Men Can Stop Rape: “This Is Your Issue”
- By Mary Liepold
Editor In Chief
The subject was sexual harassment and sexual assault. Both sides of the long conference table were filled with young men, most of them ignoring the pizza on their plates and waving their hands in the air in their eagerness to speak. Standing at the back of the room, where I was, and in chairs along the sides were a handful of women.
The facilitators, Kedrick Griffin, Senior Director of Programs for Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR), and Joe Vess, Director of Training, presented two scenarios, one involving harrassment and the other potential assault. The 35 men who had come to DC’s Georgetown University campus from three colleges and two area high schools offered a total of 13 practical interventions to stop the abuse. And it wasn’t all theory; many were strategies they had already used successfully.
The scene was the January 31, 2012 launch of Where Do You Stand?, a partnership between MCSR and the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Like the women in the room, though, the AAUW is involved primarily as supporter and consultant. I asked Joe afterwards: “What’s the one message the campaign and the organization are most committed to getting across to men?”
“It has two parts,” Joe said. “This is your issue. And you can do something about it. The best news is that some of these programs are starting in middle school. I meet college guys who have been doing this work for as long as I have―seven or eight years. The MOST (Men of Strength) Club is in its fourth year at Georgetown and a little newer at American and George Washington, but it’s been at the DC high school School Without Walls for 10 years. These guys are full of energy and ideas. They always inspire me.”
The focus of the new campaign, which is being rolled out nationwide with posters, tabling, workshops, and trainings, is bystander intervention: finding the courage “to challenge the dominant narrative,” as one of the college men explained. It asks the question “What kind of man do you want to be?” Its goal, and the theme of the group discussions among men and boys from 11 to 22, is a redefinition of masculinity as strength without violence.
I asked Joe, “What drew you to this work?”
“When I was around 24, my girlfriend told me about being harassed by catcalls when she was out running. Right around the same time, another woman I know described being assaulted when she was in high school. I started asking other women and found out how much was going on. I just hadn’t been aware of it before! I got involved, and it grew into a job.”
“I went to an all-boys high school,” George Washington University student Matthew Scott told me. “Whenever groups of guys are together like that, you hear lots of sexist jokes and comments. It didn’t feel right to me. I have sisters, and I knew the women they were talking about were other guys’ sisters. But I kept quiet because I didn’t know if anybody else felt the same way. Now I know there are lots of us and I’ve learned how to confront it.”
“Was the first time hard?” I asked him.
“No, it felt good! And it keeps getting easier. It’s OK to stand up for the women in your life!”
“Are you from an activist family?” I asked. “Have you always been involved in social issues?”
“Some, I guess. In high school I worked with Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together, poverty programs. Also Invisible Children, about child soldiers, and Operation Smile, for cleft palate children. But this one is more real because I see it every day. Everybody faces challenges where women, and for that matter, men, are being degraded in front of them. It’s a straight issue, a gay issue, a men’s issue, and a women’s issue.”
“What do you do besides meet and talk, Matt?”
“We’re strategizing now. We talk to guys in fraternities and on sports teams. We’re making a video. We also partner with the Georgetown Alliance for Safe Housing. In the fall we collected food to fill up their pantry. Groups of guys go over to play with the kids while the moms work on their resumes and role-play job interviews. They love it!”
Although MOST is fairly new to the George Washington campus, Kostas Skordalios, who founded the chapter, was already involved in Students against Sexual Assault, which has chapters at many US colleges. The two groups are working together now. MCSR has reached two million men in its 10-plus years, but it’s only one piece of a growing network and a growing global men’s movement. Please see the resources list for links to MSCR and related organizations.
More in the February PeaceTimes:
- “What Manhood Might Be”: Men Changing Cultures to Stop Sexual Violence
- Men’s Movements Worldwide Declare Peace between the Sexes
- Generation Peace: It Could Be You or Someone You Love
- Kim’s Corner: MidEast Women Are Rising, Ready to Connect
- Join the debate: Is sexual violence a women’s issue?
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