Letter from Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UN Women

 

Dear Men and Boys of the World,

You may be aware that there are almost 3.6 billion women and girls in the world. They are your sisters, mothers, wives, partners, daughters, nieces, aunts, cousins and friends. They have hopes and beautiful dreams for themselves, their families, communities and the world. If many of their dreams were to come true, the world would be a much better place for all of humanity.

Today I am writing this letter to you, because there are more than 60 million girls worldwide who are denied access to education. One in three women in the world is a victim of physical or sexual violence, the most humiliating and dehumanizing form of discrimination. Most of this violence happens at the hand of a partner or relative within her own home. Today two-thirds of the global illiterate population is women. If trends continue in this way, poor girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will not reach universal access to primary education until 2086.

So gentlemen, can we talk? I know many of you desire a better world for women and girls, a few of you are actively working on bringing about positive changes. We now have rising evidence that everyone, not just women, benefits from gender equality. Did you know that if women farmers had the same tools and fertilizer as men in agriculture, we would reduce hunger by up to 150 million people? Fortune 500 companies with the most women managers were found to deliver a 34 per cent higher return to shareholders. Discriminating against women comes at a cost to humanity and nations and denies women and girls their inalienable rights.

Yes, women are strong, bold, and brave, but men and boys also have a big role to play in ending gender inequality. It is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. Take action and influence change in society. We need your action and your voices to be louder.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, I issue a call to men and boys and invite you to take action wherever you are and support the SHE Imperative. Make sure SHE is secured and Safe from gender-based violence. That SHE has her Human rights respected, including her re-productive rights. That She has Economic Empowerment through Education, participation and leadership.

This sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet if we applied this imperative, the world would be a very different and far better place. SHE would enjoy equal opportunity, access to education and no longer be the face of poverty, and her gender will not decide her status and place in society.

When we fought against apartheid, which the United Nations declared a crime against humanity, the whole world took a stand. All self-respecting people—leaders of nations, religious institutions, commerce and sports—crossed the line to be on the right side of history.

The unity and purpose of the people of the world played a major role in ushering in freedom for South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela, in whose cabinet I had the honour to serve. In Mandela, a force for good was unleashed, not just for South Africa but for all of humanity. He inspired those of us who worked with him, and countless millions around the world, to stand up for a just cause. He also emphasized that “For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women.” Now is your time to stand up for a just cause.

Men and women of the 21st century can make their mark by crossing the line united, and joining the women as a powerful force for gender equality. I invite you to join me and the women and men of the world who have led many long struggles for the gender equality.

In Africa, we have a saying that I want to leave with you: ‘If you go alone you go fast, but if we go together, we go far’. Let us go far together.

Pro Football Already Plays a Key Role in DV Prevention

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
The Huffington Post
9/16/14

For evidence of the kind of impact the National Football League (NFL) could have if it turned its considerable cultural power and resources toward the prevention of domestic and sexual violence, one need look no further than the experience of our neighbors to the north.

A growing number of teams in the Canadian Football League are already out doing the work.

For the past four years the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (EVA BC), a well-respected women’s organization, has been partnering with the B.C. Lions of the CFL, and the U.S.-based Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program on a multi-tiered campaign entitled “Be More Than a Bystander.” (BMTAB)

The BMTAB campaign is perhaps the most high-profile example of the “bystander approach” to prevention that MVP introduced to the domestic violence and sexual assault fields in the early 1990s. This now widely popular prevention strategy moves beyond a fixation on perpetrators and victims, and focuses on the role that everyone in a given peer culture can play in preventing incidents of harassment, abuse or violence.

The public service component of the campaign consists of TV, radio, billboard and social media spots that feature BC Lions players speaking directly to the camera and delivering an unequivocal message: men need to step up when they see their friends or teammates treating women — or anyone — with disrespect.

EVA BC reports that the messaging campaign has garnered over 100 million views in the past four years, an astounding number in a province of 4.6 million people. EVA BC Executive Director Tracy Porteous describes Be More Than A Bystander as “the most successful public awareness, crime prevention program I have ever seen in Canada.”

In addition, a number of BC Lions players who went through a special MVP training have been delivering educational programs to high school students in large, all-school assemblies for the past three years. At the beginning of these events, the players introduce themselves and tell the students why they’ve decided to speak out about gender violence. Sometimes they share stories about abuse they or people close to them suffered or witnessed as children, adolescents or adults.

The players show a brief video that highlights some of the Lions’ on-field exploits. The presentation then turns to their core message, which is that everyone — men and women, boys and girls — needs to work together to prevent abusive behavior, and promote healthy and respectful relationships.

It’s a message that’s meant for all the students, but it’s especially aimed at the boys. It doesn’t hurt that it’s delivered by popular, successful men of racially diverse backgrounds who make it clear that it’s a measure of a young man’s strength, not his weakness, when he takes a stand in his peer culture and his school against sexism and the mistreatment of women.

To date, the Lions players have spoken to more than 45,000 students in these assemblies throughout BC, including First Nations communities in the northern part of the province.

The participation of the BC Lions in this initiative sends a powerful message to Lions fans – as well as to the team’s current and future players, coaches and front office staff — about the kind of leadership the team values on and off the field. Furthermore, by partnering with a prominent, multiracial women’s organization that represents 240 domestic and sexual violence response programs throughout the province, the Lions also send the strong message that men can work with women as allies in the long-term struggle to reduce and end the violence that causes so much pain and suffering in families and in society as a whole.

As Porteous says, “There is immense power in men and women working together; I am astounded by the reach and access the BC Lions have with the kids, the public and influential people. I am happy to say that the Lions have shared this access with us. On our own we could never reach the demographic the Lions are reaching with our joint message.”

Porteous says that as a result of the program, other corporations and sectors have stepped up. “Business, labor, municipal governments, other sports teams and universities, to name a few, have come forward, wanting to help, seeing that it is their role to become part of the solution.” Furthermore, she adds, it’s a win/win situation. “We get help delivering this important message, and these other entities get to be associated with both the celebrity of the BC Lions and an immensely popular program that brings them good will…and helps them to reach a much larger female demographic.”

If the NFL or its member teams truly want to have this type of impact, they can easily do so. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They can implement MVP training or those of other prevention education programs. They can adapt existing models of public engagement like Be More Than a Bystander, which has already spread to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

The time is right and the need is great. The NFL simply has to follow through on its stated commitment to “get it right” on this critical issue and use its unparalleled platform to do so.

It Takes a Campus to Stop Assaults

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
July 10, 2014

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s investigations into the state of sexual-assault policies on the nation’s college campuses have revealed a system badly in need of reform. Many of us who work in this area have been arguing as much for decades—and we welcome the increased political attention to this topic that has been catalyzed, in part, by the courageous activism of sexual-assault survivors.

While reform is needed at multiple levels, I would like to provide some recent historical perspective and context for what has been happening in prevention. When my colleagues and I created a violence-prevention program in the early 1990s at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, the central challenge in sexual-assault and relationship-abuse prevention was about how best to engage men. Previously, most “prevention” education took the form of teaching girls and women risk-reduction strategies. When men were the focus, it was almost always as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, which understandably caused defensive reactions among men who resented the cynical prejudgment.

