…is a human right is a series exploring how the fight for women’s rights is a fight for human rights. By analyzing and referencing the concept of “human rights” through a gender-specific lens, we do the ultimate service to the movement: we make the humanity of women inescapable and stress the intersectionality of the human race’s various needs.
If you had asked me about violence and international human rights three years ago, I would have immediately imagined some war-torn country far, far away. Phrases like “female genital mutilation” and “human trafficking” would come to mind.
They were problems I was familiar with and disgusted by, sure, but problems I never really thought I would have to deal with. Why? Because I was fortunate enough to have been born in America, a country that recognizes freedom from violence as an international human right and would never allow something like FGM to occur on its lands. There would be a public outcry! Everyone would know about it! It just could never happen.
Then I was raped.
It was spring break of my sophomore year of college. I was 19 years old and suddenly, inexplicably, destroyed. The only way I found solace during those long, lonely months following my assault was reading everything I could about violence against women. I became almost obsessed with understanding why and how this had happened to me. And as I read more and more, I started to realize: I was just one of a casualty of millions in the War on Women.
When we talk about the War on Women, the subject almost always steers towards reproductive rights. But the War on Women has another front, one that has been waging its battles unnoticed and silently piling on more and more victims for decades.
It’s called rape culture. It’s an epidemic of violence and victim-blaming that keeps the perpetrators powerful and the survivors silent. And it’s not happening in some far-off, embattled country. It’s happening right here. It’s happening on our campuses and in our classrooms. It’s happening at high school parties. It’s happening in our media and in our police stations and in our courts.
So today, on International Human Rights Day, I’m asking this: Where is the public outcry?
I’m not at all saying that we, as both a country and an international community, should abandon or shift focus from the terrible violence being waged against women and girls all across the world. If anything, I believe we should redouble our efforts to eradicate these kinds of violence — both sexual and domestic — in every nook and cranny of every single country.
But I wish so badly that more people would realize what I realized only after I was raped: That America is no better than the nations we so-often look down upon. We have a crisis in our country and it’s not a new crisis — it’s been going on for generations. Thankfully, survivors are speaking up and fighting back.
But how many more generations will have to live and die before we start fixing our national violence epidemic? How long will we have to wait until raping a drunk girl is considered just as inconceivable as Female Genital Mutilation? When will the discussion around “was she asking for it” or “did she deserve it” end? When will we start focusing on the perpetrator’s actions, not the victim’s?
How many more women and girls have to be raped in our own country before there’s a national outcry?
Freedom from violence is an international human right. But it’s not one that’s being protected around the world and it’s not one that is being protected in this country. And until our legislators, our teachers, our judges, our police officers, our parents and our children start recognizing the true epidemic of violence against women in this country, the number of casualties will continue to grow.
So today on International Human Rights Day, do me a favor: In addition to thinking about all the different human rights that are being forsaken across the globe, don’t forget about the ones being denied right on your street.
To take action on violence against women in your community, check out Feminist Campus’ Campaign to End Campus Sexual Violence.