[Marxism] Boston: The Year Women Got Beat Up

Huibin Amelia Chew hachew at gmail.com
Fri Dec 22 17:58:31 MST 2006

in the Boston Phoenix.  there is a real rise in violence against women
right now -- which I suspect is connected to the politics & economics
of US empire today.

militarism, budget cuts which put women in dire straights, lack of
grassroots feminist organizing all contribute.  but the mainstream
either completely ignores this, or reduces gendered violence to
"missing white women syndrome."

the part of the article that really kills me goes:  "Advocates of
women's issues contacted by the Phoenix are hard-pressed to explain
why the recent parade of stories about victimized women failed to
register as such."

what planet are they on?  violence against us is portrayed as:

1) genderless -- especially when on a mass scale (e.g. Amish school
shootings were Amish).  is this surprising when grassroots feminist
organizing is dead?
2) non-existent -- especially when on the super-mass scale!  (nothing
on TV about Iraqi women; or the huge assaults on poor women,
undocumented women)
3) when femininity is noticed at all, it's usually in the context of
"missing white women syndrome": some kind of imperialist,
anti-feminist spin, used to advance an agenda of controlling
individual women's behavior and blaming a racial Other -- while
ignoring systemic male-perpetrated violence, systemic violence against
poor women and women of color.  women's bodies are simply used to
mobilize support for paranoid police protection and war; so stranger
rape, but not relationship abuse, is fit to cover.  what happens to
our bodies is selectively deformed into a national security issue, not
a women's issue.

the below article does make mention of Dominique Samuels and other
murdered women of color...  it doesn't talk much about solutions
though, and is heavy on law enforcement as central.  INCITE wrote a
piece on these issues at

we've got a lot of work to do.  progressive men can start by not
tolerating each other's abusive behavior towards women.  and not just
checking themselves on obvious violence and sexual assault, but
(really) looking at how internalized sexism causes them to dismiss
women, ignore sexism in their organizing, or fail to allow these
issues to shape their work.

women, our job is to draw attention to these problems, support each
other collectively in struggling on them, and find solutions.



The year women got beat up
Over the past 12 months you have been bombarded with stories of
brutalized women. Chances are, you didn't notice.

You don't have to play Grand Theft Auto to be blind to violence
against women. The local TV-news and print media feature so many dead
women, they barely register as much more than cartoons. The Herald
alone put pictures of 20 individual female victims of violence on its
covers this year. And one of every five of the paper's covers
mentioned a story of violence against women.

All year long, stories of victimized women and girls were routinely
plucked from the swarm of local and national news items that face
editors each day and given front-page, talk-radio, top-of-the-hour
treatment. The next one grabbed our attention as soon as we lost
interest in the last: Rachel Entwistle gave way to Imette St. Guillen,
who was followed by Jill Carroll and then Dominique Samuels. If we
weren't guessing whether John Mark Karr killed JonBenet Ramsey, we
were debating whether Philadelphia Phillies star Brett Myers should
pitch the day after allegedly beating his wife outside a hotel in
downtown Boston. Even long-dead victims were back in the headlines:
Christa Worthington, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Aislin Silva.

Yet while most of us became caught up in the salacious details of each
new story, we failed to see them as part of a greater trend. It's odd,
given how quick we are to discern patterns and similarities in even
the most distantly related news events.

Even worse, say those who make it their business to track and tend to
violence against women, these recent storylines were often
disproportionately cast as TV drama, with the victim struck down by
some psycho stranger in terrifying isolation, when more often than
not, domestic violence was involved.

This distorted way of looking at violence against women — when we
recognize it at all — was crystallized in the controversial ads run by
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey, which made Benjamin
LaGuer, convicted of rape 22 years ago, a household name. Not long
after, we even learned of a rape victim within our governor-elect's
close family.

Jane Doe Inc., which tracks homicides directly attributable to
domestic violence in Massachusetts, has identified 31 such deaths this
year — 50 percent more than the average of the previous three years.
And at least 34 women have been murdered in the state under all
circumstances, according to Phoenix research, the highest total in
several years. Although violence in Boston and across Massachusetts
has been a topic of constant public discussion, it has gone unnoticed
that rapes in the city have climbed 15 percent this year, and a
stunning 61 percent since September 1, compared with the same dates in
2005. In Allston-Brighton, rapes are up 136 percent. Meanwhile, as the
Phoenix reported in October, the arrest rate for rapes in
Massachusetts dropped by nearly half during the past three years.

