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Violence against women worldwide
United States of America
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Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
IN India, a
23-year-old student takes a bus home from a movie and is gang-raped and
assaulted so viciously that she dies two weeks later.
In Liberia, in West Africa, an aid group called More Than Me rescues a
10-year-old orphan who has been trading oral sex for clean water to survive.
In Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players are accused of repeatedly
raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl who was either drunk or rendered helpless
by a date-rape drug and was apparently lugged like a sack of potatoes from party
And in Washington, our members of Congress show their concern for sexual
violence by failing to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark law
first passed in 1994 that has now expired.
Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women
worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male
violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.
The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence
affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.
In some places, rape is endemic: in South Africa, a survey found that 37 percent
of men reported that they had raped a woman. In others, rape is
institutionalized as sex trafficking. Everywhere, rape often puts the victim on
trial: in one poll, 68 percent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire”
amounts to “an invitation to rape.”
Americans watched the events after the Delhi gang rape with a whiff of
condescension at the barbarity there, but domestic violence and sex trafficking
remain a vast problem across the United States.
One obstacle is that violence against women tends to be invisible and thus not a
priority. In Delhi, of 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of last
year, only one ended in conviction. That creates an incentive for rapists to
continue to rape, but in any case that reported number of rapes is delusional.
They don’t include the systematized rape of sex trafficking. India has, by my
reckoning, more women and girls trafficked into modern slavery than any country
in the world. (China has more prostitutes, but they are more likely to sell sex
On my last trip to India, I tagged along on a raid on a brothel in Kolkata,
organized by the International Justice Mission. In my column at the time, I
focused on a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old imprisoned in the brothel, and
mentioned a 17-year-old only in passing because I didn’t know her story.
My assistant at The Times, Natalie Kitroeff, recently visited India and tracked
down that young woman. It turns out that she had been trafficked as well — she
was apparently drugged at a teahouse and woke up in the brothel. She said she
was then forced to have sex with customers and beaten when she protested. She
was never allowed outside and was never paid. What do you call what happened to
those girls but slavery?
Yet prosecutors and the police often shrug — or worse. Dr. Shershah Syed, a
former president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan,
once told me: “When I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the
police. Because if she does, the police might just rape her again.”
In the United States, the case in Steubenville has become controversial partly
because of the brutishness that the young men have been accused of, but also
because of concerns that the authorities protected the football team. Some
people in both Delhi and Steubenville rushed to blame the victim, suggesting
that she was at fault for taking a bus or going to a party. They need to think:
What if that were me?
The United States could help change the way the world confronts these issues. On
a remote crossing of the Nepal-India border, I once met an Indian police officer
who said, a bit forlornly, that he was stationed there to look for terrorists
and pirated movies. He wasn’t finding any, but India posted him there to show
that it was serious about American concerns regarding terrorism and intellectual
property. Meanwhile, that officer ignored the steady flow of teenage Nepali
girls crossing in front of him on their way to Indian brothels, because modern
slavery was not perceived as an American priority.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a superb job trying to put these
issues on the global agenda, and I hope President Obama and Senator John Kerry
will continue her efforts. But Congress has been pathetic. Not only did it fail
to renew the Violence Against Women Act, but it has also stalled on the global
version, the International Violence Against Women Act, which would name and
shame foreign countries that tolerate gender violence.
Congress even failed to renew the landmark legislation against human
trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The obstacles were
different in each case, but involved political polarization and paralysis. Can
members of Congress not muster a stand on modern slavery?
(Hmm. I now understand better the results of a new survey from Public Policy
Polling showing that Congress, with 9 percent approval, is less popular than
cockroaches, traffic jams, lice or Genghis Khan.)
Skeptics fret that sexual violence is ingrained into us, making the problem
hopeless. But just look at modern American history, for the rising status of
women has led to substantial drops in rates of reported rape and domestic
violence. Few people realize it, but Justice Department statistics suggest that
the incidence of rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades.
