March 17, 2014

Teaching Young Men To Prevent Sexual Violence

Tim Wernette is a Gender Equity Educational Specialist with the University of Arizona/AZ Department of Education, and a regular contributor to the Man-Making Blog. He has been involved with the pro-feminist men's movement since the late 1970s and has volunteered at the Tucson rape crisis center doing educational outreach. He sent along this personal story about how sexual assault touched his life when he was a young man.

What today I know was a sexual assault happened at the house I was renting with some other guys near Michigan State University. It happened in the late 1960s when I was a young man in my early 20’s. I was a naive, sexually inexperienced, and ignorant college kid. It was also in the days before the women’s movement and feminism. The short story of what happened is one of my roommates picked up a high school girl he knew to party for the weekend. She was a virgin, he got her really drunk Saturday night, and he took her upstairs to his bedroom and had sex with her. After more than forty years, my memory of the details is a little hazy, but the feelings of sadness, regret, and guilt for not saying or doing anything to prevent that act are as vivid as ever.

. . . the feelings of sadness, regret, and guilt
for not saying or doing anything
to prevent that act are as vivid as ever.

In those days people didn’t talk about “date rape.” If they talked at all about men and sex, it was all about a guy’s high sex drive and need to score, or women asking for it by dressing/acting seductively. Rape is what happened in some dark alley or park, and was done by a sleazy stranger. There wasn't any education about sexual assault or date rape. Any prevention messages you might hear were all directed to the women: Don’t go out alone at night; Don’t drink too much; Take a self-defense course and learn how to protect yourself. The unspoken message was “boys will be boys,” or maybe even, it's okay for boys to be boys and act out sexually. At the time of the incident, my feelings aside, I really didn’t realize my roommate was actually doing anything wrong.

Today, it’s called sexual assault and it’s understood that it’s not really about sex, but about violence, power, and feeling control over someone. We also know that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the target knows, an acquaintance, a friend, a partner or even a husband. In addition to educating girls/women about the dangers of sexual assault and how to protect yourself, today, boys/men are also being taught about sexual assault and the dangers for men as perpetrators and as potential targets.

In addition, there is a new front line in the sexual assault prevention arena. It’s a focus on the bystander(s). Bystanders can be anywhere along a continuum from actually doing nothing and supporting the assault (as I did), to stepping in with actions to prevent the assault. One solid article on that topic is from the New York Times titled, Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault. The article explores this new terrain where both women and men can intervene with both gender targets and perpetrators to stop sexual assault before it happens. Among the interesting facts, the article mentions somewhere around 3% of college men account for 90-95% of campus rapes. The goal is to get the other 97% of guys to “come into the room and help with the problem.”

Research shows that if one person stands up and intervenes, others will also; but if no one stands up, others won’t either. This challenges all of us to develop the courage and skills to step in and keep a possible sexual assault from occurring. I’m still haunted by the look on the girl’s face when she came down for breakfast Sunday morning, and her fear, shock, and bewilderment about what had happened to her the night before. I want to do what I can to insure our young men know how to stand up for potential victims and have the courage to do so. I don’t want anyone to have to live with sadness, regret, and guilt for not intervening.

For those working with young men, there are lots of resources on the web that can help with formal and informal bystander intervention training; just Google it. As the New York Times article, which Tim mentioned, points out, when one guy gets in the way of another guy in pursuit of getting laid, it’s not called “bystander intervention,” but “shot blocking” and there is some considerable skill involved. In the educational campaign from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, their website suggests a simple formula called The 3 Ds of Active Bystandership. The 3 D’s are Direct, Distract, and Delegate.

Here is a short video clip showing a skilled active bystander in action. He’s using a slightly different formula, Disrupt, Distract, Redirect, but it’s a great example of what might be possible.

If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

If you have a way to do it in a group or just in a conversation, take the risk to let young men know where you stand on sexual violence. Keep it simple, show a video, or have a conversation about this blog post. Offer your own version of bystander training and in doing so, let them know when it comes to sexual violence, you have to take a stand. It might just prevent very painful consequences in the lives of some of the young men and women you know.

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1 comment:

Your response to this blog post is appreciated and welcome.