MU alumna discusses domestic violence issues

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COLUMBIA - Violence against women, improving race relations and changing conversations were discussed Thursday afternoon at MU's Women's Center.

MU alumna and national social justice advocate Jeanette Pai-Espinosa was back on campus for the first time in 30 years to lead a conversation about local and national social justice issues. Pai- Espinosa was a member of the Association of Women Students before she graduated in 1979, and said it was surreal to be speaking in a room dedicated to women that didn't exist when she was in school. 

One of the major projects she worked on as a student was the implementation of Title IX at Mizzou. She says having a new Title IX coordinator at the university shows long term committment.

"If you have a committee, the committee's gone and it's just gone," Pai-Espinosa said. "But the office really represents a level of responsibility and understanding of the necessity of it that you don't see everywhere."

She said cross-community dialogue is essential for the effective discussion of controversial issues, especially on college campuses.

"Not just student to student, but faculty to student, faculty to faculty, staff to staff because college campus is that fertile ground for exploration," she said. "I think it can change the trend for the country if colleges and universities are doing that."

Her mom attended the talk, and Pai-Espinosa said she was influential to her career in social justice. 

"My mother and my father, actually multiple generations, all were kind of social advocates, and I grew up in a home where boys and girls pretty much had the same opportunities," Pai-Espinosa said. "So I think that was definitely part of it. She was very active with the equal rights amendment and Planned Parenthood, so I come by it naturally."

Domestic violence has been in both local and national news recently, but Pai-Espinosa said it has been a problem for a long time. 

"I think in this country we have a silent epidemic of violence against women," she said. "We're talking about young children who are sexually abused or neglected all the way up to teen dating and adult relationships. And it's something we don't want to talk about. It's kind of the dirty secret of America."

Pai- Espinosa said 61 percent of all females raped are under age 18, and 1 out of 3 girls is sexually abused before they're 15.

"It's pretty rampant, and it's not strangers," Pai-Espinosa said. "So it's 'how do we create safe places for people to go to talk about it? To get help? To intervene? To prevent?' And it starts really young because it's multiple generations. It's not, generally speaking, one person, one time in a family. It's really cyclical and we need to break that cycle."

One member of the audience asked if Pai-Espinosa ever felt discouraged, and she said the recent Ray Rice scandal was discouraging, not because of the incident, but because people were surprised that it happened.

"I think my struggle around the situtation with Ray Rice is that it's so loaded with racisim and sexism, and the domestic violence gets to be the vehicle where those things are deflected," she said. "So we're talking about the violence, which, of course, is important to talk about, but it's not that simple. It occurs in a context of a society, of a family, of two people, of all of us and how we turn a blind eye to violence in our families and in our communities."

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