Last week I hosted a community roundtable to start a discussion on preventing violence against women. While I’ve worked in women’s issues for most of my career, and violence against women has been a reality of my professional and personal life, all my work has felt insufficient in addressing the real problem. Preparing women to avoid rape or to safely leave a violent relationship… counseling, advocating, housing and coaching victims of rape, domestic violence and other aggressions… These interventions are a mere Band-Aid on this societal blight. It’s a day late and a dollar short (though all are still crucial services).
Last month I attended Cabrini University’s Domestic Violence Symposium, hosted by professor Colleen Lelli, Ed.D. At the end of the event, panelist John Jordan made a direct appeal to the men in attendance (by my estimate, less than 10% of the audience):
“This is not a women’s issue; it is a men’s issue. And I challenge you to be the change. Stand up against this. Come back next year, and bring a male friend. The change has to start with you.”
As I left the symposium, enthusiastically nodding my head, I felt compelled to find out more about why this violence exists, and what (if anything) is being done to prevent it. I planned the roundtable discussion and invited friends, colleagues, coaches, scout leaders, counselors, community members, reporters, and anyone I thought might have an interest in contributing to the conversation. And then I dove into the research on violence prevention initiatives.
I found some things that simultaneously disheartened me and gave me hope.
Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have published violence prevention toolkits, which feature evidence-based programs that can help to prevent violence. Some programs are preventative in nature, some are rehabilitative in nature.
I also discovered that the United States Department of Justice has an Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), which I somehow never knew existed. They provide grant funding for programs that work to prevent violence against women.
Per their website,
“The Office on Violence Against Women currently administers 25 grant programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and subsequent legislation. These programs are designed to develop the nation’s capacity to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by strengthening services to victims and holding offenders accountable.”
Almost $13,000,000 has been awarded to programs in Pennsylvania alone. And one of the grant categories is specifically for programs that are engaging boys and men as allies against violence toward women.
So there is some funding for this work. There is research behind this work. There is a public acknowledgment of the importance of having boys and men involved in the driving force.
And yet, the programs seem to exist in silos, these standalone interventions that often don’t even intersect. There is no systematic and integrated approach to reducing this violence across the lifespan and across all demographics.
It is an overwhelming point to be at: we all see the crisis in the #metoo and the nightly news. But we feel like our hands are tied.
So I invited about 300 people to attend the roundtable discussion, many with direct appeals for their presence. I really tried for the men, especially those with roles in education, youth work, coaching, and other leadership positions (not to mention, all were fathers of boys). 5 people arrived. All women.
It’s a starting point.
Our discussion explored the myriad “why”s of violence against women. The causes and contributing factors that we had observed and that research has substantiated. Our list of causes was vast and wide, and included family history of violence, mental health issues, and cultural messages about gender, power and control. We also noted genetic/biological causes, substance abuse, lack of empathy, entitlement/privilege, and role modeling.
We talked about the breadth of services for girls’ and women’s liberation, and the culture shift that says girls can do anything they set their mind to… but there is no comparable shift for boys and men. While boys and men have access to resources and opportunities, they are often very limited in authentic self expression by societal norms and gender expectations.
Our roundtable went by quickly, and we started proposing a few places that prevention efforts might be targeted- schools (at all levels and particularly at preschool and college), bystander education, athletic programs, prison rehabilitation programs, and counseling. All have barriers to implementation. Most exist in some places, to some degree, just not in a sweeping way that will impact the majority.
But again, it’s a starting point.
We concluded the event with a plan to do it again- January, date to be determined- and a commitment to recruit a man or two.
For there to be a significant change in the incidence of violence against women, we are going to need all hands on deck. These changes will have to occur across the lifespan, across demographics, within the legal system, within the education system, within the media, within each family, and be geared toward the victims, the potential victims, the perpetrators and potential perpetrators, and the bystanders or interveners.
This will need awareness-raising and advocacy beyond a hashtag campaign.
Will you join us at the table? And will you invite a man?
Please follow this blog, and enlist any friends or colleagues who want to be part of the change.
The next roundtable date and time will be announced soon. Hope to have you at the table.