Transforming the Culture of Power
An Examination of Gender-Based Violence in the United
States [Part 1]
By Jocelyn Frye, Shilpa Phadke, Robin Bleiweis, Maggie Jo Buchanan, Danielle
Corley, and Osub Ahmed with Rebecca Cokley, Laura E. Durso, and Chelsea
This report was published by the Center for American Progress,
Getty/Chris Kleponis
Protesters against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh
demonstrate at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on
October 6, 2018.
courage to complain about what had happened. Instead of taking action against her supervisor, her employer fired her. She later filed a civil suit against the
company and, in 2010, the company agreed to a settlement. When reflecting on her traumatic experience several years later, Ladino would explain how she
found the courage to come forward, saying, “I have daughters, I have sisters. And I have to stop this from happening to them, too. That’s what gave me strength
to speak out.”

The prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) in the United States has become the focus of a national conversation. Whether it is the meteoric rise and
resilience of the #MeToo movement, originally launched by activist Tarana Burke more than a decade ago; a seemingly endless list of public figures involved in
allegations of sexual misconduct; a U.S. Supreme Court nomination fight made contentious in part by sexual assault allegations; President Donald Trump’s
dismissive attacks on survivors’ stories and more than two dozen women alleging his own misconduct over decades; or Trump administration policies that
increasingly degrade, disparage, and dehumanize women and gender minorities, all have elevated the discussion about how well GBV claims are handled and
what responses are needed to combat it.

In the wake of this attention, people from across the country have stood up and spoken out. They have told their personal stories and made clear that a status
quo that tolerates sexual misconduct is unacceptable and must change. Many policymakers have been quick to profess support for survivors and reject all
forms of GBV, from sexual harassment to sexual assault and more, yet concrete legislative action to address these issues has been slow in coming. Even
when policymakers do engage, they often focus on piecemeal measures as a quick fix rather than a more holistic response to address the full range of
underlying problems. Lost in the discussion are the interwoven issues that collectively perpetuate GBV—particularly the systemic biases around race, sex,
ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, and disability that shape survivors’ diverse experiences. Overly narrow views and
definitions around sex and gender identity that leave out women of color and gender minorities risk ignoring critical aspects of the problem and perpetuating a
broader public narrative that elevates some groups over others and leaves out some survivors altogether. Furthermore, too little attention has focused on the
connections between GBV and other abusive or violent behaviors, such as research showing high rates of domestic violence and misogynistic attacks among
perpetrators of mass shootings. Dissecting how all of these issues relate to each other is crucial and long overdue.

This report demonstrates the breadth and depth of GBV across many different issue landscapes and the importance of pursuing comprehensive strategies to
tackle GBV’s lifelong effects. It begins with an overview of GBV in the United States, examining its effects throughout an individual’s life cycle, across different
types of relationships, and in different settings such as college campuses and workplaces. The report then explores the importance of government involvement
in reducing GBV, highlighting potential action steps and key federal laws and areas where more protections are needed. It ties these pieces together with more
than 25 recommendations, including the proposed creation of a significant new federal initiative that would convene across public and private sectors in order
to provide a road map for far-reaching, future progress. These recommendations are intended to help catalyze a long-term solution to finally bring an end to GBV
and its effects by demanding a bold government response to address the full range of systemic, cultural, and public policy issues fueling different forms of
sexual misconduct. The authors’ goal is not only to elevate the problems associated with GBV and potential solutions, but also to help dismantle a culture of
power—in personal relationships, workplaces, schools, legal and policy infrastructures, and other institutional settings—that for too long has protected a status
quo that shields misconduct from scrutiny and allows GBV to thrive.

Background on the origins of this report
This report is the culmination of a yearslong effort to paint a comprehensive portrait of the crosscutting factors driving the persistence of GBV in American life.
The report grew out of a recognition that different forms of GBV reach across many disciplines—from women’s rights to employment, health care, gun violence
prevention, immigration, economic policy, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, disability rights, education reform, and more. The interdisciplinary nature of this problem
led the authors to tap the expertise of multiple Center for American Progress policy teams in order to take a holistic look at the strategies and interventions that
could have real impact—rather than the piecemeal strategies that fail to adequately respond to the complexity of GBV in the United States.

