As allies, males have a role in ending violence against women

Have your key in hand. Lock your door. Watch your drink. Stay with your friends. These are actions many women take every time they go out to protect themselves against sexual assault.

The possibility of sexual violence doesn’t even occur to most men.

It didn’t occur to me until I saw how women I care about have been and continue to be affected by sexual assault, sexual abuse and relationship violence.

I identify as a male ally working to end men’s violence against women. I speak out because I believe injustice and inequality are unacceptable in our society.

Every male student at UNC knows women who are survivors of men’s violence. They are our classmates, friends, partners, mothers and sisters. What affects them affects us.

But too often we think of men’s violence against women as a “women’s issue.” According to Dr. Jackson Katz, an expert in violence prevention, by leaving it at that we ignore the fact that the perpetuation of violence against women is driven almost exclusively by men.

By remaining silent on the issue, we inevitably take the side of perpetrators of violence, who only ask that we do nothing.

But by acknowledging men’s role in violence against women, we are able as empowered bystanders to confront those who hurt women and to change the culture that produces them.

Many men are uncomfortable talking about these issues because they force us to confront deeply held ideas about masculinity.

And because the reality of male violence against women asks tough questions of us and other men, it is easy to want to deny it.

But it helps to look at the facts. According to conservative estimates from the U.S. Department of Justice, 18 percent of women in the United States have been raped.

While women make up 91 percent of rape victims, men make up nearly 99 percent of rapists in single-victim incidents.

Men’s violence against women isn’t rare or isolated; it is commonplace in the United States and at UNC. A study supported by the Department of Justice found that between 20 and 25 percent of women are sexually assaulted or victims of attempted assault while in college.

And perpetrators of sexual assault are rarely strangers. In fact, 90 percent of college women who are survivors of rape or attempted rape knew their rapist. And of those incidents, 80 to 90 percent involved alcohol.

Men’s violence against women isn’t random. It happens here to women and men we know and care about because we live in a culture where men’s violence is often permitted and encouraged.

Taking men’s violence seriously can be difficult. Facing the facts means realizing that most perpetrators aren’t random, psychopathic individuals, but “one of the guys.” They can be friends, brothers and teammates.

Violence is a part of male culture in the United States, on campus and in our personal lives. Ending it requires men taking an active role in changing male culture.

This means moving from a masculinity that celebrates violence and the objectification of women to one that condemns it. It means celebrating courage, responsibility, compassion and respect for women instead.

I encourage all men at UNC to take a role in ending violence against women by talking about it, challenging assumptions and changing behavior.

As part of Relationship Violence Awareness Month, the Carolina Men Care Campaign is hosting several events for men about violence against women. If you feel affected by violence against women — and especially if you don’t — go.

When you are capable of doing so, confront friends who coerce or abuse their partners or women in general about their behavior.

Listen to the women you know. Try to understand their experiences instead of discounting them.

Reflect on yourself. Find and change the sexist assumptions you may be carrying.

Gently offer support if you believe someone has been physically or sexually assaulted or abused. If someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, believe them.

Speak out against sexism in all forms.

Don’t control, but instead just listen. It can be tempting to be a “rescuer,” but well-meaning guys who think they can “save” someone can, in doing so, objectify women.

By taking these steps, men can help make campus and society safer for women and we can make ourselves live better, fuller lives.

Thanks for reading.

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