with violence against women in our country. 1 in 6 women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape (source: RAINN.org). 1.3 million women are assaulted by a domestic partner each year in the United States (source: NCADV.org).

I wish I could say that this violence comes from a specific group of men, like athletes. Then it would be easier to solve by targeting the specific groups. But the NFL is not the only organization to have a “domestic violence problem.”

In fact, police and military personnel have a much larger problem with violence against women, and they are the personnel we depend on to protect us.

Pick any authoritative occupational realm where there is a normative expectation that these employees should follow moral codes of justice, and I will show you a problem with domestic violence, sexual harassment, and/or sexual assault: prosecutors, judges, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, etc.

No occupation is free from having a “violence against women” problem, because the problem is an effect of our country’s culture – not the fault of individual cultures in different occupational areas.

I appreciate that the NFL is taking domestic violence more seriously – especially that they will invest time, energy, and money in better training and accountability systems for their players. But do not think this will make the problem disappear. 

As a country, we need to take a long look in the mirror at ourselves and ask how the average American’s dismissive attitude towards violence against women creates the dismissive cultures inside of these occupational fields, wherein there is more effort put behind undermining the legitimacy of victims and less effort put behind accountability for the perpetrators. 

“Boys will be boys” is a phrase saved for more than just a football field – it is a phrase we commonly use to justify violent behavior on the part of men in all realms.  If we want boys to grow up to be men who protect women, rather than hurting them, we must get rid of this phrase “boys will be boys” from our cultural repertoire. 

Boys must learn that they cannot touch a woman without her permission.  Moreover, we should teach boys that they shouldn’t rape, and they shouldn’t beat - rather than teaching girls how to avoid rape and then blaming them when they stay with their abuser.

Sports can teach us about the importance of sacrifice, hard work, and discipline. It doesn’t teach us to violently attack our partners. That is learned off the field, in the same places that police, firefighters, teachers, coaches, judges, and religious leaders learned it: at home. 

This is why I believe it is important for our government to invest more resources at the local level for survivors of violence. If we did that, fewer women would be turned away at shelters that don’t have any more beds. Fewer women would feel like they have no other option than to go back to their abuser. 

The fact that women do not usually report attacks to the police is a direct result of the lack of investment our state and national government has made towards our “violence against women problem.” Yes, it is an issue that starts at home. But it is an issue that will not be solved without more resources being made available outside the home.

As long as women face ridicule for reporting an attack, we will always have low reporting numbers.  As long as women fear their lives are in more danger by leaving, than by staying, they will never leave.

At the national level, there is a “Victims of Crime Act” (VOCA) fund (which is collected solely from the fines and fees paid by criminal offenders), which helps states pay for victim-assistance programs. Most of the expenses of many local shelters in Michigan are paid through federal grants associated with the VOCA fund. 

This fund has more than $9 billion in it, but this money has not been distributed effectively, which has led many victim-assistance programs to be unable to keep up with the demand of needs from survivors of violence.

More than 80 percent of VOCA-eligible programs have reported a “desperate” or “definite” need for more critical assistance from the government when it comes to technology, infrastructure, and case management. 

It would be helpful if more Americans knew this, cared about it, and put effective pressure on their Congress members to make more funds available to victim-assistance programs – rather than simply focusing on whose jersey they should (or should not) be wearing on football Sunday.  

Elizabeth Ullrich is an assistant professor of political science at Delta College.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.


Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

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