Yet most of us missed this bigger picture as we eagerly consumed the
details of each new victimization — what online sexual shenanigans
Neil Entwistle was up to, or where in the Ella J. Baker House the
ex-con staffer allegedly raped a teenage girl.

This ever-widening gap between perception and reality has real
consequences, say many in the field: it has made it harder to get
public acceptance and support for programs and initiatives that
law-enforcement officials and women's advocates believe would help
solve the growing problem. And even as these advocates advance their
understanding of the problem — which they see as being largely rooted
in domestic tensions — they find themselves understood, and heeded,
less and less.

If anything, says Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc.,
"the attention and focus on keeping these practices and services and
responses not just fully funded, but fully embraced, is moving

Resisting the obvious

Advocates of women's issues contacted by the Phoenix are hard-pressed
to explain why the recent parade of stories about victimized women
failed to register as such.

After all, it's fairly obvious that most of these stories became big
news in the first place largely because the victims are women. That's
why Jill Carroll's abduction stood out among the dozens of reporters
kidnapped in Iraq; why Christa Worthington's murder still fascinates
four years later; why the Dorchester murder of Nhaun Nguyen made the
front pages, unlike the stories of so many young men shot down in the

And yet, we look for other storylines. For example, on October 2, a
gunman took a group of girls hostage, killing five of them and
injuring five more. You might not remember the incident by that
description; the words "Amish school," however, probably ring a bell.

Not only was that massacre transparently gender-driven, it came just a
week after a remarkably similar event in Colorado, in which a gunman
abducted and sexually assaulted six girls, killing one. Another
school-based shooting, in Essex, Vermont, a month earlier, targeted
women, leaving two dead.

As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert later wrote, this obvious
targeting would have dominated coverage, had it been based on race or
religion — and the incidents would have been labeled, properly, as
hate crimes.

 Instead, the coverage and discussion focused exclusively on the
school-shooting and Amish angles. That was a wake-up call to women's
advocates, says Lauby. "We were stunned, and then livid, waiting for
somebody to talk about violence against girls and women," after the
Pennsylvania shooting, she says.

 And just then, Kerry Healey unleashed Benjamin LaGuer.

 LaGuer became a central figure in the political campaign when Healey
charged Deval Patrick with siding with criminals over victims, because
at one time he had supported parole and re-examination of the evidence
for LaGuer.

 Healey launched a television ad showing a woman in a dark parking
garage, apparently being stalked, while the voiceover reminded viewers
that Patrick described LaGuer as "eloquent" and "thoughtful." The ad
then asked: "Have you ever heard a woman compliment a rapist? Deval
Patrick should be ashamed, not governor."

 This stranger-danger stereotype is far from the norm. Yet it seems
that violence against women gets our attention only if we think of it
as random. We quickly lose interest if a case turns out to be — as
most of them are — an act of domestic violence committed by someone
known to the victim.

 This was one finding in an academic study on media coverage of
domestic violence, published this year in the Journal of Interpersonal

 And it could be seen locally in 2006. Dominique Samuels, whose badly
burned corpse was discovered in Franklin Park this spring, dominated
headlines until police arrested an acquaintance of hers, and alleged
that the attack began as a sexual assault at the end of a night of
socializing. With this explanation, coverage of the story immediately

 Annalicia Perry was likewise big news when she was shot on the
anniversary of her brother's murder, while visiting the spot in the
South End where he died. Later, when police determined that an angry
ex-boyfriend of Perry's was behind her death, interest in the story
waned. The alleged shooter was arraigned last week, with no media

 Meanwhile, two other women murdered in Boston this year, who were
immediately tagged as victims of domestic violence (the husbands were
quickly arrested), never reached the front pages in the first place.

 By comparison, the story of Imette St. Guillen, a Dorchester native
killed in Manhattan, made headlines — and affected policy — long after
the alleged perpetrator was caught. In that case, the suspect was a
nightclub bouncer, charged with abducting St. Guillen before killing
her. Not only did reporters continue to delve into his story, but
advocates recently introduced legislation in Massachusetts seeking to
protect women from ex-con bouncers.

 And when Kerry Healey wanted to scare Massachusetts residents, she
chose to grab their attention with a fictionalized re-enactment of a
random, unknown attacker, even though she knows perfectly well such
imagery is at overwhelming odds with reality.

