ATHENS – On Valentine’s Day, countless couples will celebrate romance by candlelight. On the same day, one billion women and men worldwide will stand up to shine a light on the darker side of gender relations.
According to the United Nations, one in three women worldwide will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. In some countries, up to seven in ten women will be beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated. Often, the victims of such abuses are treated as criminals – dishonored, brutalized, ostracized, imprisoned, and even executed – while perpetrators remain free. Millions of women suffer in this way, but their stories remain untold.
Last December, the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in India – two months after Pakistan’s Taliban shot 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for advocating education – triggered large-scale public protests. This outcry should mark the start of a global movement to lift the veil of silence that shrouds violence against women – which often begins at home – and protects the perpetrators.
From honor killings to child marriages, from date rape to sex slavery, crimes against women are prevalent in every society. But, when women are courageous enough to report abuse, doctors are often unhelpful, police are hostile, and the justice system fails them. For example, one in three women in the United States military is sexually assaulted, usually by a colleague, yet very few attackers are convicted. Likewise, in the United Kingdom, 473,000 sexual offenses are reported annually, 60,000-95,000 of which are classified as rape. But, in each of the last three years, only slightly more than 1,000 offenders were convicted of rape.