I See DV As A Complex Issue That Impacts ALL Women and Girls

I See DV As A Complex Issue That Impacts ALL Women and Girls

This October, we’re highlighting different perspectives around domestic violence as part of our How I See DV campaign. Our first contributor is the accomplished activist Malika Saada Saar, director of the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls).

My Work Taught Me How To Talk About Domestic Violence

I am a human rights lawyer for women and girls because of the domestic violence movement — a collection of people working to ending abuse. The domestic violence movement taught me how to name the violence done to women and girls. It gave me a language to frame the abuse in my own familial circles. And, the movement grounded me in how I wanted to make a life insistent on women’s dignity, power and safety.

The Movement, and Our Mission, Have Evolved

Since my college days of working at a domestic violence shelter, my belief in how the movement ought to move forward has changed significantly. For me, it is no longer only about the original framework of intimate partner violence against women.

The last reauthorization of our landmark Violence Against Women Act unearthed how our work has really progressed as a movement against gender-based violence. The original passage of VAWA in 1994 signaled a new discourse on violence that reshaped how we as a nation both acknowledged and framed spousal abuse. But, now almost twenty years later, VAWA includes language that names sexual violence and the need for victim services, redefines trafficking of children as a form of sexual violence, ends the impunity of non-Native persons who rape and assault women and girls on tribal lands, and recognizes that LGBT individuals are also victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Like VAWA, the domestic violence movement is powerfully expanding in its contemplation of violence to include the complex ways in which violence plays out in the lives of ALL women — and girls.

Domestic Violence Affects ALL Women and Girls

I deeply believe that we must continue to be expansive, broad, and diverse as a movement because the violence against us continues, unabated. Intimate partner violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the U.S. That means more women are being harmed by violence than in car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.

The lives of African-American women are even more diminished by violence, as African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white women. And, one out every three American women has been beaten, sexually coerced or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

The narrative of physical and sexual violence against women and girls continues to cut across the buffers of economic or educational privilege, and breeches every divide of race, class and ethnicity in America. It is a story whispered in the corners of mansions in affluent neighborhoods, in the best private schools and universities, behind the walls of women prisons and girl detention centers, and on the street corners where girls are sexually exploited and trafficked. Violence against women and girls remains a painfully American tale.

There Are New Forms of Abuse — and New Work to Be Done

Clearly, there is still so much more work to be done to address, name, and end violence against women and girls, especially when the violence has taken on new manifestations: cyber-stalking and harassment, digitized rape, the intersection between the hyper-sexualization of girls and violence. But I am made stronger when I consider the inheritance that we possess at this moment in the work.

The inheritance we possess as women who stand on the shoulders of so many who went before us, who fought for us, who won for us access to power, equality and full personhood. I think of the other inheritance too: the inheritance of those victims of rape, exploitation, abuse, and coercion whose lives were snuffed out because of the violence done to them because they were women and girls. It is the inheritance of all of this, the generational victories and sufferings that allow us to be here, with an abiding commitment to end violence against women and girls, on this domestic violence awareness month, and every month, in the years ahead.

About Our Contributor

Malika Saada Saar is Special Counsel on Human Rights at The Raben Group. She also serves as director of the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls), an effort focused on the human rights of vulnerable girls in the U.S. Previously, Malika co-founded and was the executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a policy and advocacy organization for women and families. At Rebecca Project, Malika led the effort to shut down Craigslist sex ads that served as the leading site for the trafficking of children for sex, ended the federal practice of shackling pregnant mothers behind bars in U.S. prisons, and successfully advocated for millions in federal funding for treatment services for at-risk families. Newsweek and the Daily Beast have named Malika as one of “150 Women Who Shake the World.”

The Obama White House selected Ms. Saada Saar to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.

Malika has been featured in the Daily Beast, Huffington Post, O: The Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Politico, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Redbook Magazine, Essence, Tavis Smiley Show, BBC, ABC News, Good Morning America, CNN, and National Public Radio.


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  1. Personal Testimony: The Reason I Believe in Angels- MY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STORY
    During a night that I was certain would be my last, my husband at the time had gone into a fitful rage with the intent on ending my life. I had been attacked by him several times before. But that night was different.
    He raised me above his 6’1” frame with the intent to body slam me to the floor. All I can remember was my body being thrown to the floor like a rag doll. All I could do in that moment was pray that he did not harm my children…that they would run out of the house before he could harm them.
    Then, something miraculous happen: As my body was being body slammed, my head was gently placed on floor. Someone was watching over me in the midst of my ordeal. I was certain that it was guardian angels there with me…or else I would not have survived.  The next day as I made my brave escape to flee from my husband, my body was wreck with pain but I knew that I was one of the lucky ones. I never looked backed. Today, I am strong, empowered and ready to make a difference in the lives of others.
    Why am I telling my story? To celebrate those of us who survived domestic violence & to remember those who were not so fortunate.

    1. LaTunya Carr,

      In celebration of those who survived domestic violence, I want to tell you that I am grateful to know that you survived and that you are able to boldly share your story with others. Your strength and empowerment truly will make a lasting impact in the lives of others. Thank you for sharing your personal testimony.


      A portion of your post was edited. For further reference please view our community guidelines at http://www.thehotline.org/community-guidelines/

  2. Hello, we are a group of students working on a school project which is concerning the topic of spousal abuse and how we can raise awareness to the topic. Our question to you is what ” What are some things you do to help a person in situation of spousal abuse” and what are some ways to raise more awareness.
    Please get back to us as soon as possible.

    1. Hi Adria,

      Thanks for your question, and for working to raise awareness of abuse through your project! Abuse is a complex issue and ultimately there isn’t one right solution for everyone. Here at The Hotline we believe that the individual experiencing the abuse is the best judge of their own situation and the only person who can determine what’s best for them, so we focus on providing the support, information, and resources that victims and survivors need to make those tough decisions. We believe that support is essential, so we do what we can to connect people with the appropriate resources in their local community that can help to keep them safe and empower them to take the steps they wish to take. We also try to work with them to create a safety plan to insure their physical and emotional wellbeing throughout the process. You can find more tips on our Help For Friends and Family page as well. As far as raising awareness, one good option would be sharing our Twitter and Facebook pages. Social media is a great way to spread knowledge and resources. I hope this helps and we wish you the best of luck on your project!

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