We wanted, in the words of Esta Soler, the founder of Futures Without Violence, to invite men into the process, not indict them as potential rapists and batterers. We experimented with an exciting new strategy that had recently been developed by middle-school anti-bullying researchers. Known as the “bystander” approach, the central idea behind this paradigm-shifting strategy was that everyone in a given peer culture—boys and girls, men and women—had a role in supporting victims, confronting abusers, and thus creating a climate in which abusive behavior of any type would not be tolerated.

This approach offered a way to respond to men who claimed that gender violence was not their problem because they themselves did not harass or abuse women. The counterargument was simple, and drawn from the basic social-justice idea that all members of dominant groups– men, whites, heterosexuals–have an important role in challenging systems of unfair and unearned power and privilege. If abusive behaviors by individual men are often rooted in social norms whose origins lie in deeper misogynist beliefs, then everyone is responsible for changing those norms to make sexist abuse socially unacceptable.

The bystander approach provided a strategy for encouraging men to interrupt their peers’ abusive behaviors and make it clear that treating women disrespectfully was a problem not only because it was against the rules and possibly illegal but because it would not be tolerated in the peer culture itself. In other words, if you behave in sexist and abusive ways toward women (or other men), you will lose status and standing among your teammates, classmates, fraternity brothers, and friends, who will not accept or condone that sort of behavior–and who will let you know it.

The focus on bystanders also provided a positive role for women. They were positioned not as victims or potential targets of abuse—or as perpetrators—but as empowered bystanders who could support victims and challenge and interrupt abusive behaviors. In the process they would not only help to prevent sexual assaults and other abuses but also provide powerful examples of women’s strength to younger girls (and boys).

The rationale for beginning our work in athletics did not have to do with specific problems in that subculture—although of course there are some. Rather, the idea was to utilize the popularity, high visibility, and leadership platform of college athletes to help shift social norms in male culture far beyond the locker room. The plan was to start in athletics and then move out into general populations of college students and others.

As the philosophy and methods of bystander work grew in popularity, variations on the central theme arose. For example, in recent years, “bystander intervention” programs that de-emphasize discussions of gender norms and instead focus on the development of personal skills have proliferated. To be sure, helping people develop skills for intervention is essential, but at its essence, bystander training is about more than skill building. People—especially men—need permission from each other to act, and reassurance that those who do intervene and interrupt abusive behavior will be respected, not rejected.

Men, as well as women, need the opportunity to talk and ask questions about the dynamics of their relationships with their peers, and the opportunity to explore the ethical implications of various courses of action: If my friend is constantly making degrading comments about women, should I say something? If another friend is circulating a sext message with nude photos of his former girlfriend, how should I respond? If I’m at a party and see a guy I know who’s trying to get a stumbling and obviously inebriated woman to leave with him, what should I do? Do I have a responsibility to her? To him? To myself? To whom can I turn for ideas or support? What have others done in similar circumstances?

Bystander education at its best does more than teach skills for intervention. Its short-term goal is to prevent assaults. But its long-term goal is to change the underlying belief systems and social norms that tolerate or encourage sexist and abusive behaviors. This is sometimes an uphill fight, especially in a media culture where the sexual objectification of women is pervasive, and men’s callous cruelty toward women is sexualized in pornography, music lyrics, and elsewhere.

But those who do bystander work on gender-violence issues with college students have reason to be optimistic. We know from more than two decades of experience that when given the opportunity to debate and discuss these matters, by and large the students—women and men—jump in and grow in the process.

Penn State: The Mother Of All Teachable Moments For The Bystander Approach (Part 1 of a 3-part series)

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
nsvrc.org
December 1, 2011

For those of us who have been advocating a bystander-focused approach to the prevention of sexual violence, the scandal rocking State College, Pennsylvania, might be the mother of all teachable moments. If what is being alleged is true, then all the necessary elements are present:

  • Incidents of sexual abuse witnessed by people in a position to intervene who did not;
  • Pressures on people (men) in various peer cultures to remain silent
  • The failure of institutional leaders to act, resulting in disastrous consequences; and
  • All of this taking place in one of the bastions of male power and privilege – the Penn State University football program, presided over for 46 years by one of the iconic patriarchs in American sports culture.

The “bystander approach” at its best has direct relevance to all of these elements. Understanding the dynamics of bystander behavior — in this case especially in male sports culture — helps to explain what allegedly happened at Penn State. But perhaps even more importantly, the bystander approach offers concrete ideas about how to reform institutional practices in order to prevent future tragedies.

First, it is necessary to provide some brief background about the bystander approach, and clarify what I mean by the term. In media discussions about Penn State, some experts have made reference to the social psychological literature about the “bystander effect,” the societal phenomenon where people are reluctant to get involved in potentially dangerous situations on the streets and elsewhere. Unfortunately, this use of the term “bystander” is easily confused with the bystander approach to prevention.

The key difference, for the purpose of this discussion, is that “bystander” in the prevention field refers to anyone who plays some role in an act of harassment, abuse or violence — but is neither the perpetrator nor the victim. They are someone who is present and thus potentially in position to discourage, prevent, or interrupt an incident. They are a member of a peer culture who has relationships with others who might be perpetrators or victims, or perhaps vulnerable to becoming one. A bystander could also be a teacher, coach, military commander or campus administrator who is in a position to respond assertively to incidents once they’ve occurred — or to initiate prevention programs before something bad happens.

It is important to note that when sexual assault prevention educators talk about bystanders, they typically mean people who know each other, such as friends, classmates, colleagues, or members of sports teams. The dynamics of bystander behavior – and the impediments to action – are very different when people know the perpetrator or victim, versus when they are strangers.

THE MVP PROGRAM

My colleagues and I co-founded the first bystander program in the gender violence prevention field in 1993, at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. We called it the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program.

The initial idea behind MVP was to train college male student-athletes to use their status in male peer culture to speak out about issues that historically had been considered “women’s issues,” such as rape, relationship abuse and sexual harassment. If young men with status and a kind of “manhood credibility” on college and high school campuses would break their silence and make it clear to their peers and younger boys that they would not accept or tolerate sexist or heterosexist beliefs and behaviors, it would open up space for young men beyond the insular sports culture similarly to raise their voices. MVP was based on the elementary premise in social justice education that members of dominant groups — men, whites, heterosexuals – play an important role in efforts to challenge sexism, racism and homophobia.

In the second year, we developed a complementary model for working with female student-athletes, coaches, and administrators; since the mid-1990s MVP has been a mixed-gender program. It should be noted, however, that whether we’re working with student-athletes, the general student population, coaches, teachers, or other professionals, the MVP model includes space for both single and mixed-gender sessions. It is also worth noting that in recent years a number of other bystander initiatives have been developed, each with their own philosophies and emphases. What follows focuses on the MVP model: what we have been doing — and some of what we have learned — in our work in college athletics for nearly two decades. Because the Penn State case underscores so emphatically the necessity of examining — and transforming — social norms within male-dominated institutions, for the purpose of this article I have chosen to highlight our work in the sub-culture of college male athletics.

