Violence Against Women: The Faces Behind the Statistics

May 17, 2016 4:27 pm Last Updated: May 19, 2016 11:17 pm

“What you do not see from the statistics is the face of the actual victim,” said activist Luz Maria Utrera in a recent interview. The statistic to which Utrera referred is as alarming as it is largely unknown to the general public: One in three women in the world and one in five women in America will be beaten, raped, or suffer from other forms of abuse, including female genital mutilation—as a child, as an adolescent, or as an adult.

Most of those attacks, according to most studies on the subject, occur in the victim’s home and are perpetrated in the majority of the cases by a husband, a live-in boyfriend, a parent, or another close family member.

“Domestic violence against women is a global pandemic,” stated Utrera, a native of Argentina and a 2006 graduate of that nation’s University of El Salvador Law School.

Dra. Luz Maria Utrera with Malala Yousafzai at the Pakistani ambassador's home in New York on July 13, 2013. (LuzMariaFoundation.org)
Luz Maria Utrera with Malala Yousafzai at the Pakistani ambassador’s home in New York on July 13, 2013. (LuzMariaFoundation.org)

In order to address this pandemic, Utrera founded two organizations, for which she serves as chief executive: the Fundación Luz María, Argentina; and the Luz Maria Foundation, USA and Global (both LuzMariaFoundation.org). Her foundations are staffed by volunteer attorneys and social workers.

The women the foundations have fought for and many times saved always remain in her thoughts, she said, and then she described three of them.

“All of the hundreds of victims all remain somewhere in my mind,” she said. “But right now as we talk, I think of a young woman named ‘Alejandra’ whose husband savagely beat her and her three young children and tried to starve them. And I think of ‘Roxana,’ who I met around the same time and who suffered along with her son the same kind of awful abuse. And I think of ‘Zula,’ a middle-aged woman who was nearly beaten to death by her live-in girlfriend.”

Utrera explained how she rescued these victims following the same protocol she successfully utilized before and since with hundreds of others: She or her staff represented the victims in court to obtain orders of protection and contacted government social service agencies to try to obtain day-to-day living expenses for the women and their family members.

Dra. Luz Maria Utrera and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at The International Women's Day at The Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York City on March 8, 2015. (LuzMariaFoundation.org)
Luz Maria Utrera and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at The International Women’s Day at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York City on March 8, 2015. (LuzMariaFoundation.org)

“I could say,” she added, “that these cases had happy endings, because these people were transformed from victims to survivors. But even for survivors, the nightmares of their ordeals never fully go away.” And then she added (as I had already sensed) that she understands the feelings of these victims because she was once a victim of domestic abuse herself—an experience, she told me, that changed the direction of her life.

“Being a victim myself,” she explained, “gives me a real understanding of what these women [who are victims of domestic abuse] are going through, and that is what made me decide to devote my life to help protect women from domestic abuse.”

Utrera noted that her foundations often work with other similar organizations, charity, and women’s rights entities and several women’s rights branches of the United Nations.

“We work cooperatively to educate the public concerning the global crisis of violence against women and to educate women of the early warning signs of an abuser,” she explained. “For example, one of the earliest and most common behaviors we teach to look for is the attempt to control the woman’s everyday life activities, such as the clothing she wears, the food that she eats, the friends and family members whom she sees, how she spends her money. There are many other red flags, which we cover in our workshops.”

This cooperative effort also involves a political component. “We work with elected officials in Argentina and throughout the world to strengthen already-existing laws designed to protect women. In addition, we lobby to obtain funding for vital social services for victims of domestic and other forms of violence.”

Those victims (and hopefully eventual survivors) include women named “Alejandra,” “Roxana,” “Zula,” and Luz Maria.

Robert Golomb is a nationally and internationally published columnist. Mail him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter@RobertGolomb.