Let’s Stop Referring to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault as ‘Women’s Issues’. 28/4/2016




From reproductive rights to paid family leave to
sexual and domestic violence, our society neatly categorizes issues where women
bear the brunt of the burden as “women’s issues,” turning them into problems
for women and women’s rights advocates alone to solve. But this framing
couldn’t be more wrong, and only serves to reinforce the practice of victim
blaming that is so pervasive in our society.

As we close another Sexual Assault
Awareness Month, we can’t help but wonder — where are the voices of the men? Yes,
women are overwhelmingly victims of domestic violence, but men are
overwhelmingly perpetrators. It comes down to male behavior and conditioning,
so preventing and addressing violence requires men to be engaged in this issue,
and take action as well. And breaking the cycle of violence starts with
addressing how boys are conditioned to model “male” behavior and attitudes.

Young boys who witness violence at
home are three to four times more likely to perpetrate acts of
domestic violence as adults. Up to 10 million — or every one in 15 — children are exposed to intimate
partner violence each year, and 90 percent of these children are eyewitnesses
to this violence. Beyond what children may see at home, they are continuously
surrounded by messages and images in community institutions, advertisements, TV
shows, songs, and other spheres that reinforce gender stereotypes — such as
expectations of the subservience of women, or men exhibiting force as a display
of strength — that often correlates with abusive behavior.

It is crucial for men to recognize the impact of their behavior — how it
affects their children and those around them, and how it may influence the
behavior of others — and take on these issues themselves, without placing the
burden on women alone to figure out how to curb men’s actions. It is up to
individuals and communities to create systemic change and help men transition
from roles as perpetrators or bystanders, to allies and activists. To help men
recognize and transform attitudes and behaviors that lead to domestic abuse,
community centers and other social service providers should offer workshops
that illustrate ways to model respect and promote healthy relationships, as
well as mentorship programs that equip men with the strategies and tools to
stop abusive cycles of behavior.

One of the first steps men can take in combating violence against women
is to question and challenge traditional gender roles, and listen to the voices
of women and girls. Everyone has a role to play in pushing back against
traditional indicators of masculinity. It’s up to local and community leaders —
coaches, faith leaders, teachers, and business leaders — to guide men of all
ages to navigate different forms of masculinity and understand that machismo
does not mean treating women as property, but treating them as allies and
equals. We also need to support women to feel comfortable reporting violence,
seeking help, and recognizing indicators of violence in the men in their lives.

Fortunately, there are effective
models for making the systemic change required to combat violence. Coaching Boys into Men engages high school coaches to
promote respectful behavior among their players and help prevent relationship
abuse, harassment, and sexual assault. CONNECT Men organizes workshops, roundtables, and
training programs for men of all ages to examine behaviors and collaborate to
develop successful methods of intervention that emphasize prevention over
reaction when combating violence.

Another program, the Low Wage, High Risk project, engages employers to raise
awareness about the effects of gender-based violence in the workplace, and to
develop promising practices that prevent and respond to domestic and sexual
violence, thus creating role models in the workplace. Addressing this issue at
every level—in schools, community centers, and even workplaces—is the kind of
approach that leads to the change we need.

With Women’s History Month behind us and April drawing to a close, it’s
important to remember how essential it is to continue to talk about these
issues during the other 10 months out of the year — not just in March and
April. So in the spirit of honoring and advocating for women year-round, call
on the boys and men in your life — whether it’s your son, father, brother,
coach, teacher, coworker, boss, or partner — to join in the fight to prevent
and combat violence against women. Replace the ripple effect of violence with
the ripple effect of respect and dignity. Transforming the attitudes and
behaviors of just one individual can bring us one step closer to systemic
change and a safer, more just and equitable society. We all benefit when
responsible men stand in their communities as shining examples of healthy and
respectful masculinity.


Linda A. Seabrook is General Counsel
for the anti-violence organization Futures Without Violence, where she
Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence: A National Resource
, a project funded by the U.S. Department of
Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women that works with employers, workers
and advocates to develop and implement workplace policies that prevent and
respond to domestic and sexual violence. The opinions, findings, conclusions
and recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author and do
not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on
Violence Against Women. To learn more follow