Violence Against Women

About this Episode

Guests
Treva Lindsey, Cathy Rakowski, Peggy Solic

Violence against women has a long history in human communities. Yet, we live in a time when people across the planet are beginning to give greater attention to this problem and, at times, to stand against misogynistic violence in all its forms. Recently, the United Nations created the "He for She" campaign, which highlights that violence against women remains a global problem that exists at "alarmingly high levels." This month, History Talk hosts Patrick Potyondy and Leticia Wiggins sit down to discuss the origins of gender violence, its existence throughout history, and issues affecting women globally with scholars Treva Lindsey, Cathy Rakowski, and Peggy Solic.

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Cite this Site

Leticia R. Wiggins, Patrick R. Potyondy , "Violence Against Women" , Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective
May, 2015
https://www.origins.osu.edu/historytalk/violence-against-women?language_content_entity=en.
May, 2015

Transcript

Patrick Potyondy 

Welcome to History Talk from Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective from the Ohio State University.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, published in 2005, is a book whose original title, when translated from Swedish, is "Men Who Hate Women." This title captures author Steve Larson's social commentary on violence against women in contemporary globalized society.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

In 2013, the BBC wrapped up the taping of The Fall in the United Kingdom, a series focused on one female detective's attempt to find a male serial killer and attacker of young women in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The show followed closely on the heels of the mini-series, Top of the Lake, set in New Zealand and which featured many similar themes.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Here in the United States, Law Order: Special Victims Unit is on its 17th season, as the ratings continue to be favorable for this detective show, focused in part on solving crimes of sexual violence, often against women.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

While we are in a cultural moment when some popular culture is challenging misogynistic violence, the news media too seems to have taken real world events more seriously, giving extensive coverage to horrifying attacks from across the globe.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Perhaps it's in part because of all of this that the United Nations has launched a HeForShe campaign, and recently issued a report that shows violence against women remains a global problem that, "persists at alarmingly high levels."

 

Patrick Potyondy 

According to the report, 35 percent of women throughout the world, yes, that's one in three, that's over one in three, have said they have been physically abused in their lifetime.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

These statistics are true for countries both wealthy and impoverished, as well as places in conflict or at peace.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

So for this show, we've invited three scholars well-versed in the history and culture of violence against women to help us contextualize the current situation and discussion. Stay tuned as we address the issue of violence against women.

 

Treva Lindsey   

My name is Treva Lindsey, I'm an assistant professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies here at The Ohio State University.

 

Peggy Solic   

My name is Peggy Solic. I'm a PhD candidate here at Ohio State and I study women's history and focus on the history of domestic violence.

 

Cathy Rakowski 

I'm Cathy Rakowski. I'm an associate professor in the Department of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies and also a rural sociologist in the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Thank you all for joining us today.

 

Treva Lindsey   

Thank you.

 

Peggy Solic   

 Thanks.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

To begin, can we say that violence against women appears to be a consistent problem throughout history? How have the definitions of this violence as a legitimate problem developed? And, Cathy, we'd like to begin by asking you this question.

 

Cathy Rakowski 

Sure. The historical record shows that when we found the evolution of more structured societies, these societies tended to be immediately patriarchal, because war was part of the involvement and where you have warfare and where you have patriarchy, you have violence against women. This doesn't mean that violence against women was defined as a problem throughout history. It is only relatively recently, say in the last few centuries, that it has been defined as a legitimate problem. One example of this is that even as recently as 1948, with the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, violence against women was not contemplated. The kinds of violence that we think of as gendered violence against women tend to be things like sexual assault and domestic violence and incest and sexual slavery, etc. And those were considered to be private matters. Even sexual assault by a stranger was considered to be a private, not a public matter.

 

Peggy Solic   

I would even say that our understanding of violence against women has changed in the past several decades, that even when violence against women was considered a problem, say in the 1800s by temperance advocates, they connected that problem to alcoholism, whereas we now understand violence against women as a problem of power and abuse of power and control. And that, I think, is a really recent development, as well probably stems from, say, the 1960s and 1970s, at the earliest.

 

Treva Lindsey   

A number of systems of domination have employed gender violence, particularly violence against women in very real and material ways. So, as Cathy mentioned, the invocation of patriarchy, how deeply rooted patriarchy is in the control and domination of women through violation and violence. If we look at the project of colonialism, or imperialism, we see that as well. If we look at it in terms of slavery throughout the world, not just in the transatlantic context, that violence against women becomes instrumental to that as well. So if we think about violation and systems of domination, at the core of a lot of these, in terms of material violence, we find violence and violation of women's bodies.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

And when we talk about this kind of context here, how does the definition and study of violence against women change when considering different cultures and identities and contexts? And then that also kind of raises an extra question, you know, should it change as well?

