Sadly, some topics bear repeated scrutiny. America’s penchant for violence is one of them, so once again, I am driven to write about the prevalence of gun violence, rape and violence in the media – all topics that pundits write about and TV talking heads ponder, while nothing seems to change.
Let’s revisit some facts. More than 84 people are killed by guns daily in this country; annually there are more than 31,000 gun-related fatalities. In 2010 we had more than 8700 murders by firearms; Great Britain had 638. There are over 300 million firearms in America, a country with a population of 311 million. Most disturbingly, the Children’s Defense Fund reports that in 2010 more than 2600 children and teens were killed by gun violence. That means more kids here died from guns in one year than all the soldiers in WWI, Vietnam, or the Iraq War. “We are a country drenched in bloodshed,” as Henry A. Giroux wrote on truthdig.com.
Current attention focusing on rape and sexual assault in our military has illuminated what some call a culture of rape in America. Tens of millions of women here suffer this heinous form of gender violence, including a large number of young women on college campuses. Last year’s documentary, “The Invisible War,” revealed that at least 20 percent of female veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the military and that a woman in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire, as Francesca Bessey pointed out in an op ed. posted to neontommy.com.
Bessey also reported on sexual violence on college campuses across the country where an estimated one in four women is raped or sexually assaulted during the course of her college years. Incarcerated women are also raped in large numbers. According to a report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 80,000 inmates experienced sexual abuse during a twelve-month period prior to the report’s release. That’s four percent of all prison inmates and 3.2 percent of jail inmates nationally, figures that include juveniles housed in adult facilities.
Meanwhile, military action and aggression in general are glorified on TV, in video games and in movies. Social media is not far behind. Facebook has come under criticism for allowing postings of rape and domestic violence by advertisers or individuals. A recent open letter to the CEO demanded that pages such as Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny, and Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, be banned along with photos of women beaten, bruised, tied up, drugged or bleeding.
To be fair, the U.S. is not the only country with gendered violence issues. Recent reports of raped and murdered women reveal horrendous acts of violence in countries as diverse as South Africa, India, Egypt, and Brazil, to name just a few.
But we need to ask ourselves what this is about in our national culture. There’s no doubt that the NRA is a force related to gun violence, but as Henry Giroux points out, “it is only one factor in the culture of symbolic and institutional violence that has such a powerful grip on [us].” The reality is that “violence saturates almost every aspect of North American culture.”
Studies show that by the time an American child is 18 years old, they will have seen about 200,000 acts of violence on television, including over 40,000 real or dramatized murders. The impact of that exposure is deeply troubling. One study conducted in 2000 by the Congressional Public Health Summit found that young children who have witnessed media violence have a much greater chance of exhibiting violent or aggressive behavior. A similar correlation exists when it comes to video games. Another study found that children who watch TV violence excessively around age eight are more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts when they are adults.
In a recent op ed. posted to the blog readersupportednews.org, writer Tom Adams pointed out that the U.S. is the largest arms dealer in the world. We have more violent deaths per capita than any other developed nation and we have the highest incarceration rate of any country. Our homicide rate is by far the highest among industrialized nations. Arguing that “the harsh reality is that the violence that is deeply entrenched in American culture is inextricably tied to our economic and political systems,” Adams, like many others writing about or researching this topic, raises a number of important issues that require further exploration and conversation.
Meanwhile the violence continues, “saturating our social landscape like a highly charged forest fire burning everything in its path,” as Henry Giroux puts it. We are all in the path of that out-of-control inferno. That’s why we must fight it with everything we’ve got until the flames of violence are arrested once and for all, and we are safely out of its grip.