For at least the past generation, male sports culture has too often been the site of gender violence scandals. But MVP did not originate in organized athletics because of the problems in that sub-culture. The impetus was more proactive and positive, and had to do with the potential leadership of successful male (and later, female) student-athletes and coaches who, because they are seen as exemplars of traditional masculine success, have an enhanced level of credibility with their male peers and with younger men. If one of the long-term goals of the anti-rape movement is to transform rape-supportive attitudes in mainstream U.S. culture, who better to catalyze this transformation than men who — more than most — help to define the mainstream?

To put it another way, sexual violence prevention initiatives that fail to engage men in the sports culture and other areas of cultural hegemony are often ignored by mainstream populations, and can easily be marginalized. Why stay on the margins and not go right for the center? As the Penn State debacle makes clear, sports culture provides an unparalleled platform from which to call attention to a range of societal problems — and to catalyze efforts to change the social norms that often underlie them.

Nonetheless, because the MVP program originated in sports culture, and continues to use sports terminology in some of its curricular materials, it is sometimes mistakenly seen as a program designed exclusively for athletics. For the past 18 years we have trained tens of thousands of student-athletes, coaches and athletic administrators across the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic spectrum at hundreds of Division 1, 2 and 3 programs, and with professional sports organizations and teams in the NFL, CFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NASCAR. But from the beginning, the strategic vision of MVP was to begin in athletics and then move into broader student and professional populations in colleges, high schools, middle schools and other institutions like the U.S. military – a process that continues to this day.

In the early days of MVP, we were looking to develop a pedagogical model that could provide critical information and refute common rape myths, but do so in a way that would, in the words of Futures Without Violence founder Esta Soler, “invite, not indict” men, and engage them in critical dialogue. We quickly realized that the “bystander” category offered a way to transcend the limitations of the perpetrator-victim binary, which up until that point had held sway in conventional gender violence prevention theory and practice. In many educational programs developed in the 1970s and 1980s, women were regarded primarily as victims, potential victims, or empowered survivors, and men as perpetrators or potential perpetrators.

Among the many limitations of this narrow approach is that most men did not see themselves as potential perpetrators — and as a result shut down in a way that precluded honest participation or critical dialogue. This is not about me, their thinking went, but about the kind of men – those men — who need to be helped, or held accountable, for bad behavior toward women. But when men – and women – are positioned as friends, family members, teammates, classmates, colleagues and co-workers of women who are or might one day be abused, or men who are abusive or perhaps going down that path, then “bystander” represents a virtually universal category – and men can’t as easily tune it out. At MVP, we understood that this offered a creative solution to one of the central challenges in gender violence prevention education: how to engage men without approaching them as potential rapists and batterers.

The short and long-term solution wasn’t to “fix” individual men; it was to change social norms, especially but not exclusively within male peer cultures. The strategy we settled on was to encourage people to speak out in the face of abusive behavior before, during or after the fact, and thus contribute to a climate where sexist abuse was seen as uncool and unacceptable, and with men in particular, as a transgression against — rather than an enactment of — the social norms of masculinity.

We also wanted to address the relation between men’s violence against women and men’s violence against … men. This was prompted by empathy with men as victims, but it was also strategic. Appeals to men’s altruism are more likely to be successful when bolstered by appeals to self-interest. Men’s self-interest in preventing gender violence includes men’s concern for the women in their lives: their mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends and friends.

But in MVP, we also talk about the abuse, harassment and violence that men experience – usually (but not always) at the hands of other men. The same cultural and socialization processes that produce men who are violent toward women also help to produce men who verbally, physically and sexually assault each other — and sexually abuse boys. From the beginning, MVP has used real-life scenarios that address the role of the bystander in instances of male-on-male bullying, gay-bashing and other forms of abuse that are common in men’s lives. The alleged 2002 assault of a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky that was witnessed by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary sounds like a scenario that could have come right out of our program’s main teaching tool, the MVP Playbook.

Penn State & The Bystander Approach: Laying Bare The Dynamics In Male Peer Culture (Part 2 of a 3-part series)

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
nsvrc.org
December 8, 2011

To many people, one of the most astounding things about the Penn State scandal is that in at least two separate incidents, adult men allegedly witnessed another adult man sexually assaulting boys and yet did not intervene — according to the Grand Jury report on one of the incidents — or immediately report it to the police. How could they not have taken stronger action? How could athletic administrators and other university officials not have acted more forcefully and responsibly?

Much commentary about Penn State – and to a certain extent, Syracuse University — has included speculation that the silence of various individuals might have been due to their placing a greater priority on maintaining the good name and reputation of the university and its athletic program over the safety of children. Whether or not this theory of misplaced priorities holds true, it clearly merits further investigation by outside authorities — and deep introspection on the part of Penn State partisans — in the weeks and months ahead.

But the bystander passivity that has come under critical scrutiny in the Happy Valley is sadly very common in male peer culture – especially in cases of gender and sexual violence involving “one of the guys.” To many people this seems perplexing. How could people not act, especially when the alleged abuse involves children? Many callers to sports talk radio programs in recent weeks have asserted that if they had observed or been told about what went down at Penn State, they would have taken immediate, forceful action. Maybe so, but talk is cheap. It is easy from a distance to judge others’ failure to act. But as someone who has led hundreds of interactive discussions with men on the topic of engaging bystanders in the prevention of sexual and domestic violence, I know it is more complicated than that.

In reality there is often a price men must be willing to pay for doing the right thing. For example, when it comes to men’s mistreatment of women, men who speak out and confront or interrupt each other’s abusive behavior run the risk of fostering resentment from other men, increasing tensions in their daily interpersonal relationships, or in some cases, even suffering violent reprisals. Or they have to contend with their peers questioning their “manhood,” even their heterosexuality. The stress and anxiety this kind of disapproval produces can be as disturbing for a 45-year-old man as it is for a 15-year-old boy.

In a powerful college athletic program, fraternity or military organization a man who “drops a dime” on another man — especially someone who is well-respected or critical to the group’s image or success — might be seen as being disloyal to the group itself. In groups that prize blind loyalty over other ethical considerations, acting on principle thus comes with a cost. Depending on the popularity of the alleged perpetrator, a man who breaks the informal code of silence runs the risk of committing social suicide.

Sometimes there are practical — including financial — considerations. This is particularly true if the active bystander has less social capital — or institutional power — than the perpetrator. Consider the case of a first-year student-athlete who is uncomfortable with the way a senior co-captain talks about women. Should he say something? Or a scholarship student-athlete who finds out that his coach is abusing his wife, but the same coach controls the student-athlete’s playing time, or maybe even the status of his scholarship. Should the student-athlete confront the coach? Is it fair to expect low-level university employees or military members to challenge their bosses or superior officers when they face a realistic fear of being fired or losing out on a promotion? The answer might be “yes” to all these hypothetical situations, but let’s not pretend these are easy decisions for anyone to make.

In fact, a big part of the reason for the reluctance of men in general — and men in sports culture in specific — to speak out about men’s violence against women is that it often takes a good deal of courage for a man to do so. In the Penn State case, as Daniel Mendelsohn pointed out in
The New York Times, squeamishness about homosexuality also seems to have played an important role in both Mike McQueary’s reaction to the rape he witnessed, and the kinds of euphemisms university officials initially used to describe the incident (e.g. “horsing around” in the showers.)

