Campaigns for women need men

On one day each year, concerned citizens from across Georgia come together to ask their representatives to support legislation and funding to help end sexual assault and violence against women.

I attended this event, “Stop Violence Against Women Day,” last year, and found it to be a rewarding experience.

But I was disappointed that I was one of very few men in attendance. With this year’s lobbying day happening today, I want to convince more men to become involved in sexual assault prevention, and also to call on violence against women prevention groups to seek greater male participation.

Men have a place in the movement to end sexual assault because they, too, are impacted by violence, but also because men are in a unique position to create change. The goal of ending violence against women is unachievable without male support.

Sexual violence impacts everyone. Although most victims of sexual assault are women, sexual assault also hurts families, weakens communities and places additional strain on our police and health care systems.

Sexual assault impacts the lives of all women: our sisters, mothers, daughters, friends and partners have to live with the ever-present threat of violence, even if they never experience an assault.

While I may not have to worry about walking home late at night, people that I care about must live with this constant fear. This is what motivates me to work for change.

Most other men are not involved in violence against women prevention, though. Many men see sexual assault as a “women’s issue” because most victims of sexual violence are women. Stopping violence should be a “men’s issue” because the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are male.

Yet it may be precisely because of this fact that many men do not want to become involved in sexual assault prevention; they resent being seen as part of the problem.

Men are unlikely to engage in voluntary social advocacy if they do not feel that they are appreciated and accepted, so emphasizing only the negative aspects of masculinity, such as male perpetration of sexual assault, may be driving men away.

To obtain male support, organizations must portray men as allies, and not just as potential perpetrators, by emphasizing the positive, nonviolent aspects of masculinity.

Some groups have been successful at targeting men with this message. Men Stopping Violence, for instance, is a Decatur-based organization of men working to end violence against women. Their projects emphasize positive masculine traits, such as men’s desire to protect loved ones, as a way to connect with men about the importance of preventing violence toward women.

By teaching men about sexual assault and the threat that it poses to the women in their lives, Men Stopping Violence taps into men’s desire to protect their loved ones and, thereby, encourages them to work toward a culture that is free of violence against women. This has been an effective approach, and Men Stopping Violence has successfully reached men who otherwise would not be involved in sexual assault prevention.

I encourage more men to join organizations such as Men Stopping Violence, and I hope that other groups can learn from their example. More male involvement in ending sexual assault means more allies in violence prevention and more voices advocating for change.

Bradley Goodnight is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University.