A hand gripping tightly onto a set of keys. “Orange the World” is the global theme for Ending Violence Against Women Day and a sign of solidarity for survivors. Illustration by Pearl McNames.

Violence against women has always been a prolonged and widespread threat to women’s human rights. The United Nations (UN) have declared November 25 as “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women,” which aims to spread awareness and eradicate the global scourge of gender-based violence. This date was chosen to commemorate the assassination of three political activist sisters from the Dominican Republic, the Mirabal sisters, who were murdered by the order of their country’s ruler. 

Violence against women is defined by the United Nations as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Women are followed by threats of violence everywhere they go; when they go outdoors and even when they stay inside their house. Being a woman in this society is petrifying; women can’t even walk down the streets without fear of being catcalled or being physically or sexually harassed by a random man.. Moreover, this fear doesn’t stop in the streets or in public. Women also experience violence in their homes, the homes that are meant to safeguard them from harm. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded 1 in every 3 women to be a victim of domestic violence at least once in their lifetime. Nearly three quarters of Americans know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. In the past year, Multnomah County’s reported statistics indicate that 1 of every 7 women aged 18-64 are a subject of abuse by an intimate partner, denoting that almost 13.9% of women in the county were physically abused by their partners in the past year. Multnomah County’s statistics also stated that 1 of every 9 women in the county have been assaulted in the past year, 1 of 14 women were coerced, 1 of 20 were injured as a result of domestic violence, one third of women who were physically abused were also sexually coerced, 40% of physically abused women were severely abused, and more than third of the women who were assaulted suffered an injury from the violence they experienced just only in the past year. Despite the fact that the country and several women rights activist groups have addressed this issue, threats to women’s safety remain an ongoing human rights concern. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has a notable negative impact on women. As countries reinforce total lockdowns, statistics show that intimate partner violence has intensified. These lockdowns make fleeing even harder for women who experience violence inside their homes. It has been referred to as a “pandemic within a pandemic.”

One must also bear in mind that countless incidents and survivor stories go unreported. Survivors may choose not to report for a variety of reasons, including social conditioning. Social conditioning is the process of training people to think, believe, feel and react to the “norms” that are approved by society. Resorting to victim blaming after a victim tells their story is an example of social conditioning, which instantly results in the suppression of the victim’s voice. Furthermore, research shows that victims’ fear of abuser retaliation is one of the major reasons why victims choose not to speak up, for it is proven that the violence escalates whenever the victim attempts to contact authorities or leave. Which leads us to another reason why victims continue to avoid reporting: authorities⎯specifically a lack of trust in the authorities and the criminal justice system. 

“What were you wearing?”, “You should’ve asked them to stop”, “Did you fight back?”, “If I were you, I would’ve left that relationship already”, “Do you have evidence?”, “Aren’t you guys in a relationship though?”

These are just some of the remarks that victims and survivors often hear after mustering the courage to speak up. These are the driving force that aids in the silencing of victims. 

Dear women, you are not alone. 

There are many groups working day and night to help put a stop to this global scourge and aid those who have been affected by the violence. One of them is Rose Haven

Rose Haven is the only day shelter and community center in Portland that specifically serves women and anyone who is marginalized by gender. Rose Haven is a safe place for women to go to during the day. It is a community that provides everyone with safety, stability, love and a place called home. It provides a place where women can get their mail, clean themselves, get clean clothes, get something to eat, and meet with social workers one on one to figure out how to put pieces back together. 

Rose Haven’s development director, Liz Starke, has worked with them for eight years and started this inspiring work because of her interest in intersectional feminism. “I think when we talk about all of the different intersecting issues that marginalize people in all of the isms that we talk about when we touch on social justice, in a capitalist society what really that will [boil] down to is poverty, right?”

“We see them, we acknowledge them, we know their names, we know how they like their coffee, we know their favorite styles,” Starke asserts. “We are a place where we can foster that community and help our guests through their unique healing process because that’s gonna be different for every person.”

When asked about domestic violence, Starke reports that domestic violence is the leading cause of women’s homelessness in the United States and that the intersection between poverty and violence is undeniably strong. Starke also talked about the connection between financial troubles and survivors staying with their abusers. “Once people actually do leave, often times they have to leave with nothing and not even their ID, let alone money, so it’s really hard to get back on your feet and unfortunately once you are experiencing homelessness and you’re outside, you are so much more likely to be attacked and be a victim of social violence, and we see that [here in Rose Haven] unfortunately everyday.”

In addition, there is also a group that serves students in our very own Franklin High School. The Franklin Sexual Assault Support Committee (SASC) is a student led committee filled with passionate advocates who desire for change in the community. The SASC intends to raise awareness to all of the struggles that not only Franklin peers go through but also anyone that needs help. According to SASC member, Hannah Rosenberger (12), the SASC works towards pushing out information about reporting, such as how and where to report sexual harrassment, and also different ways to seek help throughout the school. 

The committee has hosted several Teal OUT events in the community in order to spread awareness, with the color teal being the representation of sexual assault awareness and prevention. They are also working to get more consent content and courses into feeding middle schools and high school classes. 

“We feel that SA (sexual assault) can be a really hard topic for anyone to talk about and we want to break the stigma of it being something to be ashamed of and start reaching out to show that somebody is there to listen and help,” Rosenberger states. “With many allegations we felt it was necessary to bring student advocates together and have our voices heard to raise awareness and bring peace to victims.”

There are in fact many ways to help and show solidarity with survivors as a high school student. 

Rose Haven is in the process of moving their shelter to a bigger facility, so a simple share on social media and a small donation could make a big difference. Follow them on their Instagram page, @rosehaven_pdx, where they post about their donation needs and campaigns. Many students have also organized drives such as hygiene product drives. Another way to help is to volunteer and join their Youth Outreach Board which consists of high school students from various high schools. Rose Haven is mostly run by volunteers, so donating your time would be greatly appreciated.

On the other hand, the Franklin SASC encourages people to DM them on their Instagram page at @franklin.sasc, and also approach their adult advocate, Pamela Zigo, who works as a non-mandatory reporter for the safety and comfort of Franklin students. Students can contact Zigo through her email, PZigo@voar.org or visit Room SS-218, next to the counseling office.

The word “violence” is an umbrella term for physical, mental and sexual abuse, as well as exploitation. It affects women regardless of their color, background, social status and ability. This violence affects both their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to cope with their daily lives. The works and campaigns for Ending Violence Against Women Day should not end on November 25 we have to work on eliminating the stigma and shame laid upon women every day and also support women throughout their healing process.

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