By Jane Morse
IIP Staff Writer
28 January 2014
The Obama administration is redoubling its efforts to end gender violence in the United States, as well as around the world.
On January 22, President Obama announced the release of a new report that outlines administration efforts to do more to protect women and girls from violence. “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” analyzes the most recent reliable data about sexual assault in the United States, catalogues the responses taken so far to combat the problem, and identifies areas for further action.
“Sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals,” Obama told a January 22 gathering for the White House Council on Women and Girls. “It threatens our families; it threatens our communities; ultimately, it threatens the entire country. It tears apart the fabric of our communities.”
But the president added: “We have the power to do something about it as a government, as a nation. We have the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who have survived it, and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Nearly one in five U.S. women has been raped during her lifetime, according to the report. Nearly 98 percent of the perpetrators are male.
Noting that the fight against sexual violence began with a fundamental change in U.S. cultural attitudes, Obama said that society needs “to encourage young people, men and women, to realize that sexual assault is simply unacceptable.”
“We’ve got to keep teaching young men in particular,” Obama said, “to show women the respect they deserve and to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it, and to do their part to stop it from happening in the first place.”
According to Obama, U.S. commitment to ending gender violence is enshrined in the Violence Against Women Act, legislation spearheaded by Vice President Biden when he served as a senator. The act, reauthorized for the third time by Obama in 2013, funds the training of detectives, prosecutors, health care providers and victim advocates. It also funds training for sexual assault nurse examiners, who provide supportive care for victims while collecting forensic evidence after a sexual assault.
The White House Council on Women and Girls, signed into being by Obama’s executive order in 2009, has responsibility for ensuring that federal agencies fulfill their duties in ending gender violence. The council has as its members the head of every federal agency and major White House office and is the central point for coordination and cooperation with the overall goals of the administration.
“You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and girls,” Obama said. “Those nations that are successful, they’re successful in part because women and girls are valued. And I’m determined that, by that measure, the United States of America will be the global leader.”
Addressing gender-based violence is “a cornerstone of the [Obama] administration’s efforts to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality around the world,” according to Catherine Russell, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.
In testimony to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on November 20, 2013, Russell said violence against women and girls is “a global epidemic.”
“Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime,” Russell said.
Gender-based violence, Russell said, undermines the dignity, overall health status and human rights of the millions of individuals who experience it, as well as the public health, economic stability and security of nations.
In partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, Russell said, supports efforts by local governments to investigate and prosecute crimes of gender-based violence; provide legal and psychological services to survivors; promote prevention by educating communities and engaging with critical stakeholders, including men, boys and religious leaders; and enhance the ability of the media and civil society to address these issues.
“We also work with the private sector to identify creative and innovative programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence,” Russell said. “We work to create opportunities — through investing in education to entrepreneurship — that will help women and girls overcome barriers and empower them to be less vulnerable to violence, exploitation, brutality and abuse.”