As a follow up to my piece, "Stop Telling Women How to Not Get Raped", the organization Men Can Stop Rape invited me attend the launch of their new bystander campaign, “Where Do You Stand?” The initiative targets college campuses and provides training to young men in order to equip them with the skills they need to intervene before a sexual assault occurs. It is a true example of the types of programs that target men in rape prevention efforts that I discussed (and called for) in my article.
The event at Washington DC's Georgetown University far exceeded any expectations I may have had. The room was packed full of young men in their teens and twenties who are members of campus Men of Strength Clubs, from Georgetown, George Washington University, American University, and even local high schools. There was a diverse array of young men of all colors. The most stunning part of the launch though wasn’t who attended, but what transpired during the training.
Nate Bronstein, a Georgetown University student who became interested in prevention when a friend of his was sexually assaulted, opened the day's activities:
“Gentleman, this is our time. Today, right here, right now. It is our time to take a stand and stop violence across the country. We are here to say that enough is enough and sexual assault and violence against women is not just a women’s issue. We all have our reasons for being here, our unique and varying stories. But somewhere along the line we found one another and turned our causes into movement. And as our causes into movement. And as our movement grew we broke down the silos among our communities and our universities. And what happens here will not end at this event in DC. We have this chance to make a difference to ensure that 100% of our society mobilizes for this cause. We have this chance to find ways to make our campus safe, to find ways to create a culture of action and not just talk. Every campus needs to make this a priority and engage as many men as we can. As we stand so must others. And to this mission we will be unrelenting, unyielding to a culture of violence. We are not just men of families, or friends, or peace, we are men of strength.”
After these inspiring words, the young men took part in a training activity, in which they practiced ways to intervene and help not only women who were in potentially dangerous situations but also their own friends who risked illegal actions (such as attempting to take a drunk girl home). The intervention tactics included asking questions of both the woman and the man, but also creating a distraction so you are able to separate the two and get the woman to safety. The room was engaged, open to challenging themselves and comitted to being the change they want to see on their campuses, in their communities and beyond.
Dialogues and trainings like those offered by Men Can Stop Rape are necessary in an effort to reduce and hopefully eliminate rape and sexual abuse, especially when considering that 1 in 5 women experiencing an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Trainings like this one work to shift the conversation and the dynamic around how men and women interact and speak to and about one another. I witnessed an interesting-and powerful-exchange between two young men at the event who debated among themselves about just what they would do during one of the hypothetical scenarios. One young man said to his friend, “WeIl, I guess if my friend doesn’t want to listen to me when I tell her not to leave with that guy, she’ll get raped then" and laughed. His friend quickly turned to him and checked him sternly, “That’s not funny.” In this space, the first young man was truly made to understand the err of his 'joke' and didn’t make light of the topic again.
Writing about sexual assault and abuse can at times be depressing. Statistics are so high and the victim blaming machine kicks in so swiftly at times that you might suspect that there is very little to hope for in terms of combating the epidemic of sexual violence. But the Men Can Stop Rape event restored my faith in humanity.
Activities and organizations like this create a space where young men hold each other accountable for their behavior. Thus, not all of the responsibility for rape prevention is on the shoulders of the victim. It is shared by all of us. Most importantly these young men learned to take responsibility for not only how they speak to and about women and for how they treat them. In the process they learned to hold their male counterparts accountable as well. It takes a village not only to raise a child, but to protect and develop people of all ages. Men Can Stop Rape recognizes that and we should commend them for their efforts.