As the multiple failures to protect children at Penn State demonstrate, it is important for people to learn and practice techniques they can use to intervene effectively in potential sexual assaults and a variety of other social situations. But more than skill-building is required. People — in this case especially, men — need permission from each other to act, and reassurance that those who do intervene and interrupt abusive behavior will be respected, not rejected, for actually “stepping up to the plate.” Men, as well as women, need the opportunity to talk about the dynamics of their relationships with their peers, and with those in authority. What are the pros and cons of this course of action, or that one? If I see something that makes me uncomfortable, what should I do? To whom can I turn for ideas or support? What have others done in similar circumstances?

The answers to these sorts of questions are not likely to be found in a PowerPoint presentation, or a briefing about applicable state law or university rules. To be sure, it is important for everyone to know their obligations under the law. The Penn State case has made clear that university regulations on sexual abuse reporting — and state laws themselves — need to be scrutinized and strengthened. But the key to the success of the bystander approach in sexual assault prevention education has as much to do with the process as the content.

The power of critical dialogue focused on the role of the bystander is that the dialogue itself is the vehicle for a shift in group norms around the acceptance and perpetuation of rape and battering-supportive attitudes and behaviors.

In the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Playbook, as in the Penn State case, all of the bystander scenarios depict situations where the bystander knows the perpetrator (or potential perpetrator) and/or the victim (or potential victim). The interactive discussion highlights the nature of the bystander’s relationship with both parties, as well as the larger peer culture in which they are all imbedded.

Understanding the specific dynamics of a given peer culture is crucial to understanding what factors can catalyze or impede responsible action. For example, one of the key differences in facilitating bystander education sessions with cohesive groups like teams, and with groups composed of people who don’t know each other well, is that few ties bind the latter group. Unlike teams, they have no shared experience to fall back on, and no ongoing mechanism for accountability (to each other). Jeff O’Brien, long-time director of MVP-National, explains:

“Individuals can conceivably go back to their peer groups and no one would ever know they participated in a [gender violence] training. With athletic teams or in the military, you have common goals and organizational values that change the dynamic in the room. With these groups you are always reinforcing the idea that they are responsible to each other – and for each other’s behavior. Just by having this conversation together, members of a team or military unit agree that they need to address these issues, and that they have responsibilities as leaders, teammates, fellow marines, etc. There is power in the shared experience [of the discussion.] I remember once a team told us, after we visited with them the year before, that they couldn’t always think of profound things to say or do, but they could always say, ‘MVP!’ in a teammate’s ear and he would know to stop what he was doing. The shared experience triggered the memory for them, both as a team and as individuals.”

In MVP sessions with athletic teams, we refer to “teammates” more often than “bystanders,” although operationally the two words are closely related. Outside of the athletic context, a bystander — in the best sense of the word — has a responsibility to others because of their shared humanity, not because they play a sport together. But a team is comprised of people who not only have shared goals, but oftentimes friendships, and a special kind of camaraderie. In MVP we customize our language and try, whenever possible, to adapt the bystander concept to various institutional cultures.

In dialogues with athletes, we raise a number of questions specific to the kinds of relationships people have on teams and in the broader athletic subculture:

  • Would you be more likely to intervene in this (potential acquaintance rape) scenario if your teammate was involved, rather than someone you knew casually?  Why or why not?  What if the guy was a close friend, but not a teammate?  Would there be any difference in your response?
  • We also ask questions about the bystander’s enlightened self-interest.  For example, if a teammate is charged with a sexual assault or is arrested for a domestic violence incident, how does that affect the team’s reputation and self-image? Isn’t it in your self-interest as a member of the team to prevent these things from happening, if at all possible?
  • In sessions with coaches and athletic administrators, we ask questions like: What responsibility do you have to the student-athletes to model behavior in your personal behavior, and in your peer relationships, that you expect the student-athletes to emulate?

Moving Beyond Penn State: Bystander Training As Leadership Training (Part 3 of a 3-part series)

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
nsvrc.org
December 15, 2011

Bystander training can actually be understood as a kind of entry-level leadership training, because bystanders who assess a situation, consider their options, and take action are doing what leaders do. Near the beginning of extended Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) trainings, we do a simple exercise where participants are asked to define leadership. What qualities do good leaders possess? We write the answers on a flip chart, and use those definitions throughout the training to reinforce the idea that “empowered bystanders” who interrupt abusive behaviors are better described as “leaders.”

This exercise is especially effective with groups — such as sports teams and military units — whose members are already invested in the idea of becoming leaders. Long-time MVP trainer Daryl Fort says he can often feel a palpable sense of relief in the air when men (and women) figure out that pressure on them to conform to stereotypical gender norms is sometimes in conflict with the ideas of leadership and courage to which they aspire. “It can be liberating for them,” he says, “when these contradictions are confronted and lifted in the group, freeing individuals to behave in ways they identify internally as more positive for the team/unit, as well as self-affirming. Sometimes participants will approach us after a relatively brief 90-minute session and say things like, ‘We really needed to hear/talk about that as a team. Thank you.’ ”

Bystander training helps individual men think about how their actions or inactions — even well-intentioned — sometimes contribute to a cultural climate that encourages, or at the very least tolerates, relationship abuse, sexual assault, and the sexual abuse of children. But while individual bystanders play a critical role, most solutions to social problems of the magnitude of sexual violence have to be of a social and institutional nature. For example, there is no excuse for any college or university that has an athletic program NOT to have mandated sexual assault and relationship abuse prevention education for all student-athletes, coaches and athletic administrators. If a college or university does not have this kind of programming — and hundreds do not — it represents a failure of leadership at the level of the athletic director or university administration.

Sexual assault prevention education should be part of the student-athlete experience — for men and women — from the first moment a young student-athlete steps onto campus. It should also be part of routine professional training required of coaches and athletic administrators. From the beginning of MVP we have insisted that athletic staffs need bystander training as much as the student-athletes. They need the opportunity to think through their responsibilities as leaders and mentors, but also their responsibilities as members of their own peer cultures. Too often, powerful coaches and administrators skip their part in the trainings. If asked, they typically say it’s the students who really “need to hear the message,” as if men and women in their thirties, forties, fifties and older in powerful leadership roles have all these issues figured out, and have better things to do than to learn — and engage in dialogue — about how to notice and interrupt rape and abuse-supportive attitudes and behaviors.

As the Penn State situation clearly demonstrates, it is time for a shift in our expectations about the role of campus leaders — university officials, athletic administrators, and coaches. Even before Penn State there had already been movement underway on the risk-management side of things. Now campus officials are even more concerned about their legal liabilities in sexual assault cases, and new federal regulations and Title IX investigations are prompting schools to make sure their policies and procedures are comprehensive and up-to-date.

But aside from any legal requirements, athletic directors who do not offer or require prevention programs, and participate in them themselves, are in a sense being passive bystanders who are complicit in sexually abusive behaviors. This same logic about institutional responsibility in higher education applies to administrators in charge of Greek affairs, housing, health services, and other college and university systems. The best possible outcome of the sad events at Penn State and Syracuse University will be for institutions to see that taking a proactive approach to sexual assault and abuse prevention is infinitely preferable to picking up the pieces once the damage has been done.

