By Victoria Dinges, Senior Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, Allstate Insurance Company
Lately it seems like every day brings a new allegation of abusive or inappropriate behavior toward women. This is a watershed moment: For the first time in recent memory, our society is saying, “I believe you.” That’s incredibly powerful. We’re acknowledging the issue of abuse like never before. Still, I challenge us to do more.
We must recognize that there are women – likely the majority – in abusive situations whose stories will never make the news, let alone be spoken out loud. Many would be risking their lives simply by sharing their experience with someone else. That’s because they’re trapped.
In our work at Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, we know that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, regardless of socioeconomic status or race. That’s more than the number affected by breast, ovarian, and lung cancer combined. They live alongside us. They are our sisters, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our friends.
Most experience financial abuse, which is present in 99% of domestic violence cases and is one of the main reasons victims are trapped in or return to abusive relationships. Financial abuse includes isolating tactics such as preventing victims from working or accessing bank accounts, credit cards, or transportation. It’s just as effective as a lock and key in controlling a victim – if a woman’s credit is ruined, she can’t get an apartment; if her abuser harasses her at work, she can lose her job. It keeps victims trapped – and often voiceless.
Domestic violence isn’t a women’s issue; it’s a human rights issue. Men in society are crucial to ending abuse against women. No one wants to imagine their brother or friend would ever abuse his girlfriend, wife, or co-worker. But we need men to be courageous if we are to change things for the better. Speaking openly about abuse helps create a culture where abusers can’t hide in the shadows and where victims feel supported.
Men can also model healthy relationships. Fathers can show their daughters and sons what loving relationships look like so we teach the right behaviors and stop condoning the wrong ones. If men become aware of abuse, they should find ways to safely get involved and stand up for victims. They could help save a woman’s life.
Of course, solving this terrible societal issue doesn’t rest with men alone. All of us need to step up. If you know a woman who is trapped in an abusive relationship, be there for her. Support her. Listen to her. It’s estimated that it takes at least seven attempts for a woman to finally leave an abusive relationship. The Allstate Foundation Purple Purse website has tips for starting a conversation if you suspect a loved one is in an abusive relationship. If you’re not sure, PurplePurse.com also offers common warning signs.
Another thing Purple Purse offers is an academically validated financial empowerment curriculum that – along with job readiness initiatives and grants to domestic violence programs across the country – has helped more than 1 million women regain their independence and rebuild their lives. The curriculum is free and available in English and Spanish on our website.
There is a big, bright spotlight on the issue of abuse. Let’s use this moment to ask ourselves, “What kind of society do I want?” And then, create a healthier and safer environment for all. Let’s stand up to abusers and stand up for survivors. Let’s empower women and change the narrative around this issue once and for all. Women and girls deserve to live free from abuse. And no one deserves to be left behind.
To mark the 16 Days of Activism to end gender-based violence, the UN Foundation blog will feature a diverse chorus of voices against violence between now and Human Rights Day, December 10. Read daily posts by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka here. Support the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women here. The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of the guest author.