Likewise, the rate at which American women are assaulted by their domestic
partners has fallen by more than half in the last two decades. That reflects a
revolution in attitudes. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Better Angels of Our
Nature,” notes that only half of Americans polled in 1987 said that it was
always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or a stick; a decade later,
86 percent said it was always wrong.
But the progress worldwide is far too slow. Let’s hope that India makes such
violence a national priority. And maybe the rest of the world, especially our
backward Congress, will appreciate that the problem isn’t just India’s but also
Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?,
The Campaign Against Women
May 19, 2012
The New York Times
Despite the persistent gender gap in opinion polls and mounting criticism of
their hostility to women’s rights, Republicans are not backing off their assault
on women’s equality and well-being. New laws in some states could mean a death
sentence for a pregnant woman who suffers a life-threatening condition. But the
attack goes well beyond abortion, into birth control, access to health care,
equal pay and domestic violence.
Republicans seem immune to criticism. In an angry speech last month, John
Boehner, the House speaker, said claims that his party was damaging the welfare
of women were “entirely created” by Democrats. Earlier, the Republican National
Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, sneered that any suggestion of a G.O.P. “war
on women” was as big a fiction as a “war on caterpillars.”
But just last Wednesday, Mr. Boehner refuted his own argument by ramming through
the House a bill that seriously weakens the Violence Against Women Act. That
followed the Republican push in Virginia and elsewhere to require medically
unnecessary and physically invasive sonograms before an abortion, and Senate
Republicans’ persistent blocking of a measure to better address the entrenched
problem of sex-based wage discrimination.
On Capitol Hill and in state legislatures, Republicans are attacking women’s
rights in four broad areas.
ABORTION On Thursday, a House subcommittee denied the District of Columbia’s
Democratic delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a chance to testify at a hearing
called to promote a proposed federal ban on nearly all abortions in the District
20 weeks after fertilization. The bill flouts the Roe v. Wade standard of fetal
Seven states have enacted similar measures. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a
law that bans most abortions two weeks earlier. Each measure will create real
hardships for women who will have to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy
before learning of major fetal abnormalities or risks to their own health.
These laws go a cruel step further than the familiar Republican attacks on Roe
v. Wade. They omit reasonable exceptions for a woman’s health or cases of rape,
incest or grievous fetal impairment. These laws would require a woman seeking an
abortion to be near death, a standard that could easily delay medical treatment
until it is too late.
All contain intimidating criminal penalties, fines and reporting requirements
designed to scare doctors away. Last year, the House passed a measure that would
have allowed hospitals receiving federal money to refuse to perform an emergency
abortion even when a woman’s life was at stake. The Senate has not taken up that
ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE Governor Brewer also recently signed a bill eliminating
public funding for Planned Parenthood. Arizona law already barred spending
public money on abortions, which are in any case a small part of the services
that Planned Parenthood provides. The new bill denies the organization public
money for nonabortion services, like cancer screening and family planning, often
the only services of that kind available to poor women.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature tried
a similar thing in 2011, and were sued in federal court by a group of clinics.
The state argues that it is trying to deny money to organizations that “promote”
abortions. That is nonsense. Texas already did not give taxpayer money for
abortions, and the clinics that sued do not perform abortions.
Last year, the newly installed House Republican majority rushed to pass bills
(stopped by the Democratic-led Senate) to eliminate funding for Planned
Parenthood and Title X. That federal program provides millions of women with
birth control, lifesaving screening for breast and cervical cancer, and other
preventive care. It is a highly effective way of preventing the unintended
pregnancies and abortions that Republicans claim to be so worried about.
EQUAL PAY Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the epicenter of all kinds of punitive
and regressive legislation, signed the repeal of a 2009 law that allowed women
and others to bring lawsuits in state courts against pay discrimination, instead
of requiring them to be heard as slower and more costly federal cases. It also
stiffened penalties for employers found guilty of discrimination.
He defended that bad decision by saying he did not want those suits to “clog up
the legal system.” He turned that power over to his government, which has a
record of hostility toward workers’ rights.