Overview of GBV

The reach of gender-based violence is enormous, with a scope that has become virtually unfathomable. According to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, more than 43 percent of women in the United States—nearly 52.2 million—
report experiencing some form of sexual violence involving physical contact over the course of their lifetime. Some women experienced one incident while
others experienced multiple, and these incidents may involve one or multiple perpetrators. Among women who have experienced sexual violence, an
estimated 45 percent faced a perpetrator who was a current or former intimate partner; 18 percent faced a perpetrator who was a family member; 8 percent
faced a perpetrator who was a person of authority outside of a family relationship; and 19 percent faced a perpetrator who was a stranger. In addition, about half
of all survivors of sexual violence involving physical contact faced a perpetrator who was an acquaintance. The 2015 CDC survey also found that an estimated
30.6 percent of women in the United States experienced physical violence by a current or former intimate partner and 10.4 percent experienced stalking by a
current or former intimate partner. These data make clear that GBV is not confined to one uniform scenario, type of survivor, or perpetrator. Rather, the
circumstances vary and each incident is different, occurring across the life cycle, in different relationships, and in different settings.

GBV occurs across the life cycle
GBV occurs across the life span, from early childhood to the final years of life. From an early age in their families, schools, and other institutional settings,
children are exposed to societal norms, social cues, and attitudes about gender roles that shape how they perceive others and value themselves. Too many
children are also exposed to different forms of GBV in the home—U.S. Census Bureau data from 2011 indicate that an estimated 20 million children under the
age of 18 lived in a home at some point in their youth where violence between two adult partners had occurred. In addition to witnessing violence, children are
also the targets of GBV. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study published in 1998 by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente found that early adversity—including
but not limited to childhood physical and sexual abuse experienced by 27 percent and 24.7 percent of women, respectively—has lasting negative impacts on the
health and life experiences of the affected individuals.

By the time children enter grade school, many of the collective messages from these experiences and attitudes have already taken hold. Research examining
grade school environments found that harassment among students was widespread and often gendered. Indeed, nearly half of teachers—48 percent—report
hearing students making sexist comments at school. In a national survey from 2010, three-quarters of third through sixth graders reported witnessing and more
than one-third reported experiencing bullying, which can be gender based and a form of harassment. The most common basis for bullying was physical
appearance and often based on gender expression. The majority of students—67 percent—attributed bullying to physical appearance, and 23 percent said it
occurs when a boy looks or acts “too much like a girl” or a girl looks or acts “too much like a boy.”20 Black students were more likely than students of other
races to report being bullied and, specifically, more likely to be bullied based on their appearance. For students who identify as gender-nonconforming, the rates
of bullying and harassment were even higher than for other students—56 percent compared with 33 percent. In a national survey of LGBTQ students in 2017,
62.2 percent reported often or frequently hearing negative remarks about gender expression. LGBTQ students of Native American, American Indian, or Alaska
Native descent were the most likely, at 72.2 percent, to report experiences of victimization at school based on gender expression. The same survey found that
71 percent of LGBTQ students reported hearing teachers or other school staff make negative remarks about gender expression. Furthermore, children with
disabilities can also face heightened risk of sexual harassment and abuse by peers and different service providers. Women and girls with disabilities are more
than twice as likely as women and girls without disabilities to have experienced sexual abuse as children. In 2017, 25.5 percent of LGBTQ students surveyed
reported experiencing bullying or harassment based on actual or perceived disabilities. Researchers note that people with disabilities are consistently
reminded by society of their perceived limitations, fostering a culture of compliance that results in individuals feeling unable to disobey or thwart an abuser
despite feeling discomfort or unsafe. All of this research illustrates how views about gender and power dynamics can shape children’s earliest interactions and
demonstrates the importance of having tools for both families and educators to help drive positive behaviors and counter harmful messages from the start. It
also shows the disproportionate and compounding effects of GBV on individuals with multiple intersecting identities, as well as why institutional actors such as
schools must be equipped to effectively recognize and address different forms of bias and take corrective action where necessary to ensure that environments
are free of discrimination.
Authors’ note: CAP uses “Black” and “African American” interchangeably throughout
many of our products. We chose to capitalize “Black” in order to reflect that we are
discussing a group of people and to be consistent with the capitalization of “African

Introduction and summary
“The power belongs to the person who is right. The power is the truth, and sooner
or later, the truth will come to light.”1 – Maricruz Ladino, farmworker and survivor
of GBV

In 2006, Maricruz Ladino, a farmworker at a California lettuce-packing plant, was
repeatedly harassed by her supervisor. She rebuffed his lewd requests and
comments, but he was unrelenting. Eventually, as they were heading back from a
day’s work in the fields, he took her to another location and raped her. She was
afraid to come forward, but after several months, she finally mustered the