I felt slammed by an article this week. It radicalized – even further – my belief that too many women in the US are laboring under the illusion that we don’t need to fight for basic rights.
The article, An Epidemic of Disbelief by Barbara Bradley Hagerty in the August 2019 issue of The Atlantic, opens with a riveting description of this discovery: in a broken-down warehouse in Detroit, more than 11,000 rape kits that had not been sent for testing. Their dates extended back thirty years. Each one bore evidence of the most horrific event in a woman’s life.
A scandal it was, this breathtakingly negligent warehousing – but not an isolated case. Estimates are that more than 200,000 untested rape kits now languish in police evidence lockers in cities throughout US.
In many rape cases, police don’t even begin investigating; a prevalent belief is that most women lie about being raped. One detective stated: “Out of ten cases, eight are false reports.”
Most prosecutors won’t take a case to court without a “righteous victim” – a woman who didn’t know the assailant, fought back, had a clean record, hadn’t been drinking, and didn’t offer sex for money or drugs. Essentially, the victim on trial. If prosecutors predict a jury won’t convict, they won’t prosecute.
This ‘blame the victim” mindset in the criminal justice system allows women to be raped with impunity. Journalist Bradley Hagerty captured it succinctly: “Rape is by far the easiest violent crime to get away with.”
After six millennia, the only right women share worldwide is the right to vote.
In this country, as in many, we’re still up against The Big Three Wrongs that try to “keep women in their place.”
We are paid less that men.
Our reproductive decisions are legislated by governments.
We are physically not safe; we will likely see no justice if we, or someone we know, is raped. And rape is epidemic in our world.
These ugly truths tend to invite depression, a predictable malaise too common among women, along with real fear of stepping beyond the restrictive definitions of ’woman’ so well embedded and defended in our culture.
In many countries, women are in pervasive jeopardy, suffering transgression that even our broken systems might find actionable. Women walking eight hours a day to collect water. Young girls married off to old men. Clitorises removed. Wife-beating an accepted practice. And, diabolically, so much more pain-inflicting behavior.
The warriors among us have to come up with solutions.
Nine years ago, an amazing Darfuri woman revealed my warrior purpose to me, I have been immersed in thinking about how Women’s Centers work and grow and change. I know, from creating four Women’s Centers, that women find what they need there.
Think: base camps for the movement of advancing women’s lives.
Think: safe places where women learn new skills, changing their life trajectory.
Think: women experiencing the support of a sisterhood, learning that the petty stuff undercuts the enormous strength women find in unity.
That’s what Women’s Centers do. They equip women to become strong and resourceful – as they must be to build a better life. And their transformation ripples through the community.
I have witnessed the joyful engagement of the women at Baraka Center. I know they come, sometimes a great distance, because they find acceptance and wisdom and support.
Meanwhile, to my utter bafflement, I have yet to convince enough monied allies of the urgent utility of Women’s Centers. We’ve paid big dues; it’s time for big movement.
Women of means – even small means – must step up for the sisters in dire situations – refugee camps and slums. There you find the women whose unique gifts can and will transform our world.
Women’s Centers are the most elemental way to advance the power of women. We need all the help we can get.