Today there are more avenues to help women in crisis than there have ever been. Outreach programs and other resources are available because people finally recognized that there is a problem. Battered and abused women are no longer compelled to live in fear and confusion. Even though society has made great strides, the attitudes concerning this vulnerable group hasn’t changed much.
The discourse that surrounds women is complicated. Women are indeed oppressed and yet ever so powerful by nature. The backbone of society is held up by them, fixed by them, and consoled by them. The endearing qualities of women are greatly diminished during times of crisis, though. How women are viewed is slow to catch up with the progress made so far; changing tradition is a slow and painful process.
The standard to which women are held is contradictory. They must be dainty and beautiful figures that have innate strength, the capacity to bear children and keep stable homes. In the same right they are also viewed as objects to be possessed and conquered. The caveat to this is as with any marginalized group, the degradation follows. When women respond to stressful situations with emotion, they are marked as irrational and incapable of handling situations with lucidity. This ideology makes for a sad reality when terrible things happen because it is so ingrained in how people view the pain of women.
Cases of sexual assault and domestic violence shine bright lights on how society perceives hurt women; the conversation becomes the most troubling. The Lorena Bobbit case is an interesting example in history of how these views are perpetuated. A clear disclaimer for this particular story is: violence is not acceptable in any way, against any person but her specific case was unique. Bobbit suffered severe trauma and abuse at the hands of her husband that some would argue, caused her to snap. The coverage on the case highlighted the concept that women are unstable and irrational and the media couldn’t quite connect the crime to the years of turmoil she has been dealing with up until that point. Her victimization was overshadowed by her crime despite the jury finding it justified. In general, things that happen to women aren’t always taken with the same seriousness as men.
The substantial amount of evidence she had, documenting the abuse is what ultimately led to her release. Without it, she easily would not have been believed. In cases like this, the evidence has to be so obvious that it cannot be convoluted in a ‘he said, she said’ battle. The burden of proof is so understandably high because accusing someone of these crimes carries intense penalties. In other instances some victims were not so lucky, the law couldn’t protect them or the response they got from others kept them isolated. Consequently, women have lost their lives because the evidence they did have wasn’t enough.
The conversation doesn’t end at what the justice system can do to help women, it’s about what the community can do to help these women. Accusations are usually met with doubt or criticism. People often attribute accusations to a woman being scorned or petty. Abuse manifests complex psychiatric conditions and psychological reactions from people. The effects are amplified in those who previously experienced trauma, have limited resources or authority over their own circumstance. It is impossible to know how someone will react until put into a situation.
Many people assign blame to the victim because that’s how men and women have been conditioned to react to the plight of women. Asking why didn’t she leave or what did she do, further strips down the remaining dignity. Women in crisis need more than words, they need support. Shame and fear are already compounded reasons as to why women are trapped in situations longer than they should be. As a society it is imperative to challenge the idea that a woman can be a victim through no fault of her own. There is no reason to shame, misbelieve, or make fun of dire circumstance.
Women in crisis deserve the same chance to be heard and respected. The conversation shouldn’t stem from blanket generalizations about women, but from a place of empathy and a sense of urgency. Hearing a woman’s story without judgement or bias can give much needed strength. Treating each situation with the care that it deserves will help future generations learn to come forward quicker, get help and create awareness. Helen Keller said it best, “alone we can so little; together we can do so much.