|I planned to write my editorial about the special report
in this issue on the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases and
the petition we want you to sign and distribute to demand action.
But then, just days before this column was due, on a Sunday afternoon
in New York City's Central Park, more than 40 women were attacked.
The women--tourists and locals, some teenagers, others adults,
some alone, others with female friends or male companions--were surrounded
by groups of men who heckled, restrained, sexually molested, robbed,
and beat them. And in one case, a woman was stripped naked while
her husband was restrained and forced to watch. The predators cheered
each other on, while bystanders videotaped several of the incidents
and countless other folks watched and made no effort to intercede.
It happened the same day that a major parade celebrating Puerto
Rican pride was being held in the area, and the police were out
in force. And yet, according to several people, including a number
of the victims, the police failed to respond to their pleas for
help, or protect other women from being assaulted.
As fate would have it, these attacks also happened on the very
weekend when women from around the world had just finished meeting
at the United Nations. That gathering was called to assess the progress
made since the historic U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in
Beijing in 1995 and to press governments to adhere to the recommendations
and resolutions that came out of that event, to demand new laws
and that unjust laws be changed. No surprise that violence against
women was one of the main areas of concern.
As if we could forget that we live in a world where the rule of
law does not universally apply to women and where nations routinely
cloak men's violence toward women under the mantle of custom or
religion, calling them acts of honor, duty, or love. Or that I,
like most of you reading this, live in a country where men who kill
their wives or girlfriends are routinely described as being "distraught,"
their murderous acts detailed under headlines that say things like
"Love Gone Awry"--as if love had anything to do with it.
If caught, these killers usually plead insanity, talk about being
"pushed over the edge" and all too often are treated less
harshly than the person who murders a stranger. One in six U.S.
women has experienced either rape or attempted rape at some point
in her life. Women are assaulted--not because the urge to rape is
inherent to men's nature, but because of socialization. In this
nation, women and girls are routinely stalked, the sexual harassment
of girls in middle and junior high schools by their male peers has
become all too common, and far more often than folks would like
to admit, the sexual predation begins in the home. Yet women's suppressed
memories of childhood abuse are labeled false, and people are deluded
into thinking that incest is rare, that harassment is just adolescent
flirtation, and that the mere fact of being female makes one a target
for violence and intimidation. And then there are the officials
who claim that these are simply aberrant acts--no pattern here.
How seriously does this society take violence against women? Ask
the prosecutors who decide that some women aren't worthy of justice
and the juries that buy into those tired patriarchal excuses for
men's violence toward women. Ask the music lovers who attended the
Woodstock festival last year in upstate New York and chose to be
voyeurs when rape became part of the public revelry. Ask the moviemakers
who regularly incite the violence done to women. Ask the schoolboys
who in poll after poll state that if they spend a certain amount
of money on a date, girls are obligated to provide sex. Ask the
police officers who failed to respond to a female victim's cry for
help and the bystanders who watched but did nothing. Ask those males
who catcalled, threw water, groped and pawed and assaulted those
women in the park, and the others who cheered them on. Ask the women
who were targeted on that hot spring day.