By Emily Evans, October 3, 2016
More than 1 million women and girls in Oregon have endured sexual assault, and 700,000 have survived violence by an intimate partner, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is one of the most sobering findings from the Women’s Foundation of Oregon’s new report, “Count Her In,” the most comprehensive report on our state’s women and girls in nearly 20 years.
Violence against women cuts across income, race, geography, sexual orientation and education level. It can happen to anybody. So it was disturbing to hear one of Oregon’s major party candidates for governor say in last Friday’s gubernatorial debate that women with education, training or good jobs are “not susceptible” to violence.
This is a damaging myth. The data shows violence against women is not a result of economics. Women cannot prevent violence with another degree or a bigger paycheck.
Last week’s statement is evidence of how truly widespread this victim-blaming misconception is in our state. Women cannot — and shouldn’t be asked to — prevent their own attacks. The ability and responsibility to prevent this violence lies solely with rapists, assailants, abusers and the communities that tolerate them. The false thinking that suggests otherwise has impeded Oregon’s ability to effectively address its epidemic of violence against women.
Rates of violence against women in Oregon are much higher than the national average: The number of survivors is greater than the entire population of Multnomah County.
The epidemic has overwhelmed our state’s ability to respond.
Last year, requests for emergency shelter from more than 10,000 domestic-violence survivors went unmet due to a lack of adequate funding. In 2014, Oregon crisis lines received nearly 11,000 calls from survivors of sexual violence, but most communities lack the basic resources to help, including a sufficient number of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners or the timely processing of rape kits.
Oregon’s Department of Education employs one person who works half-time coordinating programs with schools and teachers aimed at helping young people understand healthy relationships, personal boundaries and age-appropriate consent. That means we have allocated 20 hours a week at the state level to help educate more than 500,000 youth on this critical topic. We simply cannot help survivors heal or hope to stop this epidemic with these inadequate resources.
If more than half of Oregon women and girls suffered from a preventable disease that deeply compromised their physical and mental well-being, our state would mobilize to stop, treat and cure it. But because Oregon hasn’t yet accepted that violence against women amounts to an epidemic, we have not yet done what we need to do.
For the report “Count Her In,” we listened to more than 1,000 women and girls across the state to hear the stories behind the data. We heard from women who were raped as teenagers describe years of struggle with substance abuse, incarceration or homelessness. We heard from service providers who routinely arrive at work to find women and children on their shelters’ doorsteps, having fled violence by walking through the night.
Survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence aren’t somewhere else or someone else. They are women and girls in our communities, our neighborhoods, our families. And they deserve so much better.
Emily Evans is the Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation of Oregon.