 

Cathy Rakowski 

Maybe this has to do with the idea that certain cultural traditions that may involve violence against other human beings, that may involve slavery, need to be respected. I know that in the UK, they have more directly confronted the issue of immigrant groups, arguing for their cultural collective rights to preserve cultural values and practices. But in the UK, one of the arguments that has been made is those cultural practices can be protected and can be secured. But if you engage in activities which violate the rights of an individual human being, that is against the law, and you may not claim that that is a traditional practice, in defense of that form of violence.

 

Treva Lindsey   

I absolutely think it's important to take histories and context into consideration in how we address the violence. Whether and how we define it, I think is less the issue for me so much as how we address this. How do we approach this? How do we look at the histories of violence in particular places and be specific while also drawing connections? I think it's very important to be specific in context when you're looking at different forms of violence, right? When we're looking at sexual assault and rape during war time versus sexual assault and rape on college campuses. These are two different contexts, but obviously, they're deeply rooted in patriarchy, misogyny, right, and hetero-patriarchy. It's deeply rooted in those systems. And as we're dismantling those systems, those systems operate in different spaces, in different ways according to those contexts. So being locally aware and engaged but also thinking about this in a global context and making connections between these forms of violence is so important in addressing this without imposing, I think, particular ways of addressing it in certain communities.

 

Peggy Solic   

If we're thinking about how to address violence against women, and if you think about sort of government or state responses, you absolutely have to think about different contexts. Different people have different relationships to the state, even within a particular nation. And so I think you have to consider things like histories, as Treva said, histories of colonialism or slavery, when you consider how states sort of respond to things like violence against women, right?

 

Treva Lindsey   

Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. I'm thinking of like how we take an intersectional approach to violence and looking at the various ways, particularly women may, their relationship to the state, may impact how they view the state as someone to intervene in their lives. If you see the state as a tool of violence as well and not just individuals in your life again, bringing this in something that collapses these public/private divides and believing that the public space is as violent, if not more violent, towards your body. I think that needs to be taken into consideration as well, when we're deciding how we intervene and what that looks like.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

This relationship with state that we see was a huge deal with this recent UN report because it explained that women are targets of abuse in both peaceful and warring countries, right? So we wonder then, are women facing extra threats during warfare and international conflicts? But again, looking at this internationally, how have definitions of violence against women been connected to this history of establishing universal human rights?

 

Cathy Rakowski 

First and foremost, sexuality becomes a weapon, and attacks on sexuality become weapons in times of war, not just against women's bodies but also against men's bodies. Part of the violence of war is for one party in the war to try emasculate and dominate and humiliate the masculine part of the other war. It's very common to find the sexual mutilation of both men's genitals and women's genitals. In particular, in cases of genocide, which have been common throughout history, but simply not labeled as specific cases of genocide, what you find is, genocide is now understood to be an attempt by one group to annihilate the identity and the physiological existence of another group. One way you do that is by killing off men. But a very effective way of doing that is killing children, and either killing off women, making it impossible for them to reproduce, or impregnating them with the offspring of the enemy, because in most systems, the child's identity is associated with the father and his ethnic group and not with the mother and her ethnic group.

 

Treva Lindsey   

That says a lot of it, Cathy, I think that's a really powerful assessment of what we're talking about in these times of heightened conflict, when we see, at the core of ethnic conflict, is often played out on the grounds of gender and sexuality, that we see that quite often and these gendered forms of violence that are very necessary to these kind of ethnic cleansing, genocidal projects. And when we start to think about it in those ways, again, we get at these intersections, that in order to enact these projects of domination, imperialism, colonialism, and these other dominating projects, domineering projects, you have to engage in acts of gender and sexual violence. That's what history shows us. And women, children, men, non-gender conforming bodies become particularly vulnerable in these situations, to being controlled through methods of gender violence.

 

Peggy Solic   

I also think that when we think about things like the ways in which war brings about economic instability and social instability, in the 1970s, when feminists in the US were talking about domestic violence, they made the argument that things like poverty and alcoholism and other things like that don't necessarily determine violence but do contribute to it. You know, I think that we can see in areas where war brings about things like instability, particularly economic instability, that we're going to see a lot more violence against women.

 

Cathy Rakowski 

I'd like to add an appendix to that. Those situations can be causal factors, but they can also be excuses.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Right, right.

