One in three women will be raped or beaten worldwide within her lifetime. That’s equivalent to one billion women the globe over.
This was a common statistic we used throughout the publicity and production of The Vagina Monologues at USC this year. As co-director of The Vagina Monologues, I joined in solidarity with my cast, crew, and the USC and Columbia communities to raise funds for Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands while raising awareness about violence against women. This year’s production was also part of a global solidarity movement called One Billion Rising, which sought to bring together one billion people the world over to take a stand against violence against women.
During the same months we were rehearsing for the show, which highlights the stories of hundreds of women interviewed by playwright Eve Ensler (a number of which stories include sexual and physical assault and abuse), the US Congress was reconsidering the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)--and determining who is worthy of the bill’s protections. During the very week in which we were performing, heated debates swirled about the bill’s details and whose experiences of violence are the kind that should be federally protected.
This is a political question that is also very personal. Because while one in three women worldwide will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, for me these are not just numbers. There are also names, and there are faces. Individual people—my friends and loved ones—and whole groups—rape used as a tactic of war in Bosnia, Rwanda, and around the globe. There’s the USC student whose rape on campus was reported by the media just days after we finished the show. And there’s my friend whose rape (on USC’s campus, years ago) did not make headlines: she told me days after the show’s run ended that she had been in a two-year relationship when she was in college, and her boyfriend “didn’t take no” for an answer. Ever.
Every year, after the final curtain call, we ask audience and cast member who are comfortable to rise if they are survivors of domestic or sexual violence. My friend was one of many who stood at the end of our show. This year, about half of our 27-member cast and many more of the audience members were also standing. Then, when we asked those who know anyone who is a survivor of sexual or domestic violence to stand, almost the whole audience rose—every night, three nights in a row.
Violence against women is everywhere. It is in foreign countries, and it is in our own backyards. While VAWA was originally passed in 1994 and renewed multiple times, in 2012 its reauthorization was at risk. The week of our show, those who might receive protections were at risk. At the same time, many who had already suffered from domestic or sexual violence made their experiences present to all of us at the show.
Fortunately, with a groundswell of supporters worldwide, from those standing with Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising movement to those engaged with ending violence against women through other projects, the Senate and House passed a bipartisan version of VAWA with extended protections for Native Americans, LGBT populations, college students, and immigrants. Locally, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands and other non-profits working to end violence in our communities will receive VAWA funding to continue serving survivors. And now the bill’s renewal and extension ensures that these organizations will be able to access the resources necessary to expand their reach to underserved communities, including the Latina and LGBTQ populations here in the Midlands.
This is certainly a victory. VAWA has already made an impact in the United States on the road to ending domestic and sexual violence nationwide, and I can only hope that the new, extended bipartisan version will have an even broader impact. However, the violence won’t end just because of one bill. We must continue to stand together with leaders, community members, and survivors to end violence. Speak out. Volunteer with community organizations that support women, survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and/or violence prevention. Become more aware of the issues, every day. We can’t sit idly by while one billion women worldwide face the potential of being victimized. But we can continue to rise with people of all genders as we take a stand to end sexual and domestic violence in the US and beyond.