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2012 BrotherPeace Award: Dr. Diana Russell

The Ending Men’s Violence Network of NOMAS is concerned with all forms of violence by men, particularly in the context of sexism and patriarchal privilege. The EMV periodically awards its National BrotherPeace Award to an individual who has made significant lifetime achievements in combating Men’s Violence.

We are proud this year to name as the 2012 BrotherPeace recipient a woman who truly personifies those words: whose entire career, of 40 years and continuing, has been focused on combating violence against women; a radical feminist scholar, and a world renown scientist, Dr. Diana Russell.

Born is South Africa in 1938 to anti-Apartheid parents, she was educated first there, then in London, then in the US at Harvard for graduate study. Her first book, 37 years ago in 1975 was on rape, and made a key theoretical contribution. Rather than being “deviants,” she argued that rapists were actually going-along and conforming, to deeply established misogyny and male sex role dynamics. It was a ‘figure / ground’ kind of insight, which helped to transform how social science understood rape.

Much more was soon to come. In 1977 she began planning, and applied and received funding, and in 1979 carried out, what would later be recognized as one of the best and most important empirical studies in the history of social science. It was an interview survey of a perfect random sample of all the adult women of all ages in a large city, with carefully trained female interviewers, closely matched to the respondents. The interviews approached the issues of rape, and other transgressions, in the most thoughtful, careful way that had ever been attempted, with numerous careful probes, without using the chilling word “rape”, which so many avoid and mis-understand… and only later deciding if a rape had occurred, by matching what each woman said happened with the exact legal definition.

The results were startling. Twenty-four percent of all the women reported at least one experience which matched the legal definition of rape. Only seventeen percent of the rapes had been by total strangers; eighty-three were by men whom the victim already knew. Less than ten percent of the rapes had ever been reported, and almost none had resulted in an arrest.

The original report of this unique study was in 1982 , and over the next four years followed three exceptional full length books detailing the results of the research. Rape in Marriage in 1982 was the first scholarly book ever published on this subject. In 1984 came a volume that summarizes all the basic findings and methodology, one of the best accounts of rigorous feminist social science ever published, and the book to look for to best understand this historic scientific work: a Sage paperback titled: Sexual Exploitation: Rape, Child Sexual Abuse, and Workplace Harassment. In 1986, this unique and unmatched data-set would yield still another treasure. The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women was the first scientific study of incestuous abuse ever conducted. In recognition of both its topics significance and the impeccable quality of the research, The Secret Trauma was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award, perhaps the most prestigious prize in all social science.

Incredibly, even now, many years after these data were collected, because of the unprecedented quality of this study of sexual assault in a large natural urban population, they remain our best-available scientific estimate of the prevalence of rape in women’s lives.

It is remarkable that more than 40 years after Dr. Russell conducted this innovative research, of no other scientist, anywhere in the world, has conducted an empirical rape-prevalence research study of equal methodological rigor and thus, factual validity. That is true even of the U.S. government, which still cannot conduct interviews as well as Russell and her team did decades ago, and in fact spends vast sums of money, disseminating false and misleading statistic about rape, which harm women by vastly underestimating and distorting the problem.

For most scholars these theoretical and empirical triumphs would be more than a lifetime’s achievement, but Diana Russell was just getting started. In a series of new articles and books, she fearlessly attacked the complex issue of pornography. Her 1983 Anthology Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography was the best collection since Take Back the Night, and contains a gem by Russell herself, “The Experts Cop Out”, detailing how the scientific evidence of pornography’s harms was minimized, and obfuscated, by the male researchers who testified to Congress.

Russell’s wide-ranging analysis of violence, and of movements to combat it, have led her into many new directions, always with first-rate scholarship. Her book on how patriarchy fuels the nuclear arms race, Exposing Nuclear Phallacies, was named an outstanding contribution in 1986. Having been an activist in Africa in her youth, Diana returned to South Africa in the 1980’s and interviewed anti-Apartheid women, resulting in her book Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa, of which Desmond Tutu said “I fairly burst with pride that South African soil has produced such indomitable women, and not least, the author herself.

The subject of the Plenary session this morning is the concept of Femicide. Russell first spoke this term publically in 1976, and then in 1992 co-edited the first-ever anthology on the subject, Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing. This was followed in 2001 by Femicide in Global Perspective. The term femicide, which has still not been widely used in the United States, has electrified the front-line feminists in many other countries, and led already to new legislation against the nightmare of woman-killing in eight different countries around the world.

Many scholars of Dr. Russell’s fame and eminence tend to remain a bit “aloof”… from the grimy, grass-roots struggles against sexism and its agents, which front-line feminists must fight day by day. It especially heartening that such a celebrated social scientist as Dr. Russell is also a radical feminist, which she has demonstrated in street marches and militant non-violent protests. Her feminist activism, she reports. has so far led to being arrested three times in the U.S. and twice more in other countries.

Catharine MacKinnon has said: “None of the… advances in understanding, documenting, and opposing violence against women is this country, including my own work, would have been possible without her ground-breaking studies and scholarly publication.”

NOMAS is delighted to award this tangible memento of the 2012 National BrotherPeace Award, for outstanding lifetime achievement in combating violence against women, to Dr. Diana Russell. 


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