 

Treva Lindsey   

Absolutely.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Yeah.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

And I think this is a great transition to the next thing we were wondering about. And so one way the United States has attempted to tackle domestic violence against women has been through the police and various legislation, for example. So we're kind of wondering what has been tried in the past, and maybe what's worked and what hasn't, and what is the relationship of the police in the US or internationally to this topic? And maybe Peggy, if you'd like to start here.

 

Peggy Solic   

Yeah, I think that we can see historically that police have not been a great resource for battered women. We can see in the historical record that there's a pattern of police misconduct when it comes to, in particular, domestic violence, of police departments having non-arrest policies or arrest avoidance policies, or having non-response policies to 911 calls for domestic disturbances. For example, what happened in the 1970s, in the 1980s, is there's this rash of lawsuits against police departments for having these non-arrest and arrest avoidance policies and they are settled out of court, but they do provide an opportunity for police departments to change those policies, and are then required to respond in some way to domestic disturbance calls. What happens out of that is that we get the development of mandatory arrest policies, which become really controversial because they're often used to primarily arrest low-income or minority men and really, a lot of scholars have argued that mandatory arrest policies just contribute to the incarceration of minority men, while not really doing anything to combat the problem of domestic abuse, but they come out of this moment where there really is no police response to domestic violence.

 

Treva Lindsey   

And to add on to that, I think you mentioned earlier, Law and Order: SVU, which tends to be this kind of favored program that we see incredible ratings and I'm like, if Olivia Benson were the detective addressing all of these things, I think this will look very different. Without the, what we know are, clear biases, without victim blaming, without... You see a kind of fervor and an energy and a great closure rate for these cases. And in reality, we know that's not the case. We know that particular communities, poor and minority communities, have very fraught relationships with the police. And people often don't trust the police or the justice system as a mechanism by which to go through. And histories of violence orchestrated by police against these communities, sometimes, and violence in a broad sense, whether we're talking about economic violence, material violence, that can really result in a skepticism, a fear borne into even an antagonistic relationship between the police and communities, that and individuals within those communities who may be in need of different kinds of services that I know a lot of communities are very leery of believing police can provide. So I think there are a lot of people who would not call the police, even in cases of extreme violence, because of fear of what that may mean for their families, for themselves, for their own safety. And I think there's considerable evidence to support that fear, unfortunately.

 

Peggy Solic   

There's a really interesting case in 1977 in Oakland, California, where four African American women brought one of these lawsuits against the Oakland Police Department for having an arrest avoidance policy. And in this suit, they really want to hold the police department accountable. They want the police department to sort of live up to their stated duty to protect victims of crimes and just sort of interrupt the violence that's happening in their own homes. But they're also very clearly aware of the consequences of inviting police into their homes. And they want to protect their right to privacy, their right to determine what their lives look like, their right to sort of keep their decisions about their children and their home lives private. And they also include, in the settlement documents, a provision that they want the police to arrest abusers when violence is happening, but they also want police to then send those abusers to classes to get psychological help, specifically to avoid using the criminal justice system as a response to violence against women. We see that it really hasn't worked out in that way. We've seen a reliance on the criminal justice system in the last several decades to deal with violence against Women.

 

Cathy Rakowski 

One of the things that I'd like us to clarify is that the involvement of police and the idea that the US, as a system, has been confronting certain types of violence, like domestic violence and sexual assault, isn't voluntary on the part of the police, which is already implicated in what Treva and Peggy already mentioned. It was the result of activism. And if you don't have groups, and in this case, feminist activism on different fronts, different types of feminists, feminists who were on the streets doing activism, feminists who were perhaps a bit more conservative but were part of the political system or plugged into networks of privilege and authority, these were critical. The police can't do anything if there aren't laws that define what the problem is and who is the injured party. One example of this is, until fairly recently, it was impossible for a woman who shot her abusive husband to be able to get off on a claim of self-defense. This was impossible in a relationship between husband and wife, not because women can't defend themselves and husbands aren't going to be violent, but because the laws of self-defense were constructed on the basis of an idea of the reasonable citizen, the reasonable person, which in our legislative system, has always been constructed as the reasonable man. Self-defense laws were initially developed in order to help court systems and the police to deal with situations where you had two people engaged in combat. In order for women to defend themselves legally, the laws had to change. This does not mean that I consider that laws are a solution. Laws are the floor. They're the basis on which you define what a problem is. You define responsibility for the problem, you identify responsibility for solving the problem, and you begin to seek solutions. But even the best legislation isn't enough if there isn't a group with a vested interest in pushing and pushing and pushing. Secondly, for police to respond, they need to be well trained. We have a problem in this country. Even when we have good legislation, we don't have trained persons.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Finally, as a note to end on, what can we learn from your personal research and these histories you look at, about how to challenge violence against women? And why is violence against women so difficult to eradicate? Can we learn from the past here and the research that you all are doing?

