Translator: reka r Reviewer: Natalie Thibault
I work at the University of New Hampshire
where, among my other responsibilities,
I'm part of a research group called 'Prevention Innovations'.
Our primary mission is to create and evaluate tools
that help with the prevention
of sexual violence, relationship violence, and stalking.
Currently, there are 20 researchers and practitioners,
that are part of 'Prevention Innovations',
and of the 20 I'm the only one
who identities as 'male'.
2 or 3 times a year,
I attend national conferences related to this topic,
and the gender split at these conferences
is similarly skewed.
There have been some remarkably important contributions
in the field in the recent years,
that have come from men.
But the majority of researchers, practitioners and policy experts,
working to address this issue, are women.
As a man working in this field, I take it as a given
that I will be in the minority.
But when we compare this to other issues of social concern,
we can see how unique this is.
There are very few other problems like this
that are being tackled almost entirely
by people of one gender.
Just think of a few examples:
Homelessness, drug addiction,
climate change, poverty,
The list could go on and we'd have a difficult time finding one
that is being addressed
by entirely men, or entirely women.
So how did it come to be
that women are and have been doing
the overwhelming majority of the work in this field?
Why do women seem so much more passionate
about working to end relationship violence and sexual violence?
And lastly, how do we get more men involved in this important fight?
I will do my best towards the end of my talk
to try to answer this question.
But first, I'll try to answer a question
that I've been asked countless times:
How do you get involved in a field that focuses on the prevention
of violence against women?
When I began my graduate training in clinical psychology
I knew I wanted to be a psychotherapist,
but I was uncertain of a specific focus
and not sure with which types of clients I wanted to work.
My graduate program prided itself in providing a generalist education,
where students were encouraged to try a variety of different things.
So I took this sage advice of being open to a whole variety
of clinical experiences.
So in my 4 years as a graduate student,
and in my first 2 years as a young professional,
I spent time doing clinical work
in two College counselling centres, two community mental health centres,
a state hospital,
and the mental health unit of a maximum security prison.
It was about halfway through this process
that I started to notice a common theme among many of my clients;
especially the women with whom I worked.
I was consistently surprised and saddened by the number of my clients
who had a history of sexual trauma.
I want to make it clear, this was not the case for all of my clients,
or maybe even the majority.
And I had a number of male clients with similar life experiences.
But it definitely was a consistent theme.
Regardless of where I worked, or what my clients looked like,
so many of them were living with instances
or multiple instances of prior victimization.
Sometimes this came in a form of a current abusive relationship
that they were trying to flee.
Sometimes it came in memories of a childhood mourned
with the years of sexual abuse.
At some of the places I worked, it was almost taken as a given
that a client would have such a history.
A client without a history of abuse
was the exception that proved the rule.
Even as somebody who was educated and aware
of the sided prevalents rates,
I was still surprised how much an abuse history
was a unifying theme among my therapy clients.
Therapists are trained to listen to their clients.
And if they listen carefully and without judgement,
they eventually develop a deep sense of empathy.
This comes more easily and more quickly for some clients
than it does for others.
But I personally never struggled to find empathy for my clients
who were survivors of sexual violence or relationship violence.
And as it often happens,
as my empathy for individual clients began to grow,
I developed a deeper compassion for other people
who may be going through something similar.
And I began to ask
who else may be going through this?
Do I know people in my own life who may be silently struggling
with their own story of survival?
It was around this time that I made more conscious decision
to be a vocal advocate and ally
to the cause of the prevention of the violence against women.
I started to pay more attention to how I talked about these issues
when they came up.
I became more consciencious
of my own personal history of male privilege,
and I became more aware of how I was coming across to other people.
It was important for me
that the people in my life knew
that this was something that I cared about and that I took seriously.
Shortly after I became more vigilant about this,
something interesting began to happen.
Various women that I know began to share with me
their own personal experiences of abuse and assault.
Someone shared with me a story of sexual harassment
they endured at work;
another woman disclosed
that she'd been sexually assaulted while in college,
and she was still struggling with symptoms of PTSD;
and one person who I'd known for years
began to regularly open up to me about sexual abuse
that had occurred during their childhood.
None of these disclosures were the result of prying or prompting.
I honestlty believe that survivors are just looking for a way
to share their story,
and I presented myself
as somebody who is willing to listen.
In a way, my professional experience
allowed me to care about this more
in my personal life.
And in turn, my personal life, my personal experiences
deepened my desire to make this a part of my professional identity.
So how do we get more men to care about this important cause?
Well, like any other social problem or public health crisis,
we do it by making it personal.
We do it by making it relatable.
We do it by bringing it close to home.
In the case of relationship violence and sexual violence,
this is an easy thing to do,
even if it is a difficult thing to consider.
Because relationship violence and sexual violence
are already personal.
They're already relatable.
They're already hitting close to home.
The Center for Disease Control has found that in the United States
1 in 4 women will be abused
by a relationship partner,
and 1 in 6 women will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape.
I know this is a difficult thing to think about,
but consider some of the important women in your life,
some of the women that you care about.
Your partner, your friends,
your sisters, your daughters,
your mother, your grandmothers.
How many women are on this list?
Is it more than 4?
Is it more than 6?
The reality is everybody in this room
will have somebody in their life
that either has or will be directly impacted by this problem.
So earlier I posed the question: "How do we engage more man
in the prevention of violence against women?"
My answer to that question is: Let's start small.
