Trigger warning: discussion and exploration of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The title of this column has probably led some of you to think that I’ve finally lost it. I have just
given the ultimate fuel to the men’s rights groups that love to troll my posts and attack me.
(I look forward to receiving the usual emails accusing me of being a self-hating man, blah, blah,
This column is not about dividing the sexes or fear mongering. It’s about calling attention to the
fact that our culture is shamefully behind in addressing violence against women. Despite the
staggering statistics indicating the very real danger women face in relationships and dating, we
have marginalized the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Am I being a provocateur in asking, “Is it dangerous to date men?” Yes, and I’m fine with that
because it’s often the only way for people to wake the hell up and stop feeling so comfortable
with the status quo.
And here is the status quo, statistically:
1. According to the United States Department of Justice, 12 percent of women in the United States have suffered rape or attempted rape by someone they were dating, also known as
acquaintance rape. (Notice I didn’t say “date rape.” Rape is rape.) The number grows much
higher when you include all sexual assault, but for the sake of this column, I am addressing
2. One in four women will face domestic violence in her lifetime.
4. Every year, 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes take place.
When the odds of being assaulted are 25 percent, something is dangerous. If any other activity
or object presented the same odds of injury or death, then a revolution would be ignited against
it. If one-fourth of Americans faced armed robbery in their lifetime, then you’d better believe
armed robbery would be a major national issue covered everywhere in the media, and it would
be right up there alongside the economy and national defense in the presidential debates.
While we’re talking statistical odds, let’s look at a few more:
1. In 2009, 1.2 million people were injured in car accidents. If this number represented
one-quarter of all Americans, then it would mean that more than 78 million people a year would
be injured in car accidents. I think we could expect major reforms in auto safety if this were the
case, don’t you?
2. Most stores have been short of Tylenol since 2009 because millions of bottles were pulled
(and remain) off store shelves for reasons of quality control. We’re not even talking about
product that caused sickness or injury; rather, there were reports of moldy, musty smells
coming from inside the bottles, and since there have been shortages as Johnson and Johnson
(the manufacturer of Tylenol) works to improve its quality control measures.
We’re all willing to make a strong, concerted efforts to see that safety is followed in cases like
these, with no margin allowed for error. It’s a shocking contrast to how we deal with
women’s safety from the men who harm them.
It makes me wonder, what if men were declared as a public safety hazard?
Could you imagine if they were recalled? Pulled off the street? “Sorry sir, you’ll have to come
with me; we’ve had reports that men have been raping, beating, and killing women, and we can’t
take the risk that you will, too.” Yes, it’s a ridiculous idea. But men are way more dangerous than
3. In 2009 and 2010, Toyota recalled over five million of its vehicles after they were discovered
to have faulty accelerator issues that led to the deaths of 37 people; billions of dollars in
settlements and multiple class-action lawsuits followed the recall. The Toyota debacle became a
national story and Toyota Motor sales fell flat as a result of the negative press.
For the record, I don’t mean to discount the seriousness of unsafe autos or medicines. I’m not
implying that they shouldn’t be treated with the utmost attention. My point is that we don’t give
violence against women the same level of attention.
You may say: “People aren’t products that can be fixed. Rape and violence are part of human
history.” I say: That’s weak.
We must look at how violence in any form against women is addressed by government and
tacitly condoned by a culture. I don’t care if rape and violence have always been around and, as
a result, have faded into the background as an issue.
That’s exactly why I’m writing this column. Violence against women needs to be front and
center. And yes, I understand that we aren’t in the position to recall men or file class action
lawsuits against them, but this column is about the effort that is put into mitigating these
consumer crises and how little we do to mitigate violence against women.
You may also say, “There are plenty of men out there who don’t abuse or sexually assault
women—what about them?” I say: Well, what about them?
Why should we praise people for not doing things they shouldn’t be doing anyway? We don’t
say, “Oh, he’s terrific because he doesn’t rob people.” I’m glad there are men out there who don’t
abuse and rape, but we shouldn’t be handing out “Thank You for Not Raping!” awards as though
men have achieved special status for doing what’s appropriate and right.
So, what kind of focus do we have on this issue? Let’s take a look at the media.
Last week, Chris Matthews of MSNBC News asked MSNBC host and NBC foreign affairs
correspondent Andrea Mitchell if domestic violence was of concern to women. “Is that
something women really worry about?” he asked.
Every woman I know has a story of a friend being raped or assaulted, and most have a story of
a boyfriend, date, or husband crossing major lines. There’s a reason why my women friends
don’t like walking down certain streets at night alone, don’t like walking in dark parking lots, and
make housing decisions based on their personal safety (for example, avoiding living in
ground-floor apartments). They take these precautions because they are well aware of the
consequences of not being diligent about personal safety.
So, I don’t know, Chris. I think “worry” is a tad too neutral. How about “constantly aware”? Or
“don’t have the luxury of being oblivious”?
I believe most men do not understand the very real epidemic of domestic violence and sexual
assault, and these issues are not sufficiently prioritized by any stretch of the imagination.
The low priority given by Republicans in our government to the prevention of violence against
women is even more depressing.
In the United States, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 and signed into law by President Clinton. VAWA allocates $1.6 billion annually for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. (For the record, the Navy recently awarded a $1.5 billion contract for a single warship; $1.6 billion is a pittance for something that will impact one-fourth of women in their lifetime.) It requires automatic restitution for violent crime victims and also allows victims to sue their assailants in civil court should prosecutors choose not to pursue the case. VAWA also provides for a federal rape shield law, which means that victims can’t be cross-examined in court about their previous sexual history, something that has been done in the past to intimidate and harm victims in court.
Given what VAWA affirms and offers by way of funding and protections to victims, you would
think there would be unanimous political support of VAWA reauthorization, even by those who
might not agree with it privately but would be ashamed to say so publicly.
But in 2013, 22 U.S. senators and 138 members of the House of Representatives voted not to
renew VAWA. These politicians put the little money and protection women are offered at risk for
their own political agendas, caring little or not at all about the consequences to women of these
The lack accountability that exists within the military and at universities and colleges is well
If you rape a woman and you happen to be a member of the U.S. military, your chances of not being reported are 86.5 percent. Your chances of avoiding a court-martial if caught are 92 percent. Horrifying.
University of North Carolina former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning was pressured
to under-report the college’s reporting of sexual assault statistics to the U.S. Department of
Justice. She was told that the “numbers are too high”—as if she were projecting expenditures in
At the same school, Annie Clark (she has spoken out publicly; I am not violating her privacy), a
student who was raped, was told by an administrator, “Rape is like a football game, Annie. If you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback and you’re in charge, is there anything that you would have done differently in that situation?”
That quote is enough to make me shudder and you should, too.
So don’t tell me that the title of this column is unhelpful or that I am dividing people. We are living
in a country and a world that continually reminds women that their safety is an inconvenience or
at a minimum treats it as a non-issue.
It just so happens, as I was finishing this column, that I heard comedian Louis C.K.’s latest HBO
special. In it, he says, “The greatest threat to women is men. The greatest threat to men is heart
The audience laughed uproariously.
Laughter in comedy doesn’t confirm that something is funny so much as that something is true. We don’t laugh if we disagree; we laugh because it makes sense.
I’m reminded, too, of a quotation that my father (a professor of statistics) has on his office wall,
one from the legendary statistician W. Edwards Deming: “In God I trust; all others must bring
The data is clear. Are we just going to sweep violence against women under the rug? We’re
running out of room.
During the minutes you took to read this column, two women were raped in the United States.
Women are running out of time in this country.
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