Jackson Katz, Ph.D., is an educator, author, filmmaker, and cultural theorist who is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work in the field of gender violence prevention education and critical media literacy. He is the author of the book, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, and creator of the film, Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity. He has lectured on hundreds of college and high school campuses and has conducted hundreds of professional trainings, seminars, and workshops in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan. He is co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the leading gender violence prevention initiative in college and professional athletics.

There Are Victims in the Penn State Tragedy, Not “Accusers”

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
The Huffington Post
November 18, 2011

At least one positive development has emerged from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. In news and commentary about that tragic case, the victims are actually being referred to as “victims.” While it’s easy to find references to “Jerry Sandusky’s accusers,” it is perhaps equally as likely to read and hear about “Sandusky’s victims.”

This marks a significant break with journalistic convention in several high-profile alleged sex crime spectacles in recent years, such as the ones involving Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or the current sexual harassment scandal surrounding Republican presidential primary candidate Herman Cain.

In each of these (in)famous cases the alleged victims of powerful men were labeled almost exclusively as “accusers.” According to sexual assault victim advocates, the Kobe Bryant rape trial in 2004 was a pivotal moment in this emergent journalistic practice. From that point on, media accounts of sex crime reports and prosecutions began referring to alleged victims as accusers, and their behavior and motives have come increasingly under the glare of media scrutiny and public skepticism. The alleged victims of Roethlisberger, Strauss-Kahn, Cain and many others have been pilloried on TV and in the blogosphere. Unlike in the Penn State case, where the alleged victims are presumed to be telling the truth, in these other cases doubts about the honesty and integrity of the “accusers” became central to the story.

Of course there are critical differences between the Penn State situation and these other events. The chief one is that in the State College tragedy, Jerry Sandusky’s victims were boys at the time of the alleged abuse, so there can be no ambiguity about the notion of “consenting adults.” By contrast, the aforementioned scandals all involved adult women as the complaining witnesses. This difference in the social position and gender of the victims is largely responsible for the qualitative difference in the tone and tenor of media coverage and commentary about the Penn State case.

For one thing, few people are willing to publicly defend the alleged perpetrator’s character in the face of these appalling charges. In previous high-profile sexual violence cases that involved adult men as alleged perps and women as their victims — perhaps most poignant among them the recent case involving DSK and an African immigrant hotel maid in New York City — friends and associates of the accused man have been quick to declare that the man they know is incapable of acting in the way he was alleged to have acted. This implicitly — and explicitly — casts aspersions on the credibility of the alleged victim. If he is incapable of it, she must be making it up. And so in the court of public opinion if not in the actual courtroom, she’s the one who is put on trial. It is important to note that these testimonials of confidence in the alleged perpetrator are typically offered even in the face of criminal indictments that were brought on the basis of specific and credible evidence of a crime.

Another key difference between the Penn State case and previous ones is that at Penn State there were eyewitness accounts that a crime occurred. Most sexual abuse takes place in private, without witnesses. But in the case of Sandusky’s alleged crimes, at least two men reported that they observed the prominent football coach sexually assaulting young boys on school property. This precluded predictable dismissals from people blindly supporting the perpetrator that this was another “he said-she said” (or “he said-he said”) case, where it’s impossible to know the truth — and where as a result there can never be any accountability.

But in spite of these important differences, it is surely worth noting that the gender of the Penn State victims has affected the way the story has been framed in media and the court of public opinion. As this case makes clear, boys as well as girls are too often the victims of sexually predatory men (and sometimes women) who exploit their vulnerability, violate their trust, and shatter their innocence. Like girls who have been sexually abused, boys and men can and do sometimes suffer lifelong negative consequences. They are at increased risk of suffering from depression, developing eating disorders, alcohol and other drug addictions, and a range of other problems. In addition to the shame of being violated that causes pain in victims of both sexes, boys also have to struggle with the added shame of not having been “man enough” to protect themselves.

But generally speaking boys do not have to contend — as do girls — with the sexist presumption that their sex somehow causes them to entice or invite men to sexually abuse them. To be sure, many boys who are sexually abused by men do indeed struggle with issues of sexual identity. But in public discourse, boys/men who are victimized are less likely than girls to face criticism for bringing it on themselves. Our cultural landscape is littered with examples where young girls — not women — have been blamed for men’s sexual violence against them. One notable example of this phenomenon: the case in Cleveland, Texas in early 2011 where an 11-year-old girl was brutally gang-raped by a group of young men and boys and community members, defending the boys, explained that she had “dressed provocatively.”

In a blog entry entitled, The Penn State Scandal: Connect the Dots Between Child Abuse and the Sexual Assault of Women on Campus, Claire Potter, professor of history and American studies at Wesleyan University, argued that:

“As you absorb the news about the key people at Penn State who ought to have reported what they knew of Coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged assaults on little boys, please keep one thing in mind. Penn State’s cover-up is embedded in the interest it, and all universities, have in keeping many forms of sexual violence and sexual harassment a private, internal matter. The mistake Penn State made was, in many ways, a simple category error: they mistook these pubescent boys for women. They forgot that children occupy a very different status in the law than do the female students, faculty and staff who are most frequently the object of unwanted sexual attention and/or violence… Since most people don’t believe that ten-year-olds want to be anally penetrated by grown men, once there is credible evidence that the sex happened, people tend not to spin alternative scenarios about little boys like: ‘look what he was wearing;’ ‘he’s probably just mad that Coach Sandusky wouldn’t hook up with him;’ ‘he was drunk;’ or ‘it was just bad sex and he’s trying to get back at Coach.'”

In other words, the cynicism and deep mistrust of women that is woven into the DNA of patriarchal cultures is not a big factor in a case where a powerful adult man was alleged to have sexually assaulted vulnerable boys.

One of the ways this sexist cynicism is operationalized linguistically is in the journalistic convention of referring to female victims as “accusers.” Male victims are sometimes tagged with that label as well. There were many “accusers” in the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, or in the Georgia sexual abuse scandal involving the popular Baptist Minister Bishop Eddie Long. But in sheer numbers the references to women as “accusers” clearly predominates.

This language usage plays a powerful ideological function. Consider: the public is inclined to sympathize — even empathize — with female and male victims of rape, or prior to a finding of guilt of the accused/defendant, “alleged victims.” Unless our psyches have been hopelessly distorted by misogyny or desensitization we not only feel badly about what has happened to them; we identify with them. Victim-blaming often distorts this sympathetic identification, but the sentiment derives in part from an understanding that “the victim could just as easily have been someone I love — or me.”

Referring to the victim as the “accuser” reverses this process. She is no longer the victim of his (alleged) attack. She is the one doing something — to him. She is accusing him. In other words, she is now the perpetrator of an accusation against him. At the same time, he is transformed from the alleged perpetrator of sexual assault to the actual victim of her accusation. The public is thus positioned to identify sympathetically with him — to feel sorry for him – as the true victim.

Every time a well-meaning journalist or commentator refers to sexual assault victims as “accusers” they contribute to this dynamic. They tilt the scales of justice away from victims and toward alleged perpetrators. The presumption of innocence for accused men — and women — is a critical feature of our judicial system. It represents a basic commitment to equal justice and fairness that is well worth fighting to preserve.

