The Vagina Monologues: Addressing an Epidemic of Gender Violence

Last week, I wrote the first in a series of blogs that would be related to The Vagina Monologues as we approach the production dates at OSU next month (Feb. 13-15). I talked about the history of the play and its association with the V-Day movement, which seeks to end violence against women and girls worldwide.

VDAY2015logo.enToday, I’d like to talk about what I consider an epidemic of gender violence which includes symptoms like domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape, and cultural practices, such as femicide and female genital mutilation. I refer to gender violence as an epidemic because it is causing a global health crisis, one which causes people to harm or kill others simply based on gender.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are probably the most familiar symptoms of this epidemic in the U.S. Sexual assault is a hot-button issue on college campuses right now. The Department of Education recently began an investigation into more than 85 universities because of how they have handled sexual assault cases. In case you weren’t aware, OSU is one of them.

1is2many Logo 3Sexual assault, dating violence (which is similar to domestic violence), and stalking are usually associated with adolescents and college students. The mandatory 1 is 2 Many training at OSU addresses these issues, and heavily emphasizes the sexual assault side. Addressing these issues seems like common sense, but surprisingly, prevention and education programs are met with resistance from both institutions and individuals.

Here are some statistics that demonstrate how big of a health crisis sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking is on college campuses (from the OSU: 1 is 2 Many site):

  • About one in five (20 percent) college women and one in one in sixteen (6 percent) college men will experience completed or attempted sexual assault during their college career.
  • Nine out of 10 sexual assault perpetrators are known by the victims.
  • Rape victims are thirteen (13) times more likely to commit suicide versus non-crime victims.
  • Only 2 to 13 percent of sexual assaults are reported to authorities, making sexual assault one of the most under reported crimes in America.
  • One in 6 women (16 percent) and 1 in 19 men (5 percent) in the United States have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.

Speaking from personal experience, these incidents happen more often than you’d think and even to people who “know better”. Sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking can affect anyone, but many times, people don’t know where or who to turn for help. Unfortunately, what seems to be more common these days is that people may not even realize it’s a problem (aka rape culture).

0d5tumblr_inline_mjttxa4NzR1qawfnhThe Steubenville rape controversy brought to light that many of the high school students involved had been desensitized to sexual assault and didn’t think that their actions were harmful. In fact, many of them made jokes about the “dead girl” who was sexually assaulted while she was passed out from drinking too much during a night of partying.

Domestic violence is also a major problem that most countries like the U.S. condemn, but tend not to want to talk about when the situation actually arises. The Ray Rice domestic violence situation was met with confusion and missteps as the NFL struggled to come up with an appropriate response to handle one of its star players after he knocked out his fiancee (now wife) in an elevator last year. It brought the issue of domestic violence into the national spotlight, however, due to the media firestorm around the incident, it also became a polarizing issue.

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Hitting a little closer to home, OSU football player Tyreek Hill was recently arrested for hitting his girlfriend, who just so happened to also be pregnant. Sadly, I heard and read many OSU fans more concerned with how his dismissal from the team would affect OSU’s bowl performance rather than be concerned that a college football player was hitting his girlfriend. Notice a trend with all the cases I’ve mentioned so far?

Before we can begin to change the statistics for sexual assault and domestic violence, we have to rethink how we approach talking about gender violence so we can change the attitudes behind it. The Vagina Monologues offers one way that makes it OK to talk about to start talking about gender and sexuality issues that society discourages us to talk about.

One of the girls who is participating in the play this year said that when she told her female friends she was going to be in The Vagina Monologues, many of them felt uncomfortable and disgusted that she would even say the word ‘vagina’. They asked her to quit saying the word.

“How can that be weird to talk about?” she asked them. “You have one!”

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