Behind Closed Doors

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). Coming as it does during the same month as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) and Halloween, DVAM receives far less attention than the pink ribbons, ghosts and goblins. This is ironically fitting since domestic violence (DV) is so frequently an unseen crime. Despite being the most common type of violence experienced by women, only 20% of rapes and sexual assaults and 25% of physical assaults against women in the U.S. are reported to law enforcement authorities.

Definitions of domestic violence can include stalking and psychological abuse as well as physical and sexual assault, such as rape. While men can also be victimized by domestic violence, 85% of the victims are women and 95% of the perpetrators of domestic violence against both men and women (as well as children) are men. Domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women, not only here in the U.S., but globally as well. A recent study by the World Health Organization found that intimate personal violence (IPV) rates around the world varied from 15% in Yokohama, Japan to 71% in Ethiopia. Here in the U.S. one out of four women will be assaulted by a partner during her lifetime.

The economic costs of intimate personal violence are also enormous. According to the latest figures, in 2003 dollars, IPV costs $8.3 billion annually in the U.S. alone. Costs include the cost of physical and psychological care as well as lost work time. It is estimated that victims of severe IPV lose 8 million days of paid work every year.

Unfortunately domestic violence is the crime that no one wants to talk about. Because it takes place within the context of intimate relationships, it is often dismissed as a personal matter, rather than the human rights violation that it is. The extent to which DV is ignored is clear when one looks at the media coverage it receives compared to breast cancer during October, a time when we are urged to become more ‘aware’ of both issues. Of seven popular women’s magazines that had extensive coverage of NBCAM, none had any mention of DVAM.*

While it is not clear how much awareness impacts ending breast cancer, awareness is indeed a crucial tool in ending domestic violence. Although we don’t yet know how to eradicate breast cancer, there are many things we can do right now to curb DV. While personal actions are crucial, one of the most important needs is for funding. While recognizing that, ” Domestic violence has no place in our society, and we have a moral obligation to help prevent it.”, President Bush’s 2007 budget did not include full funding for the Violence Against Women Act, even though he signed its reauthorization only months before. And while Congress has already approved funding for military and homeland security expenditures, final funding for VAWA is not expected until after the election.

Unfortunately for many women, making the homeland safer is not much use while they are being terrorized in their own homes. We will not be able to stop domestic violence until the personal safety of women is seen as an inalienable human right whose defense is a top priority in our national expenditures.

* The magazines were Redbook, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, More, Women’s Day. Ladies’ Home Journal and Self.

LUCINDA MARSHALL is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network,