five reasons why domestic and sexual violence is men’s business
The last ten years have seen a 261% increase in domestic and sexual violence in Australia. In 2009, the total cost to the Australian economy was $13.6 billion. More often than not, domestic and sexual violence sits under the ‘women’s issues’ umbrella, but men have a huge role to play in turning these statistics around.
1. Men represent the vast majority of perpetrators in sexual and domestic violence. Men perpetrate approximately 95 – 99% of reported rape cases. This is an indisputable fact, but still society is uncomfortable naming men as perpetrators, as if some kind of unjust blame is being dished out to all men just by acknowledging this fact (like an accusation toward white supremacy groups for their hate crimes dishes out unjust blame toward white people in general!). We never say ‘men’s violence’, or ‘men who rape women’. The focus is directed toward women, resulting in victim blaming and shaming: ‘Don’t get raped, girls. Don’t leave your wine glasses unattended, don’t wear slutty clothes, don’t go out alone after dark.’ Do we warn racial minorities not to act or dress a certain way for fear of being attacked? No, we focus on the perpetrators.
2. Men are victims of sexual violence. Even though 95 – 99% of rape and sexual assault perpetrators are male, approximately 10% of reported victims (and plenty more go unreported) are also male. In Victoria between 2000 and 2005, over 80% of these men were under 17. In prison, approximately one in four Australian men between 18 and 25 report being sexually assaulted. Placing instances of sexual violence under the term ‘women’s issues’ ignores the plight of these men, and as a result we’re left tongue-tied on how to help them. Even more problematically, the same culture that calls sexual and domestic violence a ‘women’s issue’ teaches men that they cannot be victims or ask for help. More often than not, men feel too ashamed to report their experience and instead suffer in silence and confusion.
3. Men are victims of domestic violence. In 2010 – 2011, 35% of reported domestic violence occurred either to or in the presence of children. Young boys growing up in families with someone abusing their mother, sisters or themselves inevitably experience trauma. These boys grow into men.
4. Male peer groups affect violent male attitudes. Our culture teaches boys to remain silent when witnessing violence, especially towards women and homosexual men. I’m not just talking about the physical: violence is defined as an ‘unjust or unwarranted exertion of power’ – anything so much as a sexist or homophobic comment is a form of violence. Society pressures men to go along with these types of comments and actions. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched men – good men – remain silent when their peers objectify and degrade women, whether in the form of a sexist comment, verbal abuse, or repeated cheating. Even physical or sexual violence is largely dismissed as ‘not my business’ when it comes to other people’s relationships. If more men spoke up, this behaviour would become less acceptable in peer groups and perpetrators would be pressured to stop. Prevention is a question of what is expected of men in general, not just violent men.
5. If men care about the women in their lives, it makes sense that they would take part in preventing sexual and domestic violence. 1 in 5 women will experience some form of domestic or sexual violence in their lives. This means a vast number of sisters, mothers, lovers, and female friends. If a man wants to prevent harm coming their way, it only follows that he would want to be involved in preventing harm to women in general.
By Elisabeth Morgan
You can access a page of materials from Jackson Katz and the Victorian Women’s Trust on men’s role in sexual and domestic violence prevention here: http://www.vwt.org.au/initiatives-26-128.html
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