We need to talk about violence against women.
Of course, this might not seem like the right time. After all, newsfeeds are overwhelmed with headlines about mass shootings and war, abortion and mounting economic uncertainty. Amid warnings that #MeToo is dead, there’s seemingly no oxygen left for violence against women.
Yet, making progress on the pressing issues of the day requires also addressing violence against women, as I can attest after two decades of conducting research on violence here in Colorado.
Consider mass shootings, the devastating impact of which Coloradans know all too well.
Among mass shooters, nearly one in three have histories of perpetrating domestic violence while hostile views of women and rigid views of masculinity are common. When gun deaths increase as they have in recent years, women are the disproportionate victims.
In war, sexual assault is wielded as a weapon, as researchers have long documented. The war in Ukraine is no different. Sexual violence has serious health and social consequences for victims. As Colorado prepares to welcome refugees, supporting our new neighbors will require addressing the harms of sexual violence as well as war.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade also connects to violence against women. After all, reproductive coercion is common, as early as adolescence, with abusive partners refusing to use, or removing, condoms, sabotaging birth control, or controlling pregnancy decision-making.
Reproductive coercion can portend future violence. Restrictions that force people to travel to access reproductive health care, as well as laws allowing individuals to be sued for aiding abortion access, give new tools to abusers to coerce and control victims. As a state likely to see an increase in people seeking care here, Colorado health care and allied systems will have to be prepared to support victims.
Even the news about economic uncertainties in the wake of historic inflation levels and COVID-19-related disruptions is tangled up with violence against women. Economic uncertainty predicts men’s coercive control of their partners and family violence. Intimate partner abuse spills over into workplaces, disrupting women’s job performance and careers.
Despite connections to daily headlines, violence against women gets relegated to an awareness-raising month now and then, and treated as a special-interest issue — a problem only for those who are abused or who abuse. That has to change, because we will be better able to solve the pressing problems facing Colorado and the country when we also address violence against women.
For example, preventing mass shootings has to start with preventing violence against girls and women and promoting gender equity. Decades of research on adolescent dating violence have led to prevention programs that work. When prevention fails, research offers important policy paths forward. For instance, gun restrictions for domestic violence offenders have the potential to prevent mass shootings, according to research evidence.
Likewise, we can better address health care access and costs guided by research on violence against women. For example, early psychological intervention matters after sexual assault, heading off serious and long-term health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, health care systems have an essential role to play in screening for intimate violence, including to prevent unintended pregnancies.
Violence against women is also key to economic policy. McKinsey and Company estimates that ending violence against women will increase GDP. Policies that promote economic stability — from paid leave to preventing foreclosures — are tools for preventing intimate partner abuse, which can cut costs to already overburdened health and legal systems.
It’s time to recognize that solving the public problems of the day requires also addressing violence against women. This starts with changing how we talk about violence against women by connecting it to the day’s headlines and bringing decades of research to bear on problem solving.
Anne P. DePrince, Ph.D., of Denver, is a distinguished university professor of psychology at the University of Denver and author of “Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women.”
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