Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane’s Call to Action for Women’s History Month
By: Bridget Rose
March is Women’s History Month, yet senseless acts of violence against women have filled the news. In the wake of the horrific shootings in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16th, social media has erupted with posts of solidarity and calls to “Stop Asian Hate.” In the weeks before, it was posts that said, “she was walking home,” as the news of Sarah Everard’s kidnapping and murder outraged communities in the United Kingdom and beyond.
Only a few days short of International Women’s Day, Sarah Everard was kidnapped and murdered on the way home from a friend’s house on March 3rd. While the actions of the perpetrator are inexcusable, many find this incident all the more shocking because Sarah did everything “right.” She left at a reasonable hour and stayed on main roads. She checked in with loved ones on her walk. But still, why should the conversation surrounding Sarah’s death focus on what she did right, instead of how accustomed our society is to the threat of gender-based violence?
The threat of violence is not limited solely to gender; the intersectionality of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation intensifies this fear for many. As referenced above, on March 16th in Atlanta, GA, eight victims were killed in a mass shooting that is being investigated as a racially motivated crime. It cannot be ignored, however, that seven of the eight victims were women. While conversation about the horrific events of this past week has focused on the acts of the shooter as a hate crime against Asians based on race, there has been less discussion about the fact that this was also a hate crime against women based on sex. The shooter confessed that he was addicted to sex, and that his motivation was to attack women whom he saw as the objects of his temptation. None of this is to say that this crime had nothing to do with race—on the contrary, it is the reality of many Asian-American women that the sexism and misogyny they face is rooted in hypersexualized stereotypes.
The day after the shootings in Atlanta, the United States House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This law lapsed in 2018, and Congress has failed to reauthorize it over the past two years. House passage despite outrage that one hundred and seventy-two members of the House of Representatives voted against reauthorization last week, the legislation has broad support, with most members of the House prioritizing the prevention of violence over partisan disputes. The passage in the House is a promising sign, as is the continuing effort to address intersectionality in the issue of gender-based violence. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts attached an amendment to VAWA which would establish a grant to support LGBTQ+ victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This recognition that many women face intensified threats of violence because of discrimination on other grounds, such as sexual orientation or race, is imperative to addressing the epidemic of gender violence that plagues our nation.
A vast majority of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetimes, underscoring the fact that there simply is not enough that a woman can do “right” to avoid being a victim. Sarah Everard’s murder and the shootings in Atlanta have sparked conversations about the actions women take to avoid the constant threat of violence. When these actions are not enough to protect us from danger, there is an imperative for greater change. Rampant gender-based violence is not solely a “women’s issue.” For greater change, we need not only solidarity and support from the men in our communities, but also action and accountability to transform our communities into safer spaces for women.
In these last few days of Women’s History Month, and in the wake of these horrific events of the past few weeks, let us continue to fight against gender-based violence and advocate for victims long after the social media posts have stopped and the news has moved on.
Bridget Rose, a Notre Dame Law School law school intern with Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP. Between her studies at Notre Dame, Ms. Rose is the staff editor of the Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law and received the Faculty Award for Excellence in the fall of 2020. She interned at the Office of Presidential Correspondence at the White House where she assisted in drafting the policy memorandum for the First Lady’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative. Since attending Notre Dame Law School, Ms. Rose worked as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, was a judicial intern for First Justice David Cunis at Framingham District Court and was a judicial extern for Judge John E. Broden at St. Joseph County Circuit Court.
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