Home is one of the most dangerous places for a woman — how can we fix it?

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During the holiday season, we often hear fond reminiscences on being “home for the holidays.” There’s a broad and deeply rooted cultural narrative that home is a place of comfort and safety and that the bonds of family are deeper than those shared with friends or other community members. However, we know this is not always the case.

A recent study from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that home is actually the most dangerous place for women. Their study found that 58 percent of all of women killed around the world annually were murdered by an intimate partner or family member. They found that as many as six women an hour were being killed by their partners or families.

{mosads}My sister, Dana Anderson, was, heartbreakingly, one of these horrid statistics. She was taken from us by her live-in boyfriend of seven years. In a fit of rage, he annihilated her life and that of her 12-year-old son; forever changing the course of our family.

In Africa and the Americas, the statistics are staggering, where women face an even higher risk of being killed by the people who are supposed to protect and love them. In Africa, the rate is 3.1 per 100,000 women killed by intimate partners or family members and in the Americas the rate is 1.6 per 100,000, compared with 0.7 and 0.9 in Europe and Asia, respectively.

A recent investigation by the Washington Post found that this worldwide trend carries into the United States. In an analysis of 4,484 murders of women in 47 major cities, 46 percent of those murders were committed by intimate partners. Furthermore, the Washington Post found, in an examination of murders of women in Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, San Diego and Saint Louis, 36 percent of the men convicted of these murders had been previously convicted of domestic violence, a violent crime or had had a restraining order filed against them by their victim. They also found that when men killed women with whom they had a relationship, they were more likely to stab or strangle their victim compared with other murders.

Both of these studies highlight a central feature that is also inherent to the anti-choice, anti-abortion movement: a lack of respect for women’s bodily autonomy. Denigration of women’s bodily autonomy is part of a worldview that treats women as objects, who are to be controlled. Segments of society teaches that women’s only importance is in their relationship to men, not as independent human beings.

Women’s fertility is something that men also seek to control, through intimate partner violence and reproductive coercion and through laws that limit and obstruct access to abortion. Women who are actors in their own lives, capable of making their own decisions, are a threat to be eliminated. Women are seen, not as people, but as objects. If men find that they are unable to control their partner, they instead commit murder as a last attempt at maintaining their ownership over that partner.

This is why leaving the relationship or other changes in circumstances that women face are so incredibly dangerous for women who live in volatile situations. This narrative succinctly explains how I lost my sister. It wasn’t until she mustered up the strength to leave that he murdered her. It was then uncovered at trial that she had been enduring abuse and violence at home for years, which she had kept hidden.

When women began to have control over their fertility and were able to take more active roles in the public sphere as well as gain economic independence that is when we began to see a violent push back from those who wish to deny access to abortion and contraception. The same impulses and societal narratives that inspire men to kill women, whom they claim to love, also inspire the extremists to blockade and bomb clinics and kill doctors and clinic workers, all in the name of “saving babies.” Additionally, the poison of male dominance over females infects women as well, inspiring them to join violent and repressive anti-choice organizations without seemingly understanding that their own movement ultimately seeks to control them.

Whether it’s domestic violence and access to reproductive health care or other pressing issues that are tangentially related, it is imperative that we see the parallels between these issues that so gravely impact people’s lives. By looking at domestic violence and the relationship to contraception and abortion barriers, we determine how to be part of systemic change. Maybe this would have saved my sister.

It goes without saying that we should be doing everything we can as a society to stop intimate partner violence and make home a safe place for every woman. We must think about the larger picture in order to create a world where each person’s bodily autonomy is respected and honored.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their healthcare. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.

Tags Abuse Behavior Domestic violence Human behavior Intimate partner violence Reproductive coercion Reproductive health Violence Violence against men Violence against women Women's right

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