But this presumption of innocence for defendants in the court of public opinion — if not always in the formal legal system — should not come at the expense of the rights of victims. In media coverage of these cases it should be possible to respect both the presumption of innocence for the accused and the integrity of victims. This is a standard to which we should hold ourselves — as well as the media we consume and help to sustain.

Finally, the sad events unfolding at Penn State demonstrate clearly that the tide is turning. The voices of sexual abuse victims — girls and boys, women and men — are breaking through the walls of silence that powerful men have built to advance their interests and protect their privilege. Look at the institutions that have been rocked to their core in just the past decade. The Catholic Church. The U.S. military. And now Joe Paterno and Penn State football.

The redemptive potential of these sad scandals is that because they are so high-profile, they have provided an opening for men to talk about their experiences of sexual violence, a subject long shrouded in secrecy and shame. They have also created an opportunity for powerful, male-dominated institutions finally to live up to their stated values. Maybe then, when the dust of the current debacle settles, the Nittany Lions of Penn State and their legions of fans will be able to say with integrity that they truly aspire to “success with honor.”

President Obama Models Men’s Leadership in Halting Sexual Assault

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
Huffington Post
January 28, 2014

Activists and advocates who have been working for decades to change the attitudes and beliefs that sustain epidemic levels of sexual violence achieved a significant milestone last week. Finally, a president of the United States — The Most Powerful Man in the World — used the power of his office to shine a light on the critical role of men in preventing violence against women.

President Obama, in a White House event at which he announced the formation of a special White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, went further than he — or any other American president — has ever done in terms of getting to the heart of the cultural change necessary for prevention efforts to succeed. Going beyond the tired, cookie-cutter statements that politicians typically make about this issue, like “everyone needs to work together to support victims and end this scourge,” the president said:

“We’ve got to keep teaching young men in particular to show women the respect they deserve and to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it, and to do their part to stop it from happening in the first place. During our discussion earlier today, we talked about (how) I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women. And that starts before they get to college.”

The president continued by making it clear that adult men — especially fathers — have an indispensable role to play:

“So those of us who are fathers have an obligation to transmit that information. But we can do more to make sure that every young man out there — whether they’re in junior high or high school or college or beyond — understands what’s expected of them and what it means to be a man, and to intervene if they see somebody else acting inappropriately.”

The president’s direct, gender-specific language about men’s leadership on this issue is both refreshing and affirming, especially for those who understand that preventing sexual violence requires nothing less than a transformation in our cultural beliefs about manhood. Women working in the field of sexual assault prevention have been saying for years that challenging men’s sexist attitudes and beliefs — across the socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and religious spectrum — is central to combating gender violence.

In so doing, they have often been accused by small-minded and defensive men of being male-bashing “feminizes.” Now that the (male) commander-in-chief has framed rape prevention as a men’s issue, the pressure to prevent crimes of sexual violence might now move more squarely onto the shoulders of men and boys, where it rightly belongs.

The president’s comments are also energizing and inspiring for the growing number of men, on college campuses and in communities, who are partnering with women to develop sexual assault prevention initiatives that actively engage men. Of course both women and men are the victims of sexual violence; most programs today acknowledge and address the special needs of male victims. Nonetheless it is important to be clear in the design and implementation of prevention strategies that regardless of the sex of the victim, sexual violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men.

On a personal note, it was gratifying to hear the president express his position in language that some of us in social justice-centered gender violence prevention work have been using for more than twenty years. When my colleagues and I created the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, one of our central goals was to spark a conversation among men (and later, women) about sexual and domestic violence, which for too long had been seen as “women’s issues” that somehow didn’t directly involve men.

We called the pedagogical method we developed to encourage men’s engagement the “bystander approach.” By inviting men to be empowered bystanders rather than indicting them as potential rapists, we hoped to expand the number of men who saw these issues as their own. Ultimately, we hoped to help catalyze a larger change in the cultural definition of manhood away from one associated with power and control, and sexual entitlement to women’s bodies.

We believed we could change social norms in male culture by focusing on what men and young men could do and say to their friends, teammates, fraternity brothers, etc. that would make sexist abuse unacceptable — not only because it was illegal and might get them in trouble — but because it was wrong and the peer group itself did not accept it.

We encouraged young men (and old) to examine their own sexism, and challenged them to speak up when they saw others acting abusively or perpetuating damaging stereotypes about women, just as whites should interrupt the racism of other whites, or heterosexuals when they encounter heterosexism.

The MVP model was immediately adopted by college and professional sports teams, and spread quickly to general populations of male and female students in high schools and colleges. Later, influential institutions like the U.S. military signed on. The first MVP training in the military was held in the Marine Corps in 1997; those trainings continue and are expanding today — in one form or another — in every branch of the U.S. Armed Services.

In the early 1990s, MVP was the only so-called bystander program. But in recent years a number of other “bystander intervention” programs have arisen that, unfortunately, de-emphasize the social justice-oriented, MVP-style approach in favor of gender-neutral, more narrowly-focused skills training. To be sure, intervention skills are important; we teach them in MVP. But in gender violence prevention work with men, what is far more important is to give men the sense that speaking out about sexist abuse is an act of integrity and strength, and not evidence that you’ve “gone soft” or taken women’s side in the supposed “battle between the sexes.”

More than any specific intervention techniques, what men of all ages need is a kind of social permission to act on their best instincts and not remain silent in the face of both subtle and overt forms of abuse. President Obama seemed to know this — almost as if he’d been through an MVP training — when he said:

“We’re going to need to encourage young people, men and women, to realize that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And they’re going to have to summon the bravery to stand up and say so, especially when the social pressure to keep quiet or to go along can be very intense.”

When powerful men like the president of the United States make clear, unequivocal statements like this, it makes it easier — for men especially — to derive the strength necessary to do likewise.

Rice Video Accelerates Cultural Shift on Men’s Violence

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
The Huffington Post
September 12, 2014

The video that TMZ leaked of Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous moment. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which means that every year around this time women’s shelters and advocacy organizations expend a great deal of energy and not a small amount of their limited funds organizing events designed to call attention to the ongoing tragedy of men’s violence in families and relationships.

That “closed circuit” video has done more to raise awareness about domestic violence than untold numbers of public service announcements and billboard ads.

But the awareness it raised goes well beyond conventional pleas for understanding the plight of victims. Due to the powerful combination of Rice’s fame and status as a Super Bowl-winning, Pro Bowl football player, along with social media’s ability to transmit video, the entire country has been exposed to the stark realities of domestic violence in one of the most convincing ways possible: right in front of its eyes. Survivors of this type of violence — both its immediate targets and its “secondary” victims, such as children — don’t need a video to validate that what they experience is real.

But for millions of people who don’t know much about the issue, and only tune in when a high-profile case dominates the 24/7 news cycle for a few days, the Rice incident and its fall-out provide a powerful case study of what the cultural theorist Henry Giroux calls “public pedagogy.” It’s an opportunity for the general public to learn more about an important issue that even after all these years of tireless advocacy and consciousness-raising by the battered women’s movement and its allies remains shrouded in denial and misinformation.