 

Cathy Rakowski 

I'm not necessarily doing research that focuses on different forms of violence. It comes up because I do research on women. There's no way to evade it. In 1980, the United Nations passed CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That did not necessarily include specific reference or the ability to address instances of violence against women. In 1993, a large delegation of women from many countries around the world, organized by women in the UN system, went to the Vienna Convention on Human Rights and actually demanded that it was time for there to be some kind of special attention, or an inclusion in the Universal Declaration of Violence against Women as a violation of women's human rights. In 1994, the Security Council of the United Nations approved violence against women as a violation of women's human rights and their fundamental freedoms, therefore, including it under the Universal Declaration. In 1998, the Rwanda tribunal was the first instance where rape was considered to be a weapon of genocide and therefore, a violation against women's human rights as well as a weapon of genocide. All other court cases, international court cases of genocide, beginning with the Nazis, following through with Srebrenica and the former Yugoslavia, none of them had considered rape, systematic rape, as a weapon of genocide or as a violation of human rights. Always, anything that had to do with sexuality was considered to be a private matter. So this was another real breakthrough.

 

Peggy Solic   

Cathy, I think you made a great point about really needing activism. And I think one of the things that the feminist movement did successfully in the 1970s was define violence against women as, as you said, not a private problem, but a very public problem and a social problem. And I think that, you know, you can't find a solution unless you see something as a very serious problem in society. I also think it's really hard to legislate to change culture. And I think that what we see is that there's still a lot of men and a lot of women who see violence against women as not a serious problem or as acceptable behavior. You can legislate all you want to sort of control behavior, but to legislate to control culture or to control how people think is really, really difficult.

 

Treva Lindsey   

I think that culture point, and I appreciate both of you all's comments about this, I'm thinking through how we continue to expand how we think about violence and who we think about in terms of this category of women who experienced violence, whether we're thinking about undocumented women, and that goes across the world. Whenever we say undocumented, we're somehow only thinking about the US, but we know the stories of people migrating. There's so much violence that happens at borders all across the world right now. We're seeing that kind of conflict arise and obviously gender violence being such an instrumental part of that. We know that almost 80 percent of the women crossing over the borders from Central America to the US experience some form of sexual assault crossing the border. That's a huge number that we need to be concerned about. We need to be concerned about, so far in 2015, ten trans women being murdered with very little coverage and very little engagement or a cultural shift in terms of how we're thinking about which women's bodies are up for being violated in particular kinds of ways and who we care about, who we rally around. I think there's so many fronts on which to fight this. And I just hope that we're getting engaged and using that platform of activism to address missing women. We're addressing undocumented women experiences and why they may not be as comfortable with police. When we think about people like Marissa Alexander, who wanted to use 'Stand Your Ground' to, as she fired a warning shot to prevent her husband from continuing to beat her, that she still had to serve any time. It's absolutely absurd, saying that even now, the laws that are seemingly meant to protect still have a bias against the experiences of women with violence. And so part of this is really declaring that women deserve the right to survive, live, and thrive. In all of our communities, and if we don't, as a culture, and I mean that in a global sense of culture, really believe and invest in that, we're going to continue to invest in patriarchy, we're going to continue to invest in misogyny, we're going to continue to invest in sexism, we're going to continue to invest in racism and transphobia. And these things produce context in which violence against women is normalized, accepted, and even laughed about or joked about in ways, and I think that's really harmful and produces a rhetorical violence that we need to address too.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Treva Lindsay and Cathy Rakowski from the Women's Gender and Sexuality program and also Peggy Solic from the history department here at Ohio State. Thank you, all of you, for joining us today.

 

Peggy Solic   

Thank you so much.

 

Treva Lindsey   

Thank you

 

Patrick Potyondy 

This edition of the Origins podcast, History Talk, was brought to you by the Public History Initiative and the Goldberg Center and the history department at The Ohio State University. Our main editors are Steven Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our executive producer is David Staley. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. Our audio producers and hosts are Patrick Potyondy and Leticia Wiggins. You can find our podcasts and more at our website, origins.osu.edu, on iTunes and on Soundcloud. And as always, you can find us on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Thank you for listening.

 

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