“Awareness, though, is not enough.”
That was my response to a recent question about whether awareness of the sexual harassment in the Governor’s office in New York state was going to change things.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of letting go of the promise that awareness will change violence against women while working on book that I just delivered to the Oxford University Press, Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women.
I open the book by tracing a bit of the history of our field, and the promise of awareness, back to the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. With new awareness of the sheer frequency of violence against women and girls at the time, much started to change: The first rape crisis centers were founded, the number of domestic violence shelters expanded. Legislative change happened too, from new state laws about domestic violence and sexual assault to the passage of the Violence against Women Act. Medicine started paying attention also, adding posttraumatic stress disorder to the medical nomenclature as a nascent traumatic stress studies field began to grow rapidly.
Along the way, though, violence against women continued to be seen as a special interest issue — something that matters to women, or primarily to those who are abused and who abuse; but not necessarily to all of us.
Meanwhile, awareness of violence has never been greater, thanks to the #MeToo movement and near-daily headlines about sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
And yet, violence against women in its many forms has persisted, relatively unabated. Every 90 seconds a woman is raped. Another is assaulted by an intimate partner.
To be sure, we’ve watched declines of a few percentage points in some forms of violence. Yet, the same problem of women being victimized — along with girls and gender nonconforming groups — persists, just as it has for millennia.
So what to do, if awareness isn’t enough for change?
In the book, I argue that we need a new approach that helps people recognize their shared interest in ending violence against women, even if they didn’t think that violence against women has affected their lives directly.
We need an approach that helps people see that violence against women is tangled up with the most pressing public problems of our time — healthcare, immigration, education, and legal reform as well as gun violence and economic inequities. Issue by issue, then, I make the case that we share interests with people working on those issues, some of whom may never have considered the ways that violence against women mattered to them also.
By showing people how violence against women impacts the healthcare system and education access, criminal legal reform and economic opportunity, immigration and gun violence, I hope that we will be able to open doors to new kinds of collaborative action to end violence against women and make progress on those issues at the same time.
To make the case, I draw on concepts from community organizing that I’ve learned about through work at DU’s Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning. The book leads to a call to action to collaborate in new ways to restore and ensure dignity, fairness, opportunity, safety to women and our communities.
I hope you’ll see things you care about in the book along with work happening here in Colorado. The book is built on the foundation of what we’ve learned together over more than a decade of collaborating on research, while also pulling in national and international research findings.
The book is scheduled to be released in April 2022, just in time for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I’ll keep you posted as it progresses and look forward to sharing it with you when it’s published. In the meantime, my sincerest gratitude to many people who have provided feedback and supported me throughout this project.