By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Kim Berry imagines a world where rape and violence against women prompts the type of outrage that racial and religious hate crimes spark, with vigils and statements and a call for change.
"Violence against women and girls is normalized," said Berry, associate professor and leader of the women's studies program at Humboldt State University.
The International Women's Day that the United Nations hosts each year on March 8 aims to change that with this year's theme, "Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls."
The effort focuses especially on conflict zones where violent attacks and rape increase, but it also seeks to highlight violence that women in all communities suffer.
Del Norte County is not immune.
From July 2005 to June 2006, the North Coast Rape Crisis Team in Del Norte County saw 298 new people seeking help in sexual abuse cases.
From 2005 to 2006, the Del Norte County District Attorney's Office saw 74 felony domestic violence cases and 104 misdemeanors domestic violence cases.
Harrington House, a 28-bed women's shelter in Crescent City where residents can stay for about three weeks, logged at least 17 residents each night in August 2006 and about 20 each night in December. Last month, the shelter again hosted at least 17 people each night.
The shelter now houses Elizabeth, who came from Medford, Ore., after leaving an abusive boyfriend.
"His anger really started showing," she said of abuse and outbursts when he bruised her arm, broke household items, shouted in front of their baby daughter. "It's not normal, it's not OK."
Education can ultimately stop violent attacks against women, local community leaders agree.
"It's the only lasting effect that you're going to have on that behavior," said Teri McCune-Oostra, senior program manager with the nonprofit Rural Human Services and Harrington House. "How we raise our children that's where abusers come from and where victims come from."
Parents need to teach their sons the same communication skills, emotional control and social abilities as their daughters, McCune-Oostra said, noting stereotyped gender roles for the sexes. Schools and parents must also teach teenagers about healthy relationships and signs of abuse.
Berry pointed to movies and music videos that commonly show women in subservient roles, eroticized violent scenes or as objects for men to view. Children need to learn to analyze such images, along with the air-brushed photos that create unattainable beauty standards, she said.
"We think we're in this time of greater equality for girls and boys," Berry said. "We have to have as many forums where we can think about this, talk about it, not just let people go to sleep."
Estimates list one in three women as beaten or sexually abused in their lives and one out of every four relationships involve some degree of domestic violence. That rate remains equal throughout the U.S., McCune-Oostra said.
"I don't care if you live in Martha Stewart country in Connecticut or you live in Klamath," McCune-Oostra said.
While attacks often go unreported, communities can end them, said Pamela Shifman, child protection advisor with Unicef in New York, that helped organize the international event.
"Violence against women is a crime. It's not inevitable. It can be stopped," Shifman said.
That work entails community partnerships with government, law enforcement, counselors and other groups.
"So we can encourage women to come forward and seek justice," Shifman said.
McCune-Oostra has seen changes over the years.
Victims can obtain new social security numbers or anonymous post office boxes, for instance. Laws now keep employers from penalizing victims who need time off work or restraining orders at the workplace. In the 1990s, Del Norte County was among the first in the nation to install a new 911 system that lets police check previous domestic violence calls from specific locations.
A state program assigns the same prosecutor to domestic violences cases, rather than a rotating schedule of attorneys, to let a victim build a rapport with one lawyer and avoid repeating accounts of a violent attack.
"Society no longer tolerates domestic violence. It isn't seen as a family crime. It's seen as a crime against society," McCune-Oostra said.
Paula Arrowsmith, an outreach coordinator with the North Coast Rape Crisis Team, wants to see more discussion on domestic violence, rape and gender issues. A more educated public ensures more educated jurors, judges, prosecutors, police officers, teachers and counselors who work with victims.
"The act of violence is the responsibility of the person who makes that decision," Arrowsmith said. "And the community can be responsible for holding that person accountable."
At least one out of three women has been beaten or sexually abused.
Violence against women is the most common, but least punished, crime.
Between 700,000 to 4 million women each year are forced or sold into prostitution.
Male violence will kill or maim more women between the ages of 15 and 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
SOURCE: United Nations