Are Women More Vulnerable to Violence?

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United Nations Headquarters, New York City – Thousands of people all across the country are breathing a huge sigh of relief after hearing the news that Elizabeth Smart was found alive yesterday and returned safely to her parents’ home in Salt Lake City, Utah. Last June, a man stole into the teenager’s bedroom and kidnapped her at knifepoint, leaving her parents in anguish and fearing the worst.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse described Elizabeth as “a smart, alert lady.” Yet few would argue that to be stolen from her home, this teenager was indeed vulnerable.

But some delegates at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Conference have said the very notion that young women are vulnerable to abduction, assault, murder or any type of violence is preposterous. Arguing that no particular group of women – young, handicapped, single, etc. – should be singled out and labeled vulnerable, delegations have chosen to embrace political correctness instead of common sense. European Union delegates even said that those who automatically view women as vulnerable are in fact making the women victims.

Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, head of the U.S. delegation, boldly responded, “Young women and girls do have vulnerability, especially in terms of sexual assaults and violence in general; it is clear to everyone that, in terms of sex slavery and commercial sexual exploitation, there is more demand for young girls.”

A Canadian delegate agreed with the United States, saying, “Women and girls face greater peer pressure. Young women are at a tender stage of life and there are intergenerational consequences of violence and sexual assault in their lives – psychological aspects – [that] affect their ability to form relationships, even to have children. It affects their interactions with other people for the rest of their lives and often carries over to impact their children.”

Apparently the United States and Canada were more focused on a true definition of victims, as described earlier in the week at a panel discussion titled “Psychological Violence against Women.”

In her Tuesday (3/11/02) presentation, Dr. Yael Danieli said that every victim of trafficking and every woman who has experienced violence of any kind has experienced trauma and will evidence traumatic stress symptoms. She also noted that psychological humiliation is enhanced by shame, guilt and self-blame, and that oftentimes these feelings overwhelm normal coping capacities and produce health problems. Dr. Joyce Braak, a trauma surgeon, explained what the captivity experience does to a human being medically. She said that delegates pass captives, some of whom are now free, every day on the street – prisoners of war, abducted individuals, hostages, and victims of domestic violence, cults, human trafficking and forced marriages.

The most hotly contested issue for delegates and representatives of nongovernmental (NGO) organizations is prostitution. Even though all-night debate sessions have been scheduled, the U.S. delegation has very little hope that countries will come to an agreement.

The contention lies in a statement President Bush made when he signed a Presidential Directive in February that committed the United States to working toward raising awareness and reducing incidences of sex trafficking in persons through programs of prevention, protection and prosecution. The president said that prostitution was “inherently harmful and dehumanizing.”

And for some countries, that was unacceptable.

European Union delegates tried to make a case that prostitution is in no way connected to sexual trafficking and that it should not even be discussed in a U.N. document about sexual trafficking and violence against women. Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand were among some nations that refused to describe prostitution as inherently harmful to women.

“How anyone can argue that prostitution is NOT inherently harmful to women is beyond me,” said Dr. Janice Crouse, one of three U.S. delegates and Senior Fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute. “One has only to look at or talk with a long-time prostitute to see the toll it takes to short-circuit the normal bonding process and shut down all human emotional responses. Harmful physical and emotional consequences are inevitable.”

Countries opposing the president’s statement would be wise to take a second look at studies they’ve been given the past 10 days at the United Nations that show 89 percent of prostitutes wanted to escape their profession but felt they had no other option. Or that 68 percent of prostitutes met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Or that 60 percent of prostitutes were raped and 70 percent were physically assaulted.

For now, they seem to have reached an impasse. They’ll plod on and burn the midnight oil. Only time will tell if they’ll have anything to show for it.

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