Let's start with day to day things.
Let's start by making it clear to the women in your life
that this is something that you do care about.
I think this is an important message regardless of gender.
But in my experience,
it's something that has been more of a challenge for men.
So as I posed these questions I'm posing them for everyone.
But I want the men that are listening to pay especially close attention.
Do you feel confident that the women that you care about
see you as an ally,
in the cause to prevent violence against women?
When it comes up, how do you talk about rape?
When it comes up, how do you talk about domestic violence?
When there's a high-profile case in the news,
or in our popular culture,
do you express your opinions about this case?
And if so, how do you do it?
Do you know what 'victim blaming' is?
Do you know what 'rape myths' are?
Do you make it an effort to avoid endorsing these ideas?
And in the most general of terms,
what type of language do you use when you talk about women?
What type of language do you use when you talk about gender?
And specifically for the men,
do you automatically become defensive
when you hear discussions related to the violence against women?
Do you automatically become defensive
when you hear discussions around male privilege?
If so, have you ever thought how this comes across
to the women that you care about?
And lastly, do people look at you and say,
"This is somebody I can share my story with,
without feeling judged or blamed?
This is somebody with whom I can share my story
and feel confident that they will listen and provide support."
Earlier, when I talked about engaging men in this cause,
I was not talking about growing the ranks of male researchers,
and policy experts and clinicians.
I believe that engaging men in this fight can begin
by encouraging them to be better allies and support systems
in the lives of women that they are close to.
And what we know is
doing this can actually help to prevent violence.
When we look at data from the Department of Justice
we see that sexual assault,
childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence,
are among the most under-reported crimes in the United States.
In fact, for all of these crimes, less than half of instances
are reported to the Police.
Similarly, less than half of these victims seek professional help
from a trained victim advocate or mental health professional.
Instead, if a victim tells anyone
about their abuse or assault
it is usually someone they are close to:
a sibling, a friend, a roommate.
So, despite the incredible work that's being done
in crisis centers and shelters and psychologist offices,
regular people, non professionals,
people listening to this right now,
are the first line of defence
in helping people to heal in the aftermath of trauma.
There's a groundbreaking research on this
that comes from Dr Rebecca Campbell.
She found that one of the strongest predictors
of somebody being able to heal after they have been sexually assaulted
is the care that they receive from the first person that they tell.
If the victim is cared for and supported,
they are less likely to show symptoms of PTSD,
and they are more likely to seek professional help
or legal counsel.
As a culture, we need to broaden this personal level of support.
We need to make it clear to all survivors
that there are people in their life that care.
It should be empowering for us to know
that simply by being supportive
we can help to reverse the negative impact of trauma.
But providing this type of support,
not only helps people to heal from previous acts of violence,
it can actually prevent further victimization.
Sadly, one of the best predictors of somebody being sexually assaulted
is having a prior history of victimization.
Each act of interpersonal violence
increases the likelihood of it reoccurring.
One factor, that powerfully mitigates this cycle,
is the receiving of proper care and support.
If the survivor is cared for
they are less likely to be re-victimized.
So, if we are able to be present for survivors
we are literally keeping them safer going forward.
And one final benefit to this approach
is we can actually make our community safer.
We would all like to live in a community
where every instance of interpersonal violence
is reported to the Police.
But the question should not be: "Why don't more survivors report?".
The question should be: "What can we do to create an environment
where they are more comfortable doing so?"
Survivors are more likely to report their crime to the Police
if they feel believed and supported
by those whom they are close to.
Experts agree that the best strategy for increasing reporting rates
is not telling the victim that they must go to the Police.
It is providing them with love and support
so they have the strength to do so of their own accord.
So to summarize, if we are able to be present in people's lives,
and provide emotional support,
we can decrease the risk that they develop PTSD,
we can lower the risk for future victimization,
and we can increase the likelihood
that they report their assault to the Police.
Fortunately, you do not have to be a trained psychologist
to effectively respond
to a disclosure of abuse or assault.
Anybody can be a good listener.
Anybody can patiently offer support.
In general, try to avoid telling a person what they have to do.
Try to avoid asking too many questions.
Even if it's not your intention,
it may appear that you're doubting their story.
And try to avoid feeling like it's your job
to fix the problem, or trying to seek vengeance.
Instead, what is suggested
is offering some simple words of compassion and encouragement.
Some very basic things that I have found to be powerful,
are saying things like:
"I'm so sorry that this happened to you."
"I appreciate that you shared this with me."
"What can I do to help you?"
One final way that we can all be better allies is
simply being aware of local resources
that you can share with somebody if need be.
If you'd like to learn more
about relationship violence or sexual violence,
or learn more about how to support others
there are lot of great resources.
If you listen to this here in New Hampshire,
I recommend visiting the website
for The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
If you are listening to this outside of New Hampshire
I recommend visiting the website
for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Every survivor of interpersonal violence
deserves to have at least one person in their life
who is willing to listen and to provide support.
Too often is assumed
that this person will be a mother, or a sister, or a daughter.
In my experience, in general,
women have done an incredible job of filling this role.
But think of how much we are limiting ourselves as a culture
by continuing this assumption.
So, this is a call to action for men to join the ranks.
To strengthen our team of allies.
For all of the men that are listening,
at some point in your life,
a woman you care about
will be directly impacted by this problem.
Are you confident that they will turn to you?
Are you confident that they will see you as an ally?