It would be hard not to be aware of the Richmond High School gang rape case. It seems like conversations and coverage of it are everywhere I turn of late. Much of the coverage of this and most high profile rape/sexual abuse cases leave me frustrated. I have written before about our culture’s tendency to blame the victim and minimize trauma. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the one I plan to share with you (in its entirety, because I want to have a record of it here).It focuses on what men can do to change the cultural climate that allows for rape and violence towards women.
mobilizes male youth to prevent men’s violence against women. We build young men’s capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.
The following is their letter published in PTA Magazine.
Everyone would agree that the gang rape outside Richmond High School was horrific. While this criminal act is particularly troubling because of the large number of perpetrators and witnesses, the incident should not be viewed in isolation. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), a sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the United States. In Men Can Stop Rape’s (MCSR) view, rape happens because we as a country have not committed to creating cultures of prevention focused on sexual and dating violence in our schools and communities.
If we pay attention to who commits rape, we see that the majority of assaults are perpetrated by men attacking women and other men. But the majority of men do not commit sexual violence and therefore are potential allies with women. By providing a blueprint for transforming bystanders into active agents of social change, MCSR mobilizes young men across the country to create cultures of rape prevention in their schools and communities.
What gets in the way of prioritizing the creation of these cultures nationwide? Victim-blaming, for one. We worry that people will hold the the young woman in Richmond accountable for her assault, especially since there were reports in the media that she had been drinking alcohol. No rape survivors are ever at fault for their assault, whatever the circumstances. To place responsibility on her is a way of diverting responsibility from the young men who committed the rape.
Outsiders typecasting sexual assault as occurring in communities with troubled youth serves as another way of not addressing rape as a social issue. In an October 28 Contra Costa Times article, one student is deeply disturbed that all the Richmond High students were described as animals in response to the assault. There were 400 students at the prom who did not commit rape. And there were female and male students who took steps to call the police. What enabled them to act in a humane manner? These students should be part of the story.
So, what can we do? First, we need an understanding of rape prevention that is broader in scope, that involves females and males, and that is based on respecting our cultures and ourselves. Historically, preventing sexual assault has been thought of in terms of females engaging in risk reduction, such as walking in pairs or dressing conservatively. For lasting change to occur, however, men and women can prevent sexual violence by challenging the attitudes and assumptions that dehumanize women. Atianna Gibbs, a recent Richmond High graduate, says in the October 28 Contra Costa Times article, “That could easily have been their sister, their mom. …Nobody deserves that.” Her comment suggests that it is easier to hurt someone who is of no importance to us than someone who is. This act of dehumanization is an attitude connected to rape and other forms of violence. Racist violence, gay bashing, and rape clearly all share this dynamic.
Fathers can serve as role models of healthy masculinity for their sons and daughters by treating everyone with respect and empathy. Mothers and fathers can discuss with their children what consent and healthy relationships look like. They can become involved with groups like PTA to work to ensure that there are multiple ways schools engage in creating a culture of rape prevention, such as classroom curricula, after-school groups, teacher trainings, and public education campaigns. Parents should support their sons’ involvement with youth programs that encourage healthy masculinity and relationships, like Men Can Stop Rape’s middle school and high school Men of Strength Clubs.
Through our clubs, young men choose to define their own masculinity by evaluating whether messages about manhood, like “don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” play a role in creating unhealthy and unsafe relationships. They learn skills to speak out effectively when they see attitudes and behaviors that degrade women and girls. Club members translate their curriculum lessons into public education and peer education, uniting a wide cross-section of the community consisting of students, parents, educators, administrators, and business leaders. The young men in the club pledge to be men whose strength is used for respect, not for hurting.
If we want healthy cultures, empathy must occupy the center of a culture’s core, nonviolence must be a shared value, and everyone must matter. Men and women can prevent rape by sharing responsibility and by recognizing that if our cultures are going to be healthy, everyone must play a part in caring to make them so.
Patrick McGann, PhD, is vice president of communications for Men Can Stop Rape, Washington, DC.
Neil Irvin is vice president of programs for Men Can Stop Rape and a member of the Forrest Knolls PTA of Silver Spring, Maryland.