Defeating Violence Against Women, One Step at a Time
By Jessica Spohn
The main message of the One Student campaign is that we can each do things to make a difference; ordinary people living everyday lives can individually help stop violence and fight for equality. But isn’t it hard? Isn’t it a fight for politicians and CEOs to voice, and not college students or minimum-wage workers? Isn’t it scary to be the only one standing up in a sea of bystanders?
Yes and no.
In November, universities around the country participated in One Student Day on their campuses to raise awareness for sexual assault prevention and to promote bystander intervention. New Mexico State University (where I am studying) had the first event in the Southern NM area—in the whole state—for One Student Day. At this event 200 students, faculty, and staff made a commitment to create a change in our rape culture by taking the One Student pledge. We screened the film You Are the One later in the day. Word-of-mouth spread the importance of the message and helped dismiss taboos that surround sexual or intimate partner violence situation in order to get students talking. It may not have been a huge gathering of people, but the success of the event opened up opportunities for further impact through advocating for policy changes on campus.
All it took was an idea.
An idea that one person can acknowledge that violence in any form is wrong, that victim blaming isn’t necessary or the right approach, and that the media has contributed to the promotion of a culture where rape and over-sexualization of women and men is acceptable.
Another recent major event was 1 Billion Rising. The statistic is that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, and globally that adds up to one billion women. On February 14th, women and men all over the world—Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, Nigeria, Jamaica—flipped the statistic upside down via flashmobs and dances, performances of the Vagina Monologues, and other public celebrations to collectively say ‘we won’t live in a world where this continues to happen.’
Some of the countries that rose up that day don’t have laws to protect women, or other subpopulations, from violence. Every movement starts with one person standing up and standing out against societal norms that many wouldn’t question. Every organization, class, and business is made up of individuals that started as one and grew into many.
The final triumph, and probably most exciting because it’s been such a frustrating journey, is the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on the last day of February 2013. VAWA passed with a bipartisan vote of 286 to 138, both Democrats and Republicans voting in favor. This new version includes protection for LGBT, Native American, and immigrant women in addition to the populations that were previously covered. After all kinds of hullabaloo, a diverse group of women are finally (or again) protected with rape shield laws, given legal aid assistance, and have services in crisis situations.
Events like One Student Day and 1 Billion Rising show local, national, and global communities that laws like VAWA are necessary and critical to the well-being of women. However, without the input from individuals, the rally for social justice never ignites.
Let your voice be heard. Speak for those who do not have rights, whose rights are being oppressed, and for those who fear to speak for themselves. There are many like you that are waiting for someone else to speak first. Will you be that one?