Two Killers: Why Breast Cancer Gets More Attention than Domestic Violence
October 18, 2013
October 18, 2013
October is upon us and in addition to pumpkin-flavored everything you’ve probably noticed another trend – an influx of pink. That’s because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), when everything from mixers to headphones goes pink “for the cure.”
But October also marks the start of another awareness month, one that’s been around much longer – since 1987 to be exact. That month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), a federally recognized month honored each year with a statement by the President and commemorative legislation from Congress.
One in four American women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime (with higher rates in Native communities) and an estimated three women are killed daily by their intimate partners. Comparatively, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. The need for increased awareness and prevention, as well as support for survivors of domestic violence is obvious. Then why is it that Domestic Violence Awareness Month receives so little attention while it seems nearly impossible to go a day in October without spotting something pink?
The first and simplest answer is a matter of branding. Whereas National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been spearheaded primarily by two organizations, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Association, Domestic Violence Awareness Month has struggled to find similar leadership. With few widely-known and well organized domestic violence organizations, the onus has fallen primarily on small local organizations to raise awareness about the month. But in addition to limited visibility, these groups often struggle with inadequate funding, making advocacy beyond basic service provision largely unfeasible.
But there’s more to it than branding. The main reason domestic violence awareness isn’t as widely acknowledged is that it’s simply not as brand-able as breast cancer. As others have pointed out, breast cancer is a clear moral case. Talking about domestic violence, on the other hand, requires that we make moral judgments about people we may know and love. Perpetrators often have their own networks of support and may even be widely valued community figures. It can be difficult to recognize that these people are also abusers.
Furthermore, we are bombarded daily with narratives that place blame with the victims. Survivors are asked why they didn’t leave and made to feel ashamed for being victimized. Talking about domestic violence demands that we challenge these widely held societal beliefs, often a difficult feat.
Breast cancer, on the other hand, bears no moral gray area. Even with recent campaigns that sexualize and trivialize the seriousness of the disease, it’s still more palatable than a campaign that asks us to hold men we may call brother, father, cousin responsible for committing acts of violence.