If you were to poll a group of people about the main issues that impact their lives, you would likely get a range of answers, such as the environment, racial injustice, economic inequality, or lack of access to affordable healthcare. One topic that rarely arises — yet has an effect on so many aspects of our lives — is violence against women. It is time that we recognize violence against women as a priority, and demand that our political and community leaders take the actions needed to end it.
As an agency, Blackburn Center has spoken out against violence against women for more than 40 years. In 2008, we sent a letter to Democratic women in Congress regarding their Checklist for Change, a list that identified key areas of concern in the United States. In our letter, we noted that this checklist excluded “… a problem that has existed and persisted for generations: the core issue of the objectification and marginalization, and consequently the oppression, of women that continues in this nation even into this 21st century of change.”
Violence against women includes many types of abuse, including domestic and sexual violence, stalking, sexual harassment, bullying, and human trafficking. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health, the short-term effects of violence against women include bruises, cuts, broken bones, or injuries to organs. The long-term effects may include arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, digestive problems, heart problems, irritable bowel syndrome, nightmares and problems sleeping, migraine headaches, sexual problems, stress, problems with the immune system, addiction issues, and mental health issues.
For individuals who experience violence, the impact can be devastating on more than just their physical and mental health. For example, half of women who experienced sexual assault had to quit or were forced to leave their jobs within the first year after the assault. Over their lifetime, the total income loss for women who experienced sexual assault is nearly $250,000 each. Women who experience intimate partner violence are often forced to leave their homes to find safety. Studies show that half of all homeless women and children become homeless while attempting to leave an abusive situation. At a societal level, violence against women marginalizes women, often preventing them from making an impact and reducing their power in our culture. The degradation and oppression of women in this manner then contributes to further violence against women — forming a complicated loop that makes violence against women seem inevitable.
Violence against women is also one of the leading causes of death for women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2003 and 2014, 55% of all female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner. In 10% of those cases, there was an incident of violence prior to the killing that may have allowed for an intervention. There is also a strong link between violence against women and mass shootings: 54% of mass shooters have a prior history of violence against women.
This type of violence continues to impact women in cities and towns across Westmoreland County. Last year, Blackburn Center provided services to more than 3,600 people, with 8,928 hours of counseling and therapy, 2,174 legal advocacy and 194 medical advocacy contacts, and 3,912 nights of emergency shelter for victims of intimate partner violence. Our organization provides these services to women, children and men. We need to make violence against women a priority if we want to reduce the number of people who are impacted by this type of abuse, both in Westmoreland County and across the country.
At Blackburn Center, we offer a range of primary prevention programs that are designed to proactively stop violence against women from happening in the first place. By addressing the root causes of this type of violence — such as the objectification and degradation of women in media, rape culture, harmful gender norms, and inequality — we can transform our society and end violence against women.
To make this happen, we need each of you to join us in seeing violence against women as a priority. We know that real change is possible, and that by working together towards a common goal, we can make a difference.