Miami Beach police detective Traci Sierra has seen a lot to anger and confound her in the 13 years she has worked in the violent crimes and domestic violence unit. Women who stay with husbands or boyfriends through years of beatings and abuse. Women who call police for help and then attack the officer arresting the man who was hurting them. Women afraid to stay, but even more afraid to leave. Women killed because they believe the man hurting them will stop on his own.
But Sierra takes heart from her occasional successes, like the young woman with a 2-year-old son who finally left her boyfriend after he beat her head against the floor so hard he split her forehead open. Sierra sat with her for two hours before the girl broke down crying, saying “I have to do something.’ ”
“You have to come to a breaking point,” Sierra says. “You have to say enough is enough. If no one takes a stand it continues. Until they address the situation and take control of their lives nothing’s going to change.”
On Thursday, Sierra and hundreds of other women in Miami-Dade will take a symbolic stand at the New World Center and Florida International University campus to say enough is enough. They are doing so as part of a global campaign called One Billion Rising, which aims to get a billion people — the number of women the United Nations estimates will be raped or assaulted in their lifetime — to take action with flash mobs, protests and dances.
The effort, which organizers say includes 202 countries, has brought an unprecedented level of participation to a 15-year-old annual event called V-Day, started by Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. Those involved say that violence against women has reached such epidemic proportions that people around the world have reached a breaking point. From the woman killed in a gang rape in India, spawning national protests and international indignation; to the rape of an unconscious teenage girl by members of a high school football team in Steubenville, Ohio; to Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head for advocating girls’ education; to an explosion in sex trafficking; violence against women has garnered attention around the world in the past year.
“It’s not like gang rape is new,” Ensler said in a call from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where on Thursday she’ll join a protest dance at City of Joy, a women’s shelter in a country where more than half a million women have been raped in a 13-year-long war. “But finally these stories are breaking through in big ways in the news media and people’s consciousness, which is absolutely fueling this movement on a new level. There are two risings on the planet. One is sexual violence in all these places. The other is this rising of women across the planet who are saying we are over it. Enough already.”
The campaign is tapping into that indignation, and harnessing social media and connections with grassroots activists from Africa to Los Angeles. The website has videos of women taking action in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and Peru. The effort has garnered support from figures as disparate as the Dalai Lama to the Prime Minister of Australia.
The centerpiece of Billion Rising is a rousing song, Break the Chain, and dance choreographed by Debbie Allen. People are being encouraged to participate in flash mobs, documenting and posting their efforts online.