NoVo in the Media

The best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day

14 February 2017
BY Pamela Shifman

Each year, Valentine’s Day brings a chance for activists in hundreds of countries across the world to mobilize together as part of V-Day‘s One Billion Rising, a movement to end violence against girls and women.

This year, that global movement takes on new urgency right here at home.

As a new era of reactionary, regressive policy takes aim squarely at the rights, dignity and safety of women across America, the team poised to execute key roles in the Trump administration constitutes a cross-section of abusers, apologists and enablers of violence against women.

Take Andrew Puzder, nominated for labor secretary, whose confirmation hearing is Thursday. Puzder is infamous for objectifying comments and reports of hostile working environments for female employees — often teenage girls — at his fast-food restaurants.

Billionaire mega-donor Betsy DeVos, the newly confirmed secretary of education, donated $10,000 to an organization working to roll back protections for victims of campus sexual assault.

In 2013, as members of Congress, Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney each voted against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Ben Carson, nominated for housing secretary, publicly, and repeatedly, downplayed allegations of sexual assault against President Trump.

Then there is Steve Bannon, the President’s closest, most influential adviser, whose role is not subject to Senate approval. Though best known for boosting white nationalist ideology, he was also once charged with assaulting his ex-wife during an argument. The case was ultimately dismissed.

Abraham Lincoln assembled a team of rivals. Trump has assembled a team to be reviled.

Of course, the title of predator in chief goes to the President himself.

Multiple women have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct and assault, and his openly misogynistic remarks about women have ranged from the derogatory to the despicable.

Now, a President and Cabinet with a long history of abusing power will be entrusted with even more, including the supervision of funds dedicated to combating violence against women.

If this sounds like a nightmare scenario for America’s women, that’s because it is.

It’s not just about personalities; it’s about policy. The Trump administration’s indifference toward gender-based violence was immediately confirmed when the President’s transition team announced plans to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in Violence Against Women Grants from the Department of Justice.

Among the many recipients of these grants are the nation’s rape crisis centers, tribal programs to address violence against Native women, and — perhaps most ironically — programs dedicated to educating men and boys on their role in stopping violence.

Still, funds earmarked expressly to address violence are not all that is at stake. The President’s agenda imperils many of the most important health and safety gains made during the last quarter-century, and the losses will be felt most acutely by those whom our society has already relegated to the margins.

For example, according to the Center for American Progress, efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act could cost 9.5 million women their health coverage, and millions of low-income women may lose access to preventive care services that include screening and treatment for victims of assault.

Plans to ramp up immigration enforcement will increase the risk of state violence against undocumented women, and make women less likely to seek protection from the police for fear of deportation.

And the President’s plans to undo common-sense gun regulations could put more guns in the hands of domestic abusers, and more women’s lives at risk.

These are actual facts, not alternative ones. Yet debates in Congress and the White House over health care, immigration, education, gun control, reproductive rights and the federal budget have virtually ignored the dire implications for victims of assault and abuse.

Nevertheless, we have cause for hope. The first few weeks of the Trump presidency have inspired powerful moments of resistance, beginning with the Women’s March.

On the President’s first day in office, girls and women all over this country defiantly declared that we will not be a silenced majority in the face of injustice. Led by women of color, the march demonstrated that women’s voices, when unified, have resounding power.

With people like this now at the helm of the federal government, it’s more important than ever that we stay vigilant against all forms of violence and oppression.

We must capitalize on the momentum of the Women’s March to safeguard the rights of survivors of assault, who span all demographics, and for whom speaking out often has dire consequences.

We must continue to follow the direction of women of color, who are leading the multifront struggle against racism and Islamophobia, mass incarceration, state violence, wage inequality and gender-based violence. We must join them in fighting every attempt to roll back policies that protect us all.

We must hold our elected representatives accountable, and refuse to normalize behavior that is always unacceptable, no matter how powerful the perpetrators.

And we must stand in solidarity with survivors — listening to their stories, amplifying their voices and making their testimony our own.