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Violence and Abuse

Ending Violence Against Women: A Brief History

Over the past 35 years we have focused much effort on the problem of violence against women. As we learned about, suffered from, and spoke out against this violence, we came to realize that we were fighting a human rights outrage of staggering proportions. While we have far to go in our effort to end violence against women, we have also made great progress:

  • We began to talk with each other and discovered that our experiences of dominance by men were common and shared.

  • We demanded that the public pay attention to these atrocities by demonstrating in large groups; holding public speak-outs; and creating films, radio and TV shows, street theater, dramatic productions, books, pamphlets, newspapers, and articles.

  • We set up educational programs for law enforcement and health professionals.

  • Since the 1970s we have been building shelters for battered women and rape crisis centers. Currently there are thousands of shelters, hotlines, crisis centers, and advocacy programs for women in the United States.

  • We have formed national and statewide coalitions to bring together people who work on these issues and focus on public awareness and social change.

  • We have learned that some women can also be violent towards us, and so we have learned that safety and self-care transcend the boundaries of gender.

  • We have learned from activists in other countries. The 1976 Tribunal of Crimes Against Women, held in Brussels and attended by women from all over the world, expanded the definition of violence against women to include murders of women for their dowries, “honor killings,” and female genital mutilation. European feminists inspired both safe houses and “Take Back the Night” marches, which rally thousands of women yearly in cities across the United States to protest against violence against women.

  • Since the 1970s, when the first state laws to protect women from abuse were enacted, we have worked diligently for improved legal responses to violence against women. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 marked the first major attempt by the federal government to influence the enactment of strong state laws related to violence against women and to fund efforts to improve services, prosecution, law enforcement, prevention efforts, and community collaboration.

  • Starting in the 1970s, men who have committed themselves to working to end violence against women have formed groups in which men help batterers deal with their violence. Other men’s organizations are working to stop rape and other violent behavior. These men recognize that not taking action supports the system that promotes violence against women. In working to end violence, they talk about their socialization in relation to women, question the extent and consequences of male dominance, and listen to and respect the women around them.

  • At the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, violence against women was identified as one of the most pressing concerns of women worldwide. In 1999, a session of the UN General Assembly was devoted to women’s rights as human rights and ending violence against women.

  • In 2001, international criminal courts started to address rape in war. Recently, several resolutions dealing with the worldwide problem of violence against women have been introduced at the UN Security Council.

  • Around the world, significant resources are starting to be devoted to intervention programs for perpetrators of intimate partner violence, also known as batterer intervention programs. The World Health Organization surveyed 56 batterer intervention programs in 37 countries with the aim of fostering international discussion of successful implementation of batterer intervention programs in widely varied contexts.

  • In 2002-2004 there has been a growth in public efforts of both men and woman who are survivors to end sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy.  These organizations, learning from the movement to speak out against violence against women, are a powerful inspiration in the struggle to prevent the abuse of the less powerful and end violence.

Written by: Margaret Lazarus with Renner Wunderlich, Diane Rosenfeld, and Stacey Kabat.
Last revised: March 2005

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