This International Women’s Day, the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence celebrates those who have fought for gender equality and for the rights of women and girls around the world. We would be remiss if we did not take a moment to remember and express gratitude towards the first activists who sought justice for survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse.
Women of color were at the forefront of our movement. Harriet Jacobs’s 1861 autobiography came ahead of its time, fueling the abolitionist movement by documenting the sexual exploitation at the heart of slavery. Later, Ida B. Wells would expose how white men used rape as a weapon of terror to destroy the bodies and lives of black people during Reconstruction.
These efforts began to gain serious traction in society almost a century later. In the 1940s and 50s, as other movements for social change grew more prominent, Recy Taylor’s testimony about her 1944 kidnapping and rape, sparked a nationwide campaign for equal justice and helped launch the career of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
Although Parks is remembered in history books for sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, she devoted most of her life to seeking justice for women, especially those who were part of the sexual assault epidemic in the Jim Crow South. Later, Betty Jean Owens’ 1959 testimony in a segregated Florida courtroom would help secure the first life sentences for white men raping a black woman, and become a catalyst in the movement for equal sentencing.
Over the course of the 70s, domestic violence would become a prominent social issue, in part because of the women’s movement. Organizing under the banner of “we will not be beaten,” grassroots feminist activists and survivors launched a nationwide campaign to expose domestic violence against women, provide shelter and support and demand radical change from the law, medicine and society.
As feminist activist Susan Schechter recalled, by the early 1980s, “in contrast to just one decade earlier, battered women are no longer invisible.”
Between 1975 and 1978, more than 170 women’s shelters opened across the country. In 1978, the US Commission on Civil Rights named over 300 shelters, hotlines and groups advocating for abused women.
In 1976 the state of Pennsylvania became the first to establish a statewide coalition against domestic violence. Four years later, in 1980, the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence was founded.
Today, and every day, we honor the courage and resilience of survivors. We salute the contributions of the women working at ICADV, in our member programs, and in our field — those who serve and advocate for survivors and those who work to create safe, stable and equitable communities that prevent violence.
We yearn for a world where peace and safety are the norm – where violence against women no longer exists. We are grateful to the women who laid the foundation to make this vision possible and hope to continue to pay tribute to their legacy.
We continue to support initiatives and public policy that promotes a society that is rooted in equity and justice for all people, in order to create a community where everyone is committed to equality in relationships and equity in opportunity as a fundamental human right.