The question posed here is an interesting one. Is violence an inevitable part of human existence? There have been many scientists studying human evolution that differ on their views about if humans are “naturally” violent. There is evidence that early hominids were, in fact, very passive and later evidence that suggests that violence was used only to expand territory to support increasing human populations. While the knowledge continues to develop in this area, it is important to note that much of the early writings related to humans natural tendencies towards violence were written between the 1st and 2nd world wars, when it was critical, in western thought, to view humans (in particular men) as “the hunter” and when “It was very easy to see warfare and violence as inherent in the human condition during a period when humanity was literally trying to exterminate itself.” according to Professor Michael Bisson, archaeologist at Montreal’s McGill University (Whipps, 2006)
What about violence targeted at women? The origin of violence targeted against women, however, is easier to pinpoint. In particular in North America, but in similar patterns all over the world, colonization brought with it a structured view of women as subordinate to men within the context of all social spheres. Prior to colonization, indigenous communities had more balanced governance and social value systems related to gender. Women held critical roles and responsibilities within their communities. During the process of colonization, patriarchal belief systems, typically stemming from “new religions” where there was only one god and he was male, were forced on the settled societies. “Colonization disrupted the balance of complimentary gender roles and shared power in Indigenous societies.” and the “ settlers introduced new values and ideals steeped in white male superiority and suppressed the leadership roles women held in many Indigenous societies.” (Bear)
Today, this patriarchal view of women remains, which contributes to the epic proportions of violence targeted at women. Mayela Garcia and Gloria Sayavedra note in their writing on “Violence Empowerment and Women’s Health” in Mexico that “Gender based violence is socially tolerated violence against women because they are women. Sometimes it is used consciously to perpetuate masculine power and control, sometimes it is an unconscious expression. Either way, the damage caused by violence, perpetuates female subordination.” Gender based violence is an “act of force or coercion with an intent to perpetuate or promote gendered hierarchical relationships”. (Garcia, 1996)
In the United States, feminists have long been calling attention to the promotion of violence against women through structures of patriarchy. Data is hard to collect and therefore the problem is hard to articulate. Even some of the most well-known and agreed upon statistics like, 1 in 5 college age women will experience sexual assault (White House Council on Women and Girls Report, 2013) and 1 in 3 women will be the victim of physical violence from an intimate (NCADV, 2018), are still fraught with collection problems that prevent us from seeing the full picture. For example, data is collected typically from reports to police or victim services. Often women don’t report, including women historically marginalized by policing agencies and other governmental structures. Many victim’s groups have direct connections with these governmental agencies creating barriers for women seeking out victim support. Most recent examples include the United States governments targeting of immigrants, undocumented or otherwise. Many local communities had created mechanisms that would prevent victims of gender based violence from having to disclose their immigration status. The current presidential administration has begun to force these communities, through threats of retaliation, to share information related to immigration status with the federal immigration policing agencies. This has led to a great deal of fear within communities of undocumented people, and women who are undocumented or have family members that are, are no longer reporting their domestic abuse to police or seeking out victim support. This also doesn’t account for the numerous women seeking asylum because of domestic violence in their home countries, who are separated from their children and detained at the border, often indefinitely.
Additionally, data related to sexual violence typically focuses on those women who have access to privilege in society, as is illustrated by the focus on women experiencing sexual assault on college campuses. There has been a great deal of media and governmental attention given, in recent years, to the violence perpetrated on women who are college students. While this is a critical threat to the advancement of women in society overall, in an educational system that is not open and free to all, the women who attend college tend to have social identities with more privilege (white, middle to upper class, non-parents, not required to work). This focus, therefore, misses the vast numbers of women who experience sexual assault from communities that are poor, marginalized, working, aging, etc. According to the Rape, Incest National Network, “American Indians are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races”. These stories don’t become the headlines in the national news and our societal institutions tend to ignore them.
While the U.S. has certainly made some progress in addressing the issues of gender based violence, it has a long way to go. Until the norms of society change, and we create equality in other areas like eliminating the inequitable treatment of women in education, work environments and leadership, the home will remain a dangerous place to be for women.