Still, many of us in the gender violence prevention field know full well that trying to turn controversial public events into “teachable moments” can be an uphill fight. We know a lot about the causes of domestic and sexual violence — and we know a fair amount about how to prevent them. But in-depth discussion and analysis is typically not considered “good for TV ratings,” especially when it’s competing with cable television’s preferred script, which consists of staged debates between charismatic former prosecutors and defense attorneys arguing over the legal minutia of celebrity cases.

This one may turn out differently for the simple reason that the video of Rice punching his future wife in the face makes it difficult, if not impossible, for commentators to minimize his behavior or shroud it in euphemism. In the past, televised discussions about domestic violence often parroted the kind of trivializing language counselors who work with men who batter have heard for decades in their court-mandated programs: “It was just a domestic dispute,” or “They just had a little scuffle.”

Men who abuse women often use the passive voice to describe what led to their arrest: “She got herself beat up that night,” or “A fight broke out.” Media commentators play a similarly obfuscating role when they say things like “We don’t know the whole story,” or when teammates and team officials respond to domestic violence allegations against one of their own by saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with the couple at this difficult time.”

Their sentiments might be sincere, but they play a crucial role in shifting accountability away from the alleged perpetrator and onto either the victim, or the couple as a whole. There is a term for this in the domestic violence lexicon. It’s called “colluding with the batterer.”

Unlike previous high-profile cases, the existence of the elevator video has significantly diminished that kind of collusion by the media and by Rice’s peers.

In fact, one of the most notable developments in the Ray Rice case is the astounding number of men in the media and in public life who have stepped forward to strongly criticize Rice on the air and applaud the National Football League’s (NFL) decision to indefinitely suspend him. Among those men are many current and former professional athletes, whose vocal leadership on this incident represents a major shift from similar cases in the past.

The most promising aspect of this sad saga is that the presence of the video has contributed to a transformation already underway in the public’s understanding of gender-based violence.

The old way to approach the subject was to focus on the women and ask questions like: Why are they attracted to men who mistreat them? Why do they stay? For sure, these sorts of questions retain their allure: Janay Rice is under intense critical scrutiny for her tweets and declarations of love for the man who knocked her unconscious.

But the new paradigm for understanding domestic and sexual violence entails turning the spotlight around, onto men. These abuses are no longer something that happens to women. Rather, they are increasingly seen as something that is done to women by men. In the case of Ray Rice, (nearly) everyone is talking about him — what he did, why he did it, what it will mean for his career. The idea is not to negate Janay Rice’s experience; far from it. She is the actual victim in this case. But Ray Rice’s fateful act of violence, caught on video, says much more about him than it does about her.

And to the extent that the national conversation remains focused on all that’s happened as a result of his actions, as well as a consequence of how the NFL’s leadership mishandled the situation, it will say something hopeful about us.

It will say that our troubled society is finally beginning to place the responsibility for our tragic level of interpersonal violence not on its victims, but on those with power who abuse and misuse it.

Letter from Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UN Women.

Dear Men and Boys of the World,

You may be aware that there are almost 3.6 billion women and girls in the world. They are your sisters, mothers, wives, partners, daughters, nieces, aunts, cousins and friends. They have hopes and beautiful dreams for themselves, their families, communities and the world. If many of their dreams were to come true, the world would be a much better place for all of humanity.

Today I am writing this letter to you, because there are more than 60 million girls worldwide who are denied access to education. One in three women in the world is a victim of physical or sexual violence, the most humiliating and dehumanizing form of discrimination. Most of this violence happens at the hand of a partner or relative within her own home. Today two-thirds of the global illiterate population is women. If trends continue in this way, poor girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will not reach universal access to primary education until 2086.

So gentlemen, can we talk? I know many of you desire a better world for women and girls, a few of you are actively working on bringing about positive changes. We now have rising evidence that everyone, not just women, benefits from gender equality. Did you know that if women farmers had the same tools and fertilizer as men in agriculture, we would reduce hunger by up to 150 million people? Fortune 500 companies with the most women managers were found to deliver a 34 per cent higher return to shareholders. Discriminating against women comes at a cost to humanity and nations and denies women and girls their inalienable rights.

Yes, women are strong, bold, and brave, but men and boys also have a big role to play in ending gender inequality. It is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. Take action and influence change in society. We need your action and your voices to be louder.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, I issue a call to men and boys and invite you to take action wherever you are and support the SHE Imperative. Make sure SHE is secured and Safe from gender-based violence. That SHE has her Human rights respected, including her re-productive rights. That She has Economic Empowerment through Education, participation and leadership.

This sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet if we applied this imperative, the world would be a very different and far better place. SHE would enjoy equal opportunity, access to education and no longer be the face of poverty, and her gender will not decide her status and place in society.

When we fought against apartheid, which the United Nations declared a crime against humanity, the whole world took a stand. All self-respecting people—leaders of nations, religious institutions, commerce and sports—crossed the line to be on the right side of history.

The unity and purpose of the people of the world played a major role in ushering in freedom for South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela, in whose cabinet I had the honour to serve. In Mandela, a force for good was unleashed, not just for South Africa but for all of humanity. He inspired those of us who worked with him, and countless millions around the world, to stand up for a just cause. He also emphasized that “For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women.” Now is your time to stand up for a just cause.

Men and women of the 21st century can make their mark by crossing the line united, and joining the women as a powerful force for gender equality. I invite you to join me and the women and men of the world who have led many long struggles for the gender equality.

In Africa, we have a saying that I want to leave with you: ‘If you go alone you go fast, but if we go together, we go far’. Let us go far together.

What to Say to Boys and Young Men About Big Ben

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
The Huffington Post
September 12, 2014

This coming Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has the chance to win his third Super Bowl and join a truly elite group of NFL quarterbacks. This historic opportunity comes at the end of a season that began with him serving a four-game suspension by the National Football League for allegedly sexually assaulting a young woman in a bar last March — the second sexual assault allegation against him in a year. (Neither allegation resulted in criminal charges.)

“Big Ben’s” behavior and his team’s success present a classic “teachable moment,” especially given that the Super Bowl is the most widely watched television program in the United States, with an estimated 100 million viewers. There undoubtedly will be millions of conversations in America’s living rooms this weekend about Roethlisberger’s actions, including debates about whether he evaded more serious consequences because of his wealth and power.

There will also likely be considerable hand-wringing from many in Steeler Nation, who will cheer for their team with a troubled conscience, out of concern that their cheers could be construed as support for a man — the team’s quarterback and on-field leader — with a disgraceful record of mistreating women.

The following talking points are designed to give parents, coaches and other adults some ideas about how to frame conversations with boys and young men (and girls and young women) about the Ben Roethlisberger case.

Our culture sends young people loads of mixed messages. On the one hand, many parents teach our kids to treat themselves and others with respect and dignity. Teachers, coaches, and religious leaders reinforce the message that “might doesn’t make right,” and that if you want to be a good and successful person, you must “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Over the past few years numerous states have passed anti-bullying laws, and school districts are increasingly implementing prevention programs on issues like dating violence and sexual assault.

