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Sunday January 29th

UNC HAVEN and One Act leader Bob Pleasants highlights role men play in preventing sexual assault

Bob Pleasants is the Interpersonal Violence Prevention Director. This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Buy Photos Bob Pleasants is the Interpersonal Violence Prevention Director. This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Throughout October, Relationship Violence Awareness month, many of the faces of survivors might not be seen.

But there are people publicly fighting to educate the community about the effects of this violence. Though most perpetrators are male, there are men who work to create positive change.

Bob Pleasants, UNC’s interpersonal violence prevention coordinator, leads the charge to use knowledge and feminism to change what he says is a “rape culture.”

“I took a women’s studies class in 1999 and found the topics really spoke to me personally,” the 35-year-old said. “I realized that men could play a powerful role in ending violence against women and violence against all people.”

One in four women and one in seven men will be a victim of severe violence by an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If a majority of your friends have come to you and said this happened to me, you can’t look at the world in the same way again,” said Hannah Jaegers, a member of Project Dinah, a student group that combats sexual violence.

There’s a thriving network at UNC that hears these stories and responds.

Pleasants administers the HAVEN sexual-violence ally program and the One Act sexual-violence prevention program and teaches women’s studies and education courses.

Having a man in charge of these programs at UNC might be considered counterintuitive to some.

But Brandi King, co-chairwoman of Project Dinah, said Pleasants’ gender is an asset.

“I think it’s important because what we’re dealing with has been considered a women’s issue,” she said. “Having strong male allies lets our community know that this is a man’s issue too.”

And Pleasants said getting men involved is key to making sexual violence prevention programs successful.

“One thing we try to make clear from the very beginning: although most perpetrators are men, that does not mean that most men are perpetrators by any means,” he said.

Nearly 1,000 students elect to go through sexual-violence prevention training yearly, a number that is expanding.

Including men has been central to Pleasants’ philosophy since he was a student.

He attended UNC from 1999 to 2000 for a master’s degree, and from 2003 to 2007, earning a doctorate in education while working as the teen and children’s services coordinator for the Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County.

His 171-page dissertation, “Men learning feminism: enacting and reproducing privilege through discourses of resistance,” is about reducing sexual violence by teaching men aspects of feminism.

Pleasants began his journey to work full-time at UNC while teaching a leadership and violence prevention class as a graduate student.

Several undergraduate students approached him about making resources for victims more accessible.

“We were amazed at the lack of accessible information about where to turn for help for sexual or relationship violence,” said Allison Harrison, an original member of the student group. “There was no consistent education, awareness or messaging.”

Harrison said the group collected signatures from more than 1,000 individuals and gained endorsements from 18 campus offices and 25 student groups to create a peer education program and advocacy services.

“My job was actually created by students,” Pleasants said.

He began working on a program to complement the HAVEN advocacy program when he was hired.

“The frustrating thing about (HAVEN) is that it’s only a response,” he said.

After winning a $250,000 rape-prevention grant from the CDC, he developed One Act.

Pleasants’ influence with sexual-violence prevention is still growing — with the help of a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice he received in October, he’ll work to expand both programs.

“I’ve definitely seen men experience these things as transformative and incredibly relevant to their own lives,” he said. “I do want to work toward cultural change, given our current culture values men more than women.”

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