Our Lives At Stake

Statistics indicate that violence against women is on the increase—across all class and color lines. It is not clear, however, whether the statistics reflect an actual increase in the number of incidents of violence or an increase in the reporting of such incidents. Some people think that the rise may even reflect the ongoing clarification of what constitutes an act of violence.

One example of this kind of clarification is a crime that is sometimes referred to as "soft rape." Clearly a misnomer, the term is used to describe a woman being coerced or forced into having sex with a man with whom she has a relationship. While this kind of male aggression has been considered normal and even expected in the past, women increasingly are reporting such experiences to rape crisis centers, and those occurrences are reflected appropriately in the statistics.

While sexual violence may in fact be increasing, it is also true that such violence is being brought to public attention as never before. Thanks to the women's movement, what was once considered "private violence" is becoming a matter of public knowledge and concern.

At the same time, psychological testing and research are revealing that what were once considered the psychotic thoughts and behavior of a handful of deeply disturbed men are the attitudes and actions of many men who are considered normal by all other criteria. In one study of thousands of men conducted by Neil Malamuth of the University of California at Los Angeles and Edward Donnerstein of the University of Wisconsin, only one-third of the men said there was no possibility that they would be violent toward women. Sixty-six percent were found to have what the researchers called a "conquest mentality" toward women that might result in violence.

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