 The fiction that women are often savaged and killed in bizarre,
unique circumstances is more gripping. That's why it's so prevalent on
prime-time television, which is increasingly dominated by crime shows
featuring a wildly disproportionate number of female victims. For
instance, brief plot summaries for the 24 episodes of top-rated CSI:
Crime Scene Investigation that aired this year reveal at least 15
women killed, few by domestic violence, according to a Phoenix review
— and that's just one of three series in the CSI franchise. Similar
rates can be found on the three Law & Orders, Cold Case, Without A
Trace, and many more, not to mention true-crime shows like those
hosted by Nancy Grace and Rita Cosby. But by losing ourselves in that
unreality, we may be losing sight of the truth sitting right before
our eyes. Many activists believe that's one reason it remains so
difficult to recognize domestic violence when it is happening to
someone we know, or even to ourselves.

 Women's-rights activists were appalled by Healey's ads, and not just
for perpetuating the false perception of stranger-danger. The ads also
contradicted what they have been trying so hard to get people to
understand — that because the attacker is very often someone the
victim knows and trusts, she often feels conflicted about him, and
might find it hard to take steps that could lead to his arrest and

 According to the Healey ad, no such conflicted women exist — and if
they do, they should presumably be "ashamed."

  What's really going on?

 The rhetoric surrounding Benjamin LaGuer obscured the ongoing work of
serious people who address the unvarnished reality of female violence.
The state legislature's joint committee on public safety held hearings
and issued a report on domestic violence in the state. Jane Doe Inc.
published its first domestic-violence homicide report. Quincy District
Court released a study last December, a first of its kind in the
country, shedding new light on re-offending by domestic batterers over
time. The state opened its first multi-service Family Justice Center,
on Comm Ave in Boston, to help women victims. The Suffolk County
District Attorney's Office, along with the Boston Police Department,
began treating underage prostitutes as victims to be saved rather than
criminals to be punished. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program
was expanded throughout the state. And a series of programs in
Newburyport to help battered women find assistance have been so
successful, some officials would like to duplicate them across

Taken together, it's an impressive effort, but it's been largely
ignored. The public-safety committee released its report 12 days after
Dominique Samuels's body was found, but only one member of the press
showed up — from a weekly paper in one town that was spotlighted in
the report — says State Senator Jarrett Barrios. Neither the Globe nor
the Herald even mentioned it. And so there has been no groundswell to
enact its recommendations.

There is a significant disconnect between perception and reality in
public policy, too. Congress authorized a huge increase in funding for
the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) when it passed a five-year
reauthorization of VAWA, which George Bush signed early this year. But
that funding was left out of the federal budget for the new fiscal

Likewise, despite Kerry Healey's talk, Mitt Romney recently cut
victims' services, along with other "emergency" 9C programs. Healey,
Romney, and the legislature made great headlines with their efforts to
list more sex offenders on the Internet, extend sexual-dangerousness
definitions to people caught urinating in alleys, and provide witness
protection to gangbangers. Yet they have done little or nothing to
implement intensive parole oversight, reform restraining-order
procedures, or implement uniform dangerousness-assessment procedures.

And sadly, the state has failed to use its resources to counter
misperceptions with real understanding, which could help women who are
victimized, say advocates who believe that prevention depends in large
part on the awareness and caring of the general public.

As an example, they point to the May 20 murder of Carla Souza and her
11-year-old son, allegedly beaten to death with a hammer in their
Framingham home by Souza's husband, Jeremias Bins. Bins and Souza were
both born in Brazil; domestic-abuse experts went on a local Brazilian
radio program and talked about the societal norms that can lead to
abuse in that culture and keep it from coming to light. Brazilian
women in the area responded, calling the station seeking help.

That response could have led to a general call for more education and
outreach services in minority communities. But reality, as usual, was
not interesting enough to spread. When the Herald featured that murder
on its cover, the headline blared, in typical TV-drama fashion: DID

if i injected my flesh with silicone
did hundreds of situps a day
wore lacey push up bras
got surgery to correct my Asian single-eyelid
wore subtle lipstick, concealer, & gloss
made my gaze bruised with shadow & mascara
wore dainty stilleto heels & flippy skirts
got some hips
would you buy me then?

does market follow demand, or demand follow market?
i want to be the white girls of your wet dreams with million-dollar
prosthetic bodies, $40,000 makeovers, features imprinted on your cock
by billion-dollar industries

I am beautiful in my mind
until you choose them instead
slap my ugliness to my face

and you tell me you don't understand this kind of competition!
i didn't write the rules
of this game you don't recognize
you just follow the market, the ads, the art, the enterprize...
shaping the sadness of my sickness

Sisters, come together & incite
refugees of false dreams to unite.


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