President Obama has been trying for three years to update and bolster the 1963
Equal Pay Act to enhance remedies for victims of gender-based wage
discrimination, shield employees from retaliation for sharing salary information
with co-workers, and mandate that employers show that wage differences are
job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Last month, the Senate approved a reauthorization of the
Violence Against Women Act, designed to protect victims of domestic and sexual
abuse and bring their abusers to justice. The disappointing House bill omits new
protections for gay, Indian, student and immigrant abuse victims that are
contained in the bipartisan Senate bill. It also rolls back protections for
immigrant women whose status is dependent on a spouse, making it more likely
that they will stay with their abusers, at real personal risk, and ends existing
protections for undocumented immigrants who report abuse and cooperate with law
enforcement to pursue the abuser.
Whether this pattern of disturbing developments constitutes a war on women is a
political argument. That women’s rights and health are casualties of Republican
policy is indisputable.
The Campaign Against Women, NYT, 19.5.2012,
in 5 Women in U.S. Survey
Have Been Sexually Assaulted
The New York Times
By RONI CARYN RABIN
exhaustive government survey of rape and domestic violence released on Wednesday
affirmed that sexual violence against women remains endemic in the United States
and in some instances may be far more common than previously thought.
Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an
attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an
intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report.
“That almost one in five women have been raped in their lifetime is very
striking and, I think, will be surprising to a lot of people,” said Linda C.
Degutis, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey.
“I don’t think we’ve really known that it was this prevalent in the population,”
The study, called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, was
begun in 2010 with the support of the National Institute of Justice and the
Department of Defense. The study, a continuing telephone survey of a nationally
representative sample of 16,507 adults, defines intimate partner and sexual
The surveyors elicited information on types of aggression not previously studied
in national surveys, including sexual violence other than rape, psychological
aggression, coercion and control of reproductive and sexual health.
They also gathered information about the physical and mental health of violence
Sexual violence affects women disproportionately, the researchers found.
One-third of women said they had been victims of a rape, beating or stalking, or
a combination of assaults.
The researchers defined rape as completed forced penetration, forced penetration
facilitated by drugs or alcohol, or attempted forced penetration.
By that definition, 1 percent of women surveyed reported being raped in the
previous year, a figure that suggests that 1.3 million American women annually
may be victims of rape or attempted rape.
That figure is significantly higher than previous estimates. The Rape, Abuse and
Incest National Network estimated that 272,350 Americans were victims of sexual
violence last year. Only 84,767 assaults defined as forcible rapes were reported
in 2010, according to national statistics from the Federal Bureau of
But men also reported being victimized in surprising numbers.
One in seven men have experienced severe violence at the hands of an intimate
partner, the survey found, and one in 71 men — between 1 percent and 2 percent —
have been raped, many when they were younger than 11.
A vast majority of women who said they had been victims of sexual violence, rape
or stalking reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as did about
one-third of the men.
Women who had experienced such violence were also more likely to report having
asthma, diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome than women who had not. Both men
and women who had been assaulted were more likely to report frequent headaches,
chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, limitations on activity, and poor physical
and mental health.
“We’ve seen this association with chronic health conditions in smaller studies
before,” said Lisa James, director of health for Futures Without Violence, a
national nonprofit group based in San Francisco that advocates for programs to
end violence against women and girls.
“People who grow up with violence adopt coping strategies that can lead to poor
health outcomes,” she said. “We know that women in abusive relationships are at
increased risk for smoking, for example.”
The survey found that youth itself was an important risk factor for sexual
violence and assault. Some 28 percent of male victims of rape reported that they
were first assaulted when they were no older than 10.
Only 12 percent of female rape victims were assaulted when they were 10 or
younger, but almost half of female victims said they had been raped before they
turned 18. About 80 percent of rape victims reported that they had been raped
before age 25.
Rape at a young age was associated with another, later rape; about 35 percent of
women who had been raped as minors were also raped as adults, the survey found.
More than half of female rape victims had been raped by an intimate partner,
according to the study, and 40 percent had been raped by an acquaintance; more
than half of men who had been raped said the assailant was an acquaintance.
The public release of the report was postponed twice, most recently on Nov. 28.
The findings are based on completed interviews lasting about 25 minutes each;
they were conducted in 2010 with 9,086 women and 7,421 men.
