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June 1, 2014

Global epidemic

In U.S. and abroad, new focus on anti-women violence

Nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria. A pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death by her family for marrying the man she loved. Widespread rape in many war zones. And in California, a murderous rampage by a disturbed young man who had depicted sorority members as a prime target.

From across the world, startling reports of violence against women surface week after week. The World Health Organization has declared the problem an epidemic, calculating that one in three women worldwide will experience sexual or physical violence — most often from their husband or male partner.

Yet even as they decry the violence and the abundance of misogynistic rhetoric, women’s rights activists see reasons for hope.

“The violence has been happening forever — it’s not anything new,” said Serra Sippel, president of the Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity. “What’s new is that people in the United States and globally are coming around to say ‘enough is enough,’ and starting to hold governments and institutional leaders accountable.”

Even in India — where just this past week, two teenage cousins were raped and killed by attackers who hung their bodies from a mango tree — there are signs of change. Public outrage over the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student led the government to expedite legislation increasing prison terms for rapists. In April, a court sentenced three men to death for raping a photojournalist in Mumbai.

In the United States, the military says it’s stepping up efforts to combat sexual assault in the ranks and President Barack Obama’s administration is campaigning against sexual violence at colleges and universities. A month ago, for the first time, the Department of Education revealed its list of schools under investigation for how they have responded to the problem.

On May 8, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and several of her colleagues introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, a bill intended to make anti-women violence a higher diplomatic priority for the United States. And from June 10-13 in London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie will co-chair the first-ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

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