In The Continuum
Of Violence Against Women
By Lucinda Marshall
30 September, 2004
against women isn't news. Or at least that is the logical implication
one might draw from the lacking and skewered coverage given to the subject
by the media. Unless of course it involves a famous sports figure like
Kobe Bryant or O.J. Simpson, or a beautiful mother-to-be like Laci Peterson,
violence against women is a seriously under-reported story. Stories
about violence in the home are routinely trivialized as domestic matters
and misogynist violence such as female genital mutilation and honor
killings are dismissed as cultural norms.
Inasmuch as violence
against women is a global pandemic, the consequences of this ignorance
and bias are horrific. In November, 2003, UNIFEM (United Nations Development
Fund for Women) published a report stating that one out three women
are likely to be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. In this
country alone, 588,490 women were victims of non-fatal intimate partner
violence in 2001 and in March, 2004, Amnesty International mounted a
global campaign to end violence against women. One would think that
when violence of this magnitude terrorizes half of the world's population,
it would be front page news.
But as Carolyn Waldron
points out in an article published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
(FAIR), "Media implicitly tell us how to rank the importance of
the public issues according to the amount of press coverage devoted
to an issue." In other words, lack of appropriate media coverage
of an issue leads to the implication that the topic is not important.
And obviously, if a story is not reported, public awareness is significantly
Most disturbing is the disproportionate coverage of sensationalized
violence. Invariably, rape stories get far more coverage than domestic
violence stories. In all likelihood, this is because rape stories usually
focus on one individual woman. If she is attractive, and particularly
if she is white, she is a very marketable victim.
As Jennifer L. Pozner
(former director of the FAIR Women's Desk) makes clear, controversy
rather than facts sells in a "media climate that considers news
a "product" and readers and viewers "consumers"."
As an example, female genital mutilation affects millions of women worldwide,
yet you rarely hear about this. By contrast, the Kobe Bryant rape trial,
Laci Peterson's murder and the Simpson case were staple front page headlines
Rape is without doubt the most titilating crime there is. It is no accident
that rape is a frequent theme in pornography. The sexual brutilization
of women is a highly marketable business, bringing in some $10 billion
in profits in the U.S. every year. As lucrative as the portrayal of
rape is in the adult entertainment industry, it stands to reason that
it is also a profitable story for the news media as well. It is interesting
to note that the very same cable companies that broadcast news shows
also broadcast pornography. In fact one of those companies, Time Warner,
is the parent company of CNN.
of the economics involved is a recent Viagra advertisement that has
been shown extensively on the nightly news. It shows a man exhibiting
his devilish impulses by being turned on by very revealing women's lingerie.
That the networks see fit to advertise male sexual lust and what a turn-on
women's underwear is during the evening news says much. Clearly the
objectification and trivialization of women's lives and bodies in the
cause of satisfying the male need for sexual power mitigates any possibility
of appropriately addressing violence against women.
It is also important
to note that the worst sensationalizing occurs when women commit sexualized
violence, you can count on that to be the day's top story. Witness the
Lorena Bobbit case (she cut off her husband's penis but was found innocent
by reason of insanity caused by the abusive behavior of her husband).
More recently Abu Ghraib, where the actions of a few women such as Lynndie
England were huge news, but the abuse of women prisoners in the same
prison has been totally ignored by the media or dismissed as 'just porn'
provides another stunning example of this sort of sensationalism.
As Frieda Werden
of the Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS, www.wings.org)
points out, "Men's violence against women is treated like a "dog
bites man" story, and women's violence against men as a "man
bites dog" story. Thus the amount of coverage in mainstream media
is inversely proportional to the actual prevalence of these kinds of
violence, and gives a false impression". In fact, according to
the U.S. Justice Department, 89% of sexual violence is committed by
men and 99% of the victims are women.
As I began writing
this piece, we passed the benchmark of 1000 American deaths in Iraq.
It was anticipated by the media for weeks, and its significance pondered
at great length on the airwaves and in print. Yet more than 1000 women
are killed by intimate partner violence in this country alone every
year. Hundreds of thousands more are raped and hurt by sexual violence.
But that is not front page news.
are many women-run efforts to report violence against women. The following
list is not meant to be a complete compendium, just a starting point.
Awakened Woman www.awakenedwoman.com
Off Our Backs www.offourbacks.org
Women's Enews www.womensenews.org
Daily Feminist News
Ms. Magazine www.msmagazine.com
In addition, there
are several excellent sites that list comprehensive statistics about
violence against women:
Stop Family Violence
Prevention Fund www.endabuse.org
The Rape, Abuse
& Incest National Network www.rainn.org
is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the
Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org
which publishes Atrocities, a bulletin documenting violence against
women throughout the world. Her work has been published in numerous
publications including, Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off
Our Backs, Progressive, Rain and Thunder, and Zmag.
* Domestic Violence
is a Serious Widespread Social Problem in America: The Facts. Family
Violence Prevention Fund, www.endabuse.org
** Feminists, Prostitutes
and Nazis by Carolyn Waldron. FAIR www.fair.org,
*** In Rape Debate,
Controversy Trumps Credibility by Jennifer L. Pozner. FAIR www.fair.org
**** Porn in the
USA segment of 60 Minutes. CBS, September 5, 2004.