"The single greatest danger to a woman's health is violence from men. Something is sick in our society."
-- Vice President Joseph Biden
Each year in the United States two million women are beaten by their partners, and more than half a million women report being raped or sexually assaulted. For more than a year KUED-Channel 7 producer/director Colleen Casto and writer Mary Dickson went behind the headlines to explore the roots of violence against women. Their powerful documentary film tells the moving stories of women who have been battered, assaulted, and raped, as well as the stories of men who commit these crimes. Also featured are interviews with several nationally recognized experts who look at causes and solutions.
The film, which has already won several prestigious awards including a Gold Award from the Houston Worldfest International Film Festival, stresses that while women may be afraid of strangers, it is the most intimate of strangers -- a husband, a lover, a boyfriend -- who is likely to hurt them. According to a U.S. Justice Department study, two-thirds of violent attacks against women are committed by someone the woman knows, and three-fourths of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by a man the woman knows.
Because of the intimate nature of these crimes, many people fail to realize how widespread they are. As the program's producers conducted research, they were disturbed by how many women they met -- and knew -- who had been touched in some way by violence. "It was so disturbing," says No Safe Place writer and co-producer Mary Dickson. "It seemed that everyone had a story to tell. Co-workers, relatives, friends, and acquaintances who had never told their stories to anyone started sharing their experiences with us. We kept a file of clippings about the abuse women suffer at the hands of men. Sometimes stories appeared daily, often with two or more in the same paper. Our files so soon started to bulge that we soon gave up adding any more disheartening evidence."
More than a recitation of the grim statistics, however, No Safe Place offers a thoughtful examination of the origins of violence against women, looking at the biological, sociological, cultural, and historical factors involved. The program includes interviews with feminists such as writer Gloria Steinem and Patricia Ireland, director of the National Organization of Women, who show how violence against women has been allowed and accepted throughout history. They argue that violence against women can be traced to a 2,000-year-old culture that encourages male domination. Biological anthropologists such as Michael Ghighlieri, on the other hand, say that testosterone acts as a kick-starter for male aggression, and that violence is universal from species to species and culture to culture as a "male strategy." Jane Caputi, professor of American Studies at Florida Atlantic University and author of The Age of Sex Crimes, explores the media's role in perpetuating violence against by portraying it as normal.
The documentary also features an element that is often missing in explorations of violence against women -- interviews with perpetrators who give insights into why individual men hurt women. The answers are as complicated as the men themselves, although most violent men seem to be driven by anger and a need to control.
"We were very careful in our representation of men," says Dickson. "Almost all violence committed against women is at the hands of men. But we wanted to stress that the vast majority of men -- honorable men -- don't hurt women."
Michael Kimmel, professor of men's studies at the State University of New York, author Robert Bly, and Denise Brown, sister of the late Nicole Brown Simpson, are among those discussing possible solutions.
"We don't pretend to have the answers," says No Safe Place producer/director Colleen Casto. "The answer lies within each of us. It's a matter of what we will or will not tolerate as individuals, as communities, and as a nation to allow our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, and all the women in our lives to walk alone without fear."