One of the most eye-opening resuls from last month’s VPR Poll concerned substance abuse. When respondents were asked to name “the most important problem facing Vermont,” 17 percent named “drugs.” The only other issue scoring higher than six percent was “economy/jobs/cost of living” at 28 percent. And when asked specifically if opiate addiction is a major problem, a massive 89 percent agreed.
Even more striking were the figures for personal connections to opioid abuse. 53 percent have been affected by opiate addiction or know someone who has. And 94 percent “personally know” someone who has struggled with addiction.
Practically the entire state.
If we needed convincing that opiate addiction is a serious problem, we shouldn’t anymore.
But let’s take another pervasive issue of a similar scope. An issue that’s usually lost in the white noise, that’s never been the subject of a State of the State address.
I bet if you polled Vermonters on sexual assault, you’d get the same kind of numbers. Especially among women. (The vast majority of men know someone who’s been the target of sexual assault, but most have never been told about it.)
Governor Shumlin gets full credit for putting opioid addiction in the spotlight. When will rape, attempted rape, harassment, and domestic violence get the same attention?
And why hasn’t it? Because it’s a man’s world and it’s predominantly women who are the targets? Because it’s always been this way?
Because law enforcement still doesn’t make it a priority?
Because far too few women are involved in making law and crafting policy?
We’ve seen the scandals over unprocessed rape kits in jurisdictions around the country. One of the horrific aspects of the Justice Department’s report on the Baltimore Police Department was the cavalier attitude taken toward reports of sexual assault. We’ve seen, in the Norm McAllister case, how difficult it is for women to come forward and have their voices heard.
(Or, for those who see Canada as relatively untouched by our social ills, try Googling “Robert Pickton.” Just don’t do it over lunch.)
Sue Minter has taken a bold step in this direction, highlighting the connection between our high rates of domestic violence and our permissive gun laws.
But really, we could use a full-tilt, all-out confrontation of a systemic problem that severely impacts more than half of our population. How much more could women achieve, if they weren’t weighed down by traumatic memories and/or the constant awareness of a danger that may strike at any time — indeed, most likely in a place where they ought to feel safe? At home, among family, with friends?
Hey, maybe the next time VPR commissions a poll, they’ll even think to ask the question. As if it’s an issue just as worthy of our time and effort as opioid addiction.
I’ll just leave this here.