The celebration of Mother's Day (Sunday), allows a chance to reflect on the challenges facing many women today juggling work, raising children, and maintaining a household. Many families will celebrate the day with flowers, dinners and tokens of appreciation. It should be a day filled with love and admiration for mothers everywhere who all too often must overcome men's folly.
But for many, Mother's Day may not be all flowers and dinners. Our burgeoning population of single moms, plus divorced and abandoned moms, may leave the celebration to offspring. The working or welfare mom may rely on appreciative children or friends to celebrate Mother's Day. Such merriment may be a simple hug, a thank you, or children preparing dinner and cleaning up.
Mother's Day may also offer the opportunity to reflect on two issues facing women in our community — domestic violence and sexual assault. April was designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month. One out of three women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. This somber statistic continues to plague American communities. In 2006, there were 272,350 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault nationally. Sixty-seven percent of victims were younger than 18. Thirty-four percent of all victims were younger than 12. Victims younger than 12 are counted separately and not included in the 272,350 victims.
The state of Florida reported a total of 11,567 forcible sex offenses in 2006, a 5.4 percent reduction from 2005. Locally, Pasco County noted a total of 184 forcible sex offenses, up 1.7 percent from the previous year.
Sexual assault and domestic violence are overwhelmingly crimes against women. What better holiday than Mother's Day to reflect on the many ways to improve safety and respect for all women and young girls. More recently efforts to curb violence have extended beyond issues of safety for victims.
Attention to exposing and addressing sexist behavior by men is critical to thwarting violence against women. Rehabilitation and alternatives to abuse are key to reuniting families in a safe and loving environment. However, a woman's wellbeing must always be the first priority.
What can men do?
• Be aware of language. Making demeaning or vulgar comments sends a message that women are less than human or have no rights. Good communication particularly about sex among partners defuses misunderstandings and reduces the risk for rape.
• Speak up when you hear comments or see actions that denigrate women. Demand that educators include women's safety issues at school, that police are trained and sensitive to abuse and that adequate community services are available to victims of violence.
• Support survivors of rape. Be sensitive to their anguish and violation. It may be a loved one who feels guilt, tainted or worthlessness. The victim is blameless and must have ongoing support.
• Contribute your time and money. Know who provides services to victims in your community and support them, volunteer your time, support their fund-raisers. Their efforts save lives and sometimes help bring families together when that is possible.
• Talk with women. Ask them about their fears, how they want to be supported if they are a victim. Do they feel in danger? Become sensitive to the issue and become an advocate against abuse of any form, to anyone.
• Talk with men. Understand your own values, compare them to others. Learn how sexual violence touches the lives of men and what is necessary to stop it. Ten to 20 percent of all males will be sexually abused in their lifetime.
• Organize. Antirape groups are becoming more common around the country, especially on college campuses. These antiabuse groups can have tremendous community impact.
• Work to end other oppressions. Rape relates to many forms of sociopathic behavior that includes racism, homophobia and religious discrimination. By exposing and correcting conduct that undermines environmental justice, equity or fosters violence and hate, we improve our communities and the quality of life for its residents.
• Don't have sex with anyone against their will. No means no!
Mother's Day is an excellent time to reflect on women. I lost my mother a few years back. I regret that it took her death for me to fully appreciate her value. Perhaps this Mother's Day I will reflect on my spouse. I have been less than sensitive to her sacrifices on my behalf and must better appreciate the fantastic mother she has been to our children.
Mother's Day is Women's Day and a time to consider wrongs and ways to right them.
Dr. Marc J. Yacht of Hudson is retired director of the Pasco County Health Department.