This week about 300 community
intervention workers, academics, military officials and state and local
government officials gathered to discuss sexual assault and abuse at
a Washington, D.C., conference. All too often, this is a conversation
that happens among women who work in shelters and who are survivors
of sexual violence themselves. But Men Can Stop Rape, a group
that works with inner city boys and young men to talk about how violence
against women is the responsibility of men, hosted the conference, and about 35 to 40 percent of the conference attendees were men.
"The culture of masculinity
is pretty rigid. In order to be a man you have to fit inside of a certain
box," said Byron Hurt, the producer and director of documentaries
that explore the paradigm of black male masculinity like Hip Hop: Beyond
Beats and Rhymes.
"The average guy is not invested in these issues."
Hurt is one of the few men willing to step forward as an advocate against sexual and dating violence. Often, he’ll do workshops at colleges or universities where
he’ll be in a room full of young African-American men and ask them
how many have been victims of police harassment or brutality; nearly
every one will raise their hand. He’ll then ask if the men felt what
they were wearing invited harassment. Not a single young man will raise
his hand. This is the analogy he uses to talk about how women aren’t
inviting or deserving of sexual violence or abuse. "These women didn’t
invite what happened just because of what they were wearing," Hurt
said. "Intersections of race and class are really important for men
The work that Hurt and groups
Can Stop Rape do
is important because, as Hurt said, "We don’t see how the patriarchy
hurts us…Young men and boys are thirsty to talk about masculinity."
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In an era where Vice-President
Joe Biden was a leader on passing the Violence Against Women Act and
has (so far unsuccessfully) pushed for the International Violence Against Women Act,
the work of groups on sexual assault and abuse are getting more attention.
"Actually the federal government
is leading the way in many ways. We don’t say that very often, but we’re seeing more initiatives
and demonstration projects coming out of the federal system," said
Men Can Stop Rape president and CEO Stephen Glaude. From the Department
of Health and Human Services beginning to rethink how to include men
in their women’s health programs to the Department of Justice offering
their first-ever education grant for men, the federal government is
starting to rethink how they approach sexual assault and relationship
Men Can Stop Rape has recently
partnered with the Department of Defense on an ad and public information
campaign that encourages
all members of the military to work together to prevent sexual assault
with the tag, "Preventing sexual assault is part of our duty." One
of the challenges to tackling sexual assault is to change the whole
culture of gender relations in the military. That’s a tall order.
Glaude said he was surprised
by the dedication from some people within DoD. "When we started working
with the Department of Defense, we weren’t certain there was sincerity
awaiting us," Glaude said. "What I’m really enthusiastic
about is that we found a wonderful infrastructure of personnel, in not
only the Department of Defense, but in each of the branches that deeply
cares about this issue." The second day of the conference included
briefings with HHS, the DoJ, and the Centers for Disease Control and
Another topic that received
a lot of attention was marital rape. Jaclyn Campbell, a professor at
the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, noted that marital rape
laws weren’t passed in the United States until the 1970s and today,
less than one percent of the reported marital rapes result in any jail
time for the perpetrator. In some states, like Campbell’s home state
of Maryland, marital rapes can only be prosecuted if the couple has
been formally separated or they have already filed for divorce at the
time of the rape.
Campbell related a story of
one woman she encountered early in her career, who said that 11 years
earlier in her marriage her husband threatened her with a shotgun when
she refused to have sex. The woman told Campbell, "I don’t know
if you’d call that forced sex or not." Campbell’s astonishment
signified how ill-equipped we are to deal with intimate relationship
Much of our rape prevention
focuses on stranger rape, but not on the way men and women interact
in relationships. When the assault happens during an ongoing relationship,
or if it were sex that was initially consensual but turns violent or
painful during the act, such as forced anal sex. "You’d have trouble
in court with that one," Campbell said.
Some new programs will train young boys, from fifth to eighth
grade, but most are voluntary after school programs and others aren’t
implemented until high school. "And I think that’s too late,"
How we talk about sexual assault
and sexual abuse is connected to how we perceive masculinity in
our culture. That is a much harder thing to change, and it’s why community
programs and the work of those like Byron Hurt is so important. Still, the fight against sexual assault has a long way to go. While official numbers
show the reported number of sexual assaults going
down, a large number
of sexual assaults still go unreported. Changes to culture and masculinity
won’t just happen overnight. It will take committed work and partnerships
to bring an end to end violence against women and those in abusive same-sex
relationships. "I think we’ve reached a point where the work can only go
forward if men and women work together," Glaude said.