Fear. Defeat. Hopelessness. Disempowerment.
About four years ago, I experienced a moment that changed my life. Even as a professional, hard-working woman who works out every day and is physically fit, I experienced a moment of complete disempowerment.
Traveling alone at night for work after a show, I was filling up on gas and snacks at a gas station somewhere between New York and Connecticut. Three men inside the gas station approached me and were asking inappropriate questions about my plans for the evening. As I tried to ignore them, they got more aggressive and crude, calling me names and commenting on my body. They made it clear they wanted me to come with them. The small man behind the counter looked as helpless as I felt, and I immediately realized that this situation could easily get out of control. Reacting only to the immense sense of fear I felt, I dropped my water and snacks on the countertop without paying and bolted out to my rental car, only to be followed out by them yelling at me and calling me every derogatory name in the book. I locked my door, floored the gas, and drove off, only to pull over as soon as I could to regain my composure.
This was when I realized that despite my relative athleticism and confidence, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do if I were to be attacked by a man who out-powered me and had a very bad agenda in mind.
It’s time to be honest. As women, we have all thought about the terrifying possibility of something happening to us, whether we are walking home at night, passing through a dark alley, or have to get to our car in a dim parking lot. We are well aware that these and many other situations may present a very serious threat because they are real. It can happen at any time, and, although hard to acknowledge, it happens too often.
So how bad is it? Here are some frightening facts:
- 3 women are killed every day as a result of domestic violence
- 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime
- 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime
- The overwhelming majority were victimized before the age of 25
- Teens and young adults suffer the highest rates of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking
- Domestic violence costs our economy more than $8 billion a year in lost productivity and health care costs alone
For these reasons, I am a strong supporter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Sadly, Congress has yet to see the urgency in its reauthorization and strengthening. Recently, Vice President Joe Biden in an op-ed stated, “…the clock is now running out for the more than 23,000 women who call our national domestic abuse hotline every month and for all women who may one day be the victims of violence,” and I loudly echo his urgency.
I cannot fathom the fact that Congress has yet to come to an agreement on its reauthorization. We need a VAWA that protects everyone. We need a fortified VAWA. We need a VAWA that will work to combat those scary facts above.
Last month marked the 18th anniversary of that momentous occasion when VAWA was first signed into law and we cannot afford to regress on the gains made towards protecting all women.
October is an empowerment month for women as it celebrates breast cancer awareness and domestic violence awareness; causes that are very dear to me. But in order to be empowered we cannot sit in sidelines. Today, I started my “Act-ober” by examining myself and called my congressional representatives to push for the reauthorization of VAWA. This month, as we wear our pink and purple proudly, please remember that you are the one that makes those colors bright every single day.