Nearly 1 in 5 Women in U.S. Survey
Say They Have Been Sexually Assaulted, NYT,
A Woman. A Prostitute. A Slave.
November 27, 2010
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Americans tend to associate “modern slavery” with illiterate girls in India
or Cambodia. Yet there I was the other day, interviewing a college graduate who
says she spent three years terrorized by pimps in a brothel in Midtown
Those who think that commercial sex in this country is invariably voluntary —
and especially men who pay for sex — should listen to her story. The men buying
her services all mistakenly assumed that she was working of her own volition,
Yumi Li (a nickname) grew up in a Korean area of northeastern China. After
university, she became an accountant, but, restless and ambitious, she yearned
to go abroad.
So she accepted an offer from a female jobs agent to be smuggled to New York and
take up a job using her accounting skills and paying $5,000 a month. Yumi’s
relatives had to sign documents pledging their homes as collateral if she did
not pay back the $50,000 smugglers’ fee from her earnings.
Yumi set off for America with a fake South Korean passport. On arrival in New
York, however, Yumi was ordered to work in a brothel.
“When they first mentioned prostitution, I thought I would go crazy,” Yumi told
me. “I was thinking, ‘how can this happen to someone like me who is
college-educated?’ ” Her voice trailed off, and she added: “I wanted to die.”
She says that the four men who ran the smuggling operation — all Chinese or
South Koreans — took her into their office on 36th Street in Midtown Manhattan.
They beat her with their fists (but did not hit her in the face, for that might
damage her commercial value), gang-raped her and videotaped her naked in
humiliating poses. For extra intimidation, they held a gun to her head.
If she continued to resist working as a prostitute, she says they told her, the
video would be sent to her relatives and acquaintances back home. Relatives
would be told that Yumi was a prostitute, and several of them would lose their
homes as well.
Yumi caved. For the next three years, she says, she was one of about 20 Asian
prostitutes working out of the office on 36th Street. Some of them worked
voluntarily, she says, but others were forced and received no share in the
Yumi played her role robotically. On one occasion, Yumi was arrested for
prostitution, and she says the police asked her if she had been trafficked.
“I said no,” she recalled. “I was really afraid that if I hinted that I was a
victim, the gang would send the video to my family.”
Then one day Yumi’s closest friend in the brothel was handcuffed by a customer,
abused and strangled almost to death. Yumi rescued her and took her to the
hospital. She said that in her rage, she then confronted the pimps and
threatened to go public.
At that point, the gang hurriedly moved offices and changed phone numbers. The
pimps never mailed the video or claimed the homes in China; those may have been
bluffs all along. As for Yumi and her friend, they found help with Restore NYC,
a nonprofit that helps human trafficking victims in the city.
I can’t be sure of elements of Yumi’s story, but it mostly rings true to me and
to the social workers who have worked with her. There’s no doubt that while some
women come to the United States voluntarily to seek their fortunes in the sex
trade, many others are coerced — and still others start out forced but
eventually continue voluntarily. And it’s not just foreign women. The worst
cases of forced prostitution, especially of children, often involve home-grown
No one has a clear idea of the scale of the problem, and estimates vary hugely.
Some think the problem is getting worse; others believe that Internet services
reduce the role of pimps and lead to commercial sex that is more consensual.
What is clear is that forced prostitution should be a national scandal. Just
this month, authorities indicted 29 people, mostly people of Somali origin from
the Minneapolis area, on charges of running a human trafficking ring that
allegedly sold many girls into prostitution — one at the age of 12.
There are no silver bullets, but the critical step is for the police and
prosecutors to focus more on customers (to reduce demand) and, above all, on
pimps. Prostitutes tend to be arrested because they are easy to catch, while
pimping is a far harder crime to prosecute. That’s one reason thugs become
pimps: It’s hugely profitable and carries less risk than selling drugs or
stealing cars. But that can change as state and federal authorities target
traffickers rather than their victims.
Nearly 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, it’s time to wipe out the
remnants of slavery in this country.
A Woman. A Prostitute. A
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