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.

NSVRC “Engaged Bystander” Interview with Jackson Katz – Part I

Posted on nsvrc blog by Joan Tabachnick
April 29, 2011

Dear Engaged Bystander: As my year as the NSVRC blogger comes to a close, I thought about who are the people who can provide insights to carry us all forward. Jackson Katz immediately came to mind. He is one of the first to apply bystander thinking, interventions and strategies to prevent sexual violence. So I am thrilled to have had a chance to speak with him and add his words to these last few blogging days. For those of you who don’t know Dr. Katz, here is a brief bio: Jackson Katz is an activist, educator, author and filmmaker, internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work in the field of gender violence prevention education, particularly in the sports culture and the military. He co-founded the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program in 1993. MVP is one of the original bystander programs; it has been widely influential in the burgeoning field of bystander intervention. In 1997 he created the first worldwide domestic and sexual violence prevention program in the United States Marine Corps, a program he still directs. He and his MVP colleagues also work closely with the Air Force, Army and Navy in the development of their bystander programs. You might also know him through his educational videos for college and high school students, including Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity (2000), Wrestling With Manhood (2002) and Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies and Alcