A More Effective Way of Teaching Men to End Violence

When I tell people I work to prevent rape and sexual abuse, one of the first responses is often to ask if I teach men not to rape. Sometimes, community members are surprised when I say that’s not quite what I do. “Men shouldn’t rape” is an absolutely true statement, but it’s not the only conversation that should be had in our community. Why? The reality is, 90 percent of men and 93 percent of women have never sexually assaulted anyone, and probably never will. Not raping others is something that comes naturally to the vast majority of our population.

The other problem with the “men shouldn’t rape” conversation is that it’s not a great starting point for effective violence prevention. Violence prevention is effective when it starts at a young age. If I spent my time telling groups of 5-year-old boys not to rape women, they most likely would be scared and confused, but no more or less likely to commit violence.

We’ve done a good job of creating policies that support violence education: our laws and regulations require every K-12 school provides sexual violence prevention, health education must include the subject of domestic violence, every educational institution (kindergarten to doctoral level) has to respond to and prevent sexual harassment including sexual assault, and workplaces must prevent sexual harassment including sexual abuse.

So what do I and STSM’s other educators teach men? Research shows that the best and most applicable education for the vast majority of our society is about POSITIVE skills and abilities. Our education programs focus on breaking down stereotypes, setting and respecting boundaries, and communicating about difficult topics. Effective education is about having healthy and positive relationships with friends, sexual partners, and relationship partners. It’s about knowing how to intervene as an effective bystander if you see someone you know assaulting another person, or if you see red flags for an imminent assault. It’s about knowing that “it’s on us” or “no more” aren’t just national media campaigns, they can be part of your life as a person who has chosen to liven an inconvenient way of life.

Men should also know that their role in violence prevention doesn’t end with their own relationships. Men who are or plan to become parents play a critical role in preventing sexual abuse of children, but fathers frequently share that they are unsure of where to begin, what they should say, or which questions to ask their child. Moms feel that way too, but they have an advantage—historically information about children’s development, communicating with kids about health and safety, and protecting children from sexual abuse has been shared mother-to-daughter or parent-to-parent, on “mom blogs,” at kitchen tables and after-school pick up lines. What’s worse, fathers who do seek out this information are often stigmatized or seen as creepy for wanting to have the conversation in the first place. Family roles have changed, and it’s time for ALL parents to have access to information on preventing abuse. That’s why one of my favorite education programs is our parent sessions on child sexual abuse prevention—in conjunction with the program we offer to their children or as a stand-alone session.

Lastly, men throughout our community work in settings where they receive disclosures of abuse from students, clients, or patients. Sometimes the assumption is that those who have been sexually assaulted or abused will want to talk to female providers and supporters only. That’s not the case! The most important thing for a survivor who is considering disclosing to a provider or teacher is that they will be heard and supported. Male teachers, coaches, administrators, doctors and other professionals hear and support clients and students every day—providing pep talks, helping to overcome challenges, coaching to success, and helping people live happier and healthier lives.

That means they already have the skills they need to support survivors. If they don’t think they have the information and resources to say “the right thing”—or just want to practice becoming more comfortable before using these skills—STSM can help. We provide training to professionals on responding to disclosures, meeting legal obligations like mandatory reporting and Title IX, and how youth serving professionals can prevent sexual violence. In fact, we have a training scheduled December 8 for faith leaders on these very topics (female faith leaders are welcome too).

When I think about the role of men in ending sexual violence, I see a future where the question isn’t about gender, it’s about motivation. Most men AND women want to have healthy relationships, keep their kids safe, and know how to support survivors. If you’re one of them, give me a call and let’s talk about bringing education to your school, workplace, or congregation soon! 

Sarah Nevarez

Sarah Nevarez served as a volunteer advocate for STSM for more than six years before becoming Volunteer Services Coordinator in June 2012. In August 2015, Sarah was promoted to Adult Education Coordinator. As Adult Education Coordinator, Sarah educates and provides outreach to adult audiences in Richland, Lexington, Newberry, and Sumter counties. Sarah believes in what STSM does as an agency and sees her job as sharing the amazing work of STSM staff with others to help them get involved, as well as educating the community to be hands and voices in the community continuing to share with others.