Because there was so much news last month, Sen. Joni Ernst’s stunning revelation she was a battered wife and a rape survivor did not get the media attention it deserved.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage for any woman, let alone one with a national profile, to shatter the myth of her own life — that of a good marriage to a supportive spouse.
Ernst’s revelation is significant because presenting a positive image of one’s family is Politics 101. Every election, our mailboxes are crammed with campaign literature featuring photos of happy, smiling families. The setting often is outside, on a lushly manicured backyard — not like ours — or in front of a cozy fireplace, replete with a well-behaved dog — not like ours.
No candidate is going to mail you a postcard showcasing their black eye and scratch marks.
Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, said she was raped in college, a horrible memory she has carried for decades until only recently.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have experienced some form of sexual assault. One-fourth of women and 1 in 9 men have been victims of domestic violence, which accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime in the U.S.
During the recent government shutdown, renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for agencies that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, became one of the casualties. Because funding has not been restarted, and because all politics is local, that lapse puts organizations such as the Domestic Violence Project here in Canton, Ohio, at real risk.
Now, government cannot and should not be a fairy godmother granting every wish. But it can and should serve the public in doing that which people cannot do for themselves. Because Ernst is a U.S. senator with the power to act, she should understand, much more than many others, the need to support policies that support women.
For instance, the reason the vast majority of Americans are nonsmokers today is in large part because of laws and public policies that made it more difficult to buy and consume tobacco. The same government that gave GIs free cigarettes during World War II hasn’t allowed a tobacco commercial on television for 50 years.
It helped reshape our culture.
In the case of women, law and public policy can assist them in securing stability and safety, two crucial factors in reducing instances of abuse.
Some people are raising hell about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s erroneous claim to Native American ancestry. But what about concern that Native American and Inuit women have the highest rates for murder, sexual assault and domestic violence?
Not so much.
A 2010 poll of 900 Alaskan women found 37 percent had experienced sexual violence. If you are an Inuit women, you are six times more likely to be a victim of violence than any other American woman.
More energy and attention is being spent hanging on every word uttered by rookie Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than on federal judicial nominee Neomi Rao, who once wrote in college that women who drink too much are partially to blame when they become the victims of sexual assault.
To Sen. Ernst’s credit, she demanded Rao explain herself. Rao walked it back, saying she since has evolved.
The presence of Ernst and the growing number of women serving in Congress should be more than a gee-whiz moment. It presents an opportunity and a means to provide meaningful policy to benefit our nation’s citizens, particularly its women.
Reach Charita M. Goshay at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.