Rape and sexual assault are such common crimes — the country experiences more than 293,000 incidences annually — that they rarely make local or national news. But the rape and murder of Marilyn Pharis in Santa Maria made national news last week. Instead of hearing a national call to action to end the pervasiveness of violence against women, it was the voices of an anti-immigrant and anti-state law agenda that we heard. From Tea Party members to the Santa Maria Chief of Police, the horrific death of Marilyn Pharis was used to make political statements against immigrants or against state law related to immigrants (California’s TRUST Act, which stands for Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools) and the sentencing of prisoners (Prop. 47). At best this is seriously misdirected moral outrage and fear, and at worse it is a terrible use of a personal tragedy for political agendas.
Violence against women is violence against women. No one in their right mind condones violence against women. As many as 80 percent of perpetrators are not strangers to their victim. As many as 47 percent are friends or acquaintances, and 25 percent are intimately related to the victim (e.g., spouse, boyfriend, family).
The American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Male Violence Against Women documents “that violence has multiple causes, but it remains fundamentally a learned behavior that is shaped by norms and role expectations that perpetuate male violence.” The APA published report No Safe Haven: Male Violence Against Women at Home, at Work, and in the Community is a focus on the fact that the common factor in violence against women is men — rich men, poor men, white men, men of color, citizen men, non-citizen men, married men, single men — it’s men. It is sad, frightening, and overwhelming to face the fact that the common denominator in violence against women is that the perpetrators are male and they are overwhelmingly men we know and often know intimately. To use a horrific case of violence against women for an anti-immigrant and anti-state law agenda is not defensible, if one is rightly concerned about stopping violence against women.
If you are a woman, if you have a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, if women matter to you, then a focus on solutions to stopping and ending violence against women is long overdue. One specific policy tool is a city and county ordinance to put into action the international Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at a local level. The city/county of San Francisco has seen dramatic decreases in domestic-violence-related homicides after the implementation of a local CEDAW. When we truly value women, we will pass policies and invest financial resources to end violence against women. Until then, hundreds of thousands of girls and women will continue to be sexually assaulted and murdered without public protest or press conferences.
Maricela Morales, MA, is executive director of CAUSE, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.