Nothing will change unless we act

It kills women when you do not take us seriously.

Do you even hear me now? Or are you already groaning about another lecture on how women get a raw deal? What could I possibly have to complain about today?

It kills women when you do not take them seriously – literally kills them.

One in three female murders is committed by intimate partners. Of the 4,000 or so American women murdered every year, more than 90 percent knew their killer, according to a School of Public Health study.

Yet, after our own annual Take Back the Night rally, in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness month, people have the nerve to ask, “What’s the point of raising awareness?”

I am not a rapist or a murderer. I am not a woman who should fear attack by a random stranger or even a best friend, so why does my awareness have to be raised?

Did you know that one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime? That means that for every six women you know – your girlfriend, her roommate, your best friend’s hookup last night, your mom – chances are that one of them has survived a sexual attack, probably by someone she knew.

Events like Take Back the Night are about drawing attention to the problems of sexual assault, supporting survivors and stating loudly and with pride that violence will not stop women from getting on with their lives.

Statistics like these, and the attitudes and responses of people to events like TBTN tell me that not enough people are taking violence against women seriously.

In our own community, even though college-aged women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted, we are not taking violence against women seriously enough.

Even though in Wood County since 2002, 100 percent of homicides have been domestic violence cases, we are not taking the assault and murder of women seriously.

Almost a year ago, Craig Daniels walked into the home of his ex-girlfriend Alicia Castillon, and in front of their children, shot and killed both her and her boyfriend, John C. Mitchell.

This happened even though Daniels had a long history of assaulting Castillon, even though she had told police that she was worried he would kill her or the children.

For those of us aware of the magnitude of the domestic violence problem, this story is all too heartbreakingly familiar.

Earlier this month, Mark Castillo drowned his three kids in a Maryland hotel room after courts denied his wife’s petition for a permanent restraining order. Amy Castillo told the courts that her husband had threatened her – “The worst thing he could do to me would be to kill the children and not me,” she said – but the judge chose to uphold the visitation rights of a man with a history of bipolar disorder and suicide attempts.

One of the reasons that the judge did not take Amy Castillo’s fears seriously was that she had sex with her husband the same day her husband had threatened her, even though she testified that she was understandably terrified of what he would do if she refused.

Maybe the judge would have taken her more seriously if he was aware of just how many women are killed just because they are female, how many women are beaten and raped not because their skirts were too short, or because they were drunk or walking at night or “asking for it,” but because our culture enables violence against women by insisting on remaining blind to it, by allowing perpetrators to go unpunished, by blaming women and by not taking them seriously.

Here’s another example, and one that is personal to me:

In July 2005 my aunt was gunned down outside her home by men believed to be hired by her estranged husband, with whom she was undergoing a bitter divorce.

The case went to trial, but after an investigator and witness were mysteriously killed, Aggrey Kiyingi, an esteemed heart surgeon with homes in Uganda and Australia, was acquitted.

Violence against women is an important issue that impacts all of our lives, male or female.

In spite of the efforts of some fantastic women and organizations, including the Cocoon Shelter, the Organization for Women’s Issues and Alicia’s Voice, it still is not getting the attention it deserves.

When a female college student can go to management at the Enclave with the complaint that she is being sexually harassed by a roommate they assigned her and not have anything done about it, women are not being taken seriously.

Until our complaints are heard and our society as a whole makes a commitment to eradicate violence against women, the high rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and female homicide will not change.