One in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped in their lifetime, according to a 2003 UNIFEM report. According to a 1999 study by The National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four American women have been physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Georgia was ranked sixth in the nation for its rate of men killing women, according to a 2009 study by Violence Policy Center.
Statistics like these coupled with almost nightly reports of abuse, exploitation and death prompted February’s One Billion Rising rally and flash mob in downtown Atlanta.
“We brought a team of people from around Atlanta together to form a coalition to combat violence against women and girls,” said Allison Gars, Atlanta Host Organizer for One Billion Rising. “It started with one person and now it’s a team of 100 people and organizations standing up, dancing and striking for this amazing cause,” said Gars.
V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls, launched One Billion Rising in conjunction with its 15th anniversary to increase awareness, raise funds and influence policy to stop rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sex slavery.
“Statistically speaking, the number of victims of this type of violence adds up to one billion,” said Gars, “and that’s where we got the name for the movement.” Gars and other organizers around the globe in cities including New York, Miami and San Francisco, and nations including India, Sudan, Philippines, South Africa and Taiwan spread the word about the event through Facebook and Twitter. Hundreds gathered on the front steps of Georgia’s State Capitol to hear activists and poets speak and cite statistics on the issue.
In a 2007-2011 study by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Georgia was ranked number 8 out of the top 10 states in the nation for reports of human trafficking. In Georgia, 12,400 men purchase sex with young women in a given month. More than 27,000 men purchase sex with young women in Georgia more than once per year according to a study conducted by The Schapiro Group. Atlanta was named by the FBI as one of 14 US cities with the highest rate of children used in prostitution.
“When I come to the fact that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lives, when I consider that our precious girls are being trafficked like products in a city that professes that it is not too busy to love, the enormity of the problem is staggering,” said Bernice King, CEO of the King Center and daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both King and Stephanie Davis, Executive Director of Georgia Women for a Change stressed the importance of supporting House Bill 141.
“It is a bill to mandate the posting of the national human trafficking hotline number in places where we know victims are being held, where they provide their little bodies for men on an hourly basis. This must stop,” said Davis. The National Human Trafficking Hotline number, established in December of 2007, has, since its inception, received more than 60,000 calls from every state in the country and connected more than 6,700 potential victims to services since.
At the close of the rally, participants walked to Woodruff Park to warm up for the flash mob. Men, women and children of all ages and ethnicities gathered on the lawn, danced and snapped pictures of each other.
“I heard about it through Facebook,” said Claudetta Rosa-Brooks, a Georgia State University student and a domestic violence survivor, “I’ve always wanted to be in a flash mob and I definitely believe in the cause.” Rosa-Brooks spent a couple of days rehearsing the Debbie Allen choreographed moves for the flash mob. “I may not have all the moves down but I’m dancing because saying ‘I do’ doesn’t mean a wife doesn’t have the right to say ‘no.’”
Gars vowed that One Billion Rising wouldn’t just end with the flash mob and said, “What we’re going to do in a couple of weeks is meet as a team. We’ll discuss what to do next now that we have this powerhouse together.” More information about the movement is available at www.facebook.com/OneBillionRisingAtlanta.