On the other hand, any young person can look around and see that many men who abuse women (and other men) are nonetheless rewarded professionally and financially. This is true not only of athletes, but also of corporate executives, entertainers, politicians and others. How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? In the case of Big Ben, we can say “Sure, he’s a great quarterback, he’s rich and famous. But do people respect him? Look at how carefully the television announcers choose their words when they talk about him. He might be a champion on the field. But beyond his football achievements, is he truly worthy of admiration?”

Big Ben created a huge mess as a result of his own actions. Big Ben has paid a price for his unacceptable behavior in the bathroom of a bar in Milledgeville, Georgia last year, when he allegedly sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman. According to published accounts, the woman was extremely intoxicated when Roethlisberger accompanied her into the bathroom as his bodyguards stood at the door, blocking anyone from coming to the woman’s assistance. Although Roethlisberger denies the rape allegation and no criminal charges were brought against him in the March 4, 2010 incident, the allegation was serious enough that he was suspended for four games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. His reputation as a person and a leader took a big hit. But let’s remember that Big Ben is not the victim here. You could even say that he got off lightly, considering that he might have been charged with first-degree rape.

Sexual violence is a big problem in this country and it affects many of the girls — and boys — that you know. Approximately one in four girls and one in six boys will be a victim of sexual assault before the age of 18. Think about your sister, your girlfriend or your mother. How would you feel if someone sexually assaulted her? Sadly, some of you have girls and women in your lives — including members of your own families — who have experienced sexual abuse and assault. This issue is personal for a lot of men. Young men, including football players and other student-athletes, have an important role to play in preventing it – especially by making it clear to your teammates and friends that mistreating anyone sexually is wrong, and that you will not tolerate it.

(Note: Parents, coaches, teachers and others can use personal anecdotes if they feel comfortable doing so, although it is important to remember not to disclose information about any victims without their explicit permission. An example of what they might say: “This issue is personal for me. I know women — and men — who are survivors of sexual violence. This isn’t just happening somewhere else to someone we don’t know. This is a problem that has surfaced in our community, in our family.”)

Leadership in sports means leadership on and off the field. Ben Roethlisberger is a proven winner in athletic competition. But the measure of a true leader is how they conduct themselves 24/7, not just during a winning touchdown drive or a goal-line stance. Leadership isn’t something that gets switched off because the game clock expires. Leadership doesn’t ‘just happen.’ It isn’t ‘automatic.’ It is something that is earned and exemplified (or illustrated) continually. Football fans across the country might respect Big Ben’s ability to get it done on the field, but he has a long way to go to prove that he is worthy of their respect as a true leader and as a man.

Men who mistreat women verbally, physically or sexually are never proving their strength or manliness. Rather, they’re revealing their belief in the deeply discredited and unacceptable idea that men are entitled to treat women as objects, like property, to be controlled, used and discarded. They’re also displaying serious shortcomings in their character, flaws in their personality and/or cause for intervention or professional help.

According to various sources, including some who were quoted in Sports Illustrated last year after the Georgia sexual assault allegations surfaced, Big Ben was someone who routinely demonstrated “crudeness and immaturity” in his interpersonal behavior. He wasn’t just boorish; he was also openly sexist. This is not how strong men act — whether they’re Super Bowl champions or average Joes.

Friends and teammates have an important role to play in interrupting and preventing violence against women. Eyewitness accounts from the incident last March revealed that Roethlisberger was surrounded by paid bodyguards and unpaid companions who failed to raise objections to his repeated sexist comments and aggressive behaviors toward women — behaviors that Sports Illustrated and other media investigations alleged to be part of a long-standing pattern. One friend of the quarterback told SI that he shook his head when he saw Roethlisberger “disrespect” women in bars — but it is tough to find anyone who ever went beyond head shaking and actually confronted the Steeler.

If you ever see a friend or teammate acting disrespectfully to women, or abusive in any way, don’t just walk away. Say something, or do something, that communicates to him that you don’t approve of his behavior. Get others to help you. Tell a team captain. Tell an adult in a position of authority. By stepping in, your actions could help prevent abusive behaviors and save your friend/teammate from ruining his life and reputation.

Alcohol does not cause men to assault women. Drinking alcohol may cause people to lose their inhibitions, and therefore facilitate abusive behavior. But it does not cause it. Saying “I was drunk” is not an excuse for coercing, abusing or committing violence against another person. Some people like to use alcohol as an excuse to no longer obey the rules, but ultimately you choose to drink. Alcohol does not cause violent behavior; it disinhibits it. It allows people to use it as an excuse to act out preexisting, anti-social feelings or beliefs. Anyone under the legal age should not be drinking. But if a person you know acts out in an aggressive and violent manner when he drinks, then he should stop drinking immediately. As peers, you need to support him and confront him if his drinking continues.

False reports of rape do occur, but they are rare. A lot of guys think women lie about being raped. They point to anecdotal incidents, such as the Duke lacrosse team fiasco and generalize about how common they think false reports really are. But false reports are rare, approximately 2 to 5 percent. In fact, according to the FBI, 75-80 percent of rapes are never reported. Women who have been raped – especially if the alleged perpetrator is a popular guy — face incredible pressure from his friends (and sometimes hers) to remain silent.

Even the process of reporting is very difficult, embarrassing and painful. In addition, women who report rape are often the target of harassment, verbal abuse, and social ostracism. Think about it: why would women willingly bring all of that on themselves under false pretenses? In the vast majority of cases, women who report rape have been sexually assaulted – whether the district attorney decides to pursue criminal charges or not.

None of this excuses the actions of women — or men — who falsely report rape. If a young man is the victim of a false allegation, it can be a devastating and damaging experience. One suggestion – don’t ever put yourself in a situation where sexual consent is not clear. If you have any doubts, stop. If you see a friend acting in a way that suggests he might not have consent, or if he is pursuing sex with a girl whose age or state of inebriation might preclude her from being able to consent, interrupt him, confront him and stop him.

Media depictions of men “scoring” with women are not the same as real life. The sexual scenarios many people have been exposed to online or in movies and magazines depict staged performances by paid actors and actresses. In real life, women don’t enjoy being degraded and treated like objects/receptacles. It’s not funny when men pressure women to drink too much and then coerce them into having sex. If men treat women the way they are treated in some Hollywood films, music videos or in most porn, they’re not only being disrespectful, they might also find themselves committing acts of criminal sexual assault.

Your actions affect others. What each guy in a peer group does — how he conducts himself in public, or in his relationships and interactions with girls – reflects not only on him and his family, but on his friends as well. In the case of student-athletes, what a member of the team does reflects on his teammates, his coaches, and the entire athletic program. In the Roethlisberger case, Big Ben not only damaged his own reputation, he also tarnished the image of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Young men owe it to the people around them to treat women — and men — with respect and dignity.

Ask yourself what matters most in life. Football is a very popular sport in this country. Millions of people have played it, and many millions more enjoy watching it and rooting on their favorite team. But there are more important things in life than football – or any sport. Maybe Big Ben’s saga can prompt you to reflect on what is truly meaningful in your life and the lives of those around you. And perhaps this discussion can help to strengthen the resolve of more young men to treat women with respect and dignity and to speak out when they see others not treating them this way.