For years society has treated domestic violence and sexual assault as a women’s issue – but there is clear evidence that this is the wrong approach. Gender violence is a men’s issue and until we start addressing it this way no amount of teaching women how to stay safe will have any real impact.
If you happened to watch Crime Watch last night on BBC1 I am sure you were shocked at the reconstruction of the horrific rape of an 18 year old Muslim girl in Leeds in March. I really hope that the appeal leads to an arrest and conviction for this because, bearing in mind two or three other women reported being stalked by this rapist that night, this sadistic rapist is likely to strike again.
Of course the obvious question is how do we stop this from happening. Violence against women is increasing and worldwide 25% of women report that they have been victims of sexual abuse. I have a growing interest on Africa as a result of helping my partner Jamie to set up and run a small charity HobbyAid to help children in Africa. This means that I am getting a lot more news reports about gender issues, especially gender violence and one in particular really stood out a couple of weeks ago.
In Kenya No Means No Worldwide had been working with girls teaching them self defense and how to stay safe but the program was not having a huge effect on reducing rape and sexual assault. Many girls reported to the program that their problem was with boyfriends and friends. After research showed that many boys believed it was justifiable to rape girls who are out alone at night or who wear miniskirts or had been taken on expensive dates, they started a new programme aimed at educating the boys.
The result has been a huge drop in rape and sexual abuse of girls by boyfriends and friends. In addition, boys who have taken the training are more likely to intervene when they see a girl being assaulted and are less likely to verbally harass girls. To be honest this should not have been a surprise because gender violence is a men’s issue. I am a huge fan of TED talks and two in particular have highlighted this message. What makes these talks really worth watching is that they are by men who are helping to dismiss the myth that women are responsible for encouraging sexual abuse.
The first is by Tony Porter from a Call to Men addressing the huge pressure on boys to conform to the “Man Box”, the stereotypical rules about how a man is expected to behave. Telling powerful stories from his own life, he shows how this mentality, drummed into so many men and boys, can lead men to disrespect, mistreat and abuse women and each other.
The penalty for men or women not conforming to gender stereotypes is “Shame”. That is not only a bully’s main weapon, its the primary tool of blackmailers and sadly it is all too often used by parents and teachers to enforce rules of behaviour on children. So its hardly surprising when we grow up that we use the same methods on our friends. Ridicule, humiliation, shame are all bound together because they are at the heart of our greatest fear in life. Far worse than death or illness, more people, especially young people. commit suicide because they feel shame than any other cause. I will be blogging about this topic in more detail shortly.
The second TED talk by Jackson Katz who while addressing the same topic more specifically addresses the issue of domestic violence and sexual abuse being seen as “women’s issues” In a bold, blunt talk, he shows why gender violence is a men’s issues and how these domestic violence and sexual assault behaviors are tied to definitions of manhood that have to change.
The Crime watch programme really shocked me and I am please to hear that West Yorkshire Police have had a huge response from the programme. But more importantly this needs to be a catalyst for action to start addressing the issue differently. Schools need to get actively engaged challenging the ridiculous male stereotypes and applying zero tolerance to any bullying that encourage boys to conform to these unrealistic expectations of manhood and get the message out the Gender Violence is a Men’s issue.