College women continue to be at high risk for gender-based violence, which includes domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The Bureau of Justice Studies indicates that women ages 20-24 are at the highest risk of dating violence, one in five women (20%) experience sexual assault in their college years, and young women ages 18-24 are at the highest risk of stalking. While we recognize that men are also victims of relationship violence, their percentage rate is much lower however. The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault (2014) calls on universities to take more responsibility in the safety of their students, particularly when it comes to issues of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. As one of its top priorities, the Task Force calls on campuses to engage men in this work.
We believe men must join women and become allies in the movement to end gender-based violence. While most men never use or support violence, the simple fact is that men are the overwhelming perpetrators of gender based violence. The root cause of gender violence often can be narrowed down to one or all four of these environmental factors:
1) Fundamental conditions of gender inequality. Some men see themselves as privileged and see women and girls as property to be owned.
2) Harmful, violent and controlling aspects of masculinity. Some men see the use of power and the use of violence to control women as an acceptable part of being a man.
3) Personal history of one’s own trauma. Some men have not properly dealt with their own childhood memories as witnesses or as victims of violence themselves. This trauma can sometimes result in the replication of dangerous behaviors.
4) Male culture where most men and boys do not intervene or challenge other males who are violent. They instead ‘cover for their buddies’.
Jackson Katz, world renowned anti-sexism activist, believes we need to first redefine what it means to “be a man”. This requires an end to the compliance of the idea of male domination in our cultures by dismissing sexism and no longer accepting gender inequality. He also challenges the negative impact of masculinity. “Boys are taught and thus learn from an early age that being a man means being powerful and in control; violence is an instrumental means of gaining or maintaining that power and control.” In order for men to begin to eradicate gender-based violence, they must first accept a new idea of masculinity, one of love and respect towards women and girls.
So, why men? We know only a small number of men are perpetrators. We also know however, most gender based violence is committed by men. And yet for too long, violence against women has been seen as a women’s issue. As Katz states, “Men have been largely erased from much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.” But the larger majority of non-violent men need to do more than live a life of non-violence. “When we empower men to step in when someone’s in trouble, they become an important part of the solution.” Violence prevention expert Tony Porter conquers and says “This is a man’s issue.” He believes that preventing partner and sexual violence is ultimately the responsibility of men. Good men need to role model respectful behaviors, but also speak up and step in to stop inappropriate situations. On the field, in the classroom, at home or at the bars, men need to intervene when conversations, behaviors or actions of other men are disrespectful of, or endangering to, women. By doing so, men begin to change the culture of their friend groups, families, campuses, and communities to one that prevents gender-based violence.