On October 17, 2012, almost a year ago to the day, the Amherst Student published an article entitled “An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College.” Written by former student Angie Epifano, who would be graduating this year, the account detailed her experience as a victim of sexual assault and the horrifically degrading response from the Amherst College Administration. (See our coverage here). As horrible as this account was (and still is) to read, it represents only the beginning of what has been a disgustingly unbearable year of attacks on women by news media and politicians.
Now, 2013 is not the first year in which women’s bodies and reproductive rights have been objectified and degraded in the public eye. Indeed, in what year has this not been the case? Yet after the 2012 election that resulted in a split Congress — Republican controlled House and Democrat controlled Senate — the political ramifications of misogyny seem hyper-present in our politically polarized society. Although the Violence Against Women Act was successfully passed, Think Progress reports that, in 2013, “more states than ever chipped away at women’s abortion rights by enacting unconstitutional 20-week abortion bans, imposing restrictions on the abortion pill, preventing women from using their insurance plans to cover abortion care, forcing women to undergo mandatory ultrasounds, requiring doctors to tell women medically-disputed information about abortion risks, and forcing women to wait 24 hours or more before they’re allowed to proceed with an abortion. “ These laws represent a political policing of women’s bodies; a tangible, legal denial of their control, complete with justification for it.
Political and administrative responses are not the only examples of national attacks on women’s bodies, news media alone carries significant control over public opinion. So, with that, we turn to the nightmare that was Steubenville, where major news outlets like NBC, ABC, CNN, The Associated Press, USA Today, and Yahoo News all lamented the loss of two such “promising futures” of Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, who were convicted of violently raping a 16 year old girl at a party. By continually qualifying the unnamed victim as “drunk” or “highly intoxicated” while celebrating the young men’s talent on the football field, these news outlets created a national narrative that placed the blame on the victim instead of on the rapists, who were largely portrayed as “vulnerable young boys” whose sex-offender statuses will “haunt them for the rest of their lives.” Indeed, by contiunally describing the conviction as “emotional” for the Mays and Richmond families, and showing them crying in court, ABC News portrayed the rapists as sympathetic instead of guilty.
Ignoring the trauma experienced by the victim, whose rape was documented and photographed for everyone to see — let alone the press and publicity of the trial — news media portrayed her rape as justifiable and excusable. Well, it’s time for that to end, and a new campaign is leading the way, because really, there are NO MORE excuses that can or should be heard.
The NO MORE campaign represents a united front: a unification of anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual assault organizations — A CALL TO MEN, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, to name a few — to end domestic violence and sexual assault once for all. The name of the campaign speaks volumes to its strategy: by saying that there are NO MORE excuses for domestic violence and sexual assault, it invalidates the narrative of victim-blaming we see every day, and instead validates these issues as part of public concern.
A spearheader of this campaign is Mariska Hargitay, who has starred on Law & Order: SVU for the past fourteen seasons. In a recent interview with Feministing, Hargitay explained that when she researched her part for her audition, she “couldn’t believe the stats” she was finding on sexual assault in the United States. Currently, “12.7 million people are physically abused, raped, or stalked by their partners in one year” which is “approximately the population of New York and Los Angeles combined” and translates to “24 people every minute” of every day in the United States alone.
After working to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence in her professional life, Hargitay took steps in her personal life as well, by training to become a rape crisis counselor and starting the Joyful Heart Foundation, which works with victims of sexual assault to begin the healing process. Yet, with NO MORE, Hargitay has found another avenue to turn the tide of public opinion. Since “a vital goal of NO MORE is to lift that shame and stigma, to liberate the conversation from the attitudes that have suppressed it for so long,” NO MORE works to raise greater awareness and inspire “increased funding that will become available as these issues move towards the center of public and institutional concern.” With greater awareness and funding, NO MORE hopes that its push for research will be able to change public policies that will transfer blame and responsibility away from the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, but onto the millions of people who commit these acts every year.