Serena Williams is the ambassador for the Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse program that focuses on the issue of abuse via financial control. “One in four women will experience domestic violence,” she says, “and this is to help woman and communities throughout America find a way (out of) abuse through financial education and empowerment. That’s my big message.’’
Now is the time for more women to tell their stories. The women’s movement has stagnated around #MeToo and #TimesUp focusing on sexual assault in the workplace. While these are imperative aspects of women’s issues, the scope of woman abuse from partners has seemingly taken the back burner. Thank you, Serena, for shining the light back onto the issue of domestic abuse.
You may ask, “Is this really that important?” You’re darn right it is especially when you consider:
- Many women in North America (20% in Canada, 25% in the U.S.) have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and 70% of spousal violence is not reported to the police so the statistics are likely much higher. 99% of all domestic violence includes financial control. Does this mean that therefore financial control necessarily leads to domestic violence? No, but restricting spending, preventing financial account access, excluding from financial decisions and causing debt are all considered financial abuse.
- Violence against women costs taxpayers and the government billions of dollars every year: Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence. In 2016, the McKinsey Global Institute reported in the U.S. violence against women costs about $4.9 billion in direct costs alone.
- It has a profound effect on children: Help organizations in both Canada and the U.S. claim children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes and are more likely to become violent in their adult relationships.
Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation launched the No More campaign in 2013 to break the stigma and it brought the issue to public attention with TV ads and they continue to work with many agencies.
Bringing these matters to the public eye is important. Calling someone out on being controlling is important. Total intolerance of abuse is important. But isn’t that just putting a band-aid on the problem? The issue is extremely complex. If we have any hope of truly changing the issue of men dominating women in the home, in the workplace, or anywhere; we need to look at the root cause. How are our societies raising our children? We need to model effective behaviour every day.
We’re not going to erase the Disney images of sweet little princesses needing the knight in shining amour riding on the white horse, but perhaps we can limit that exposure and present gender neutral/equal alternatives in child play. We need to have meaningful discussions with our children and teenagers about what they see and hear. A good start might be to talk about how wonderful it is that Serena Williams is setting such a great example by being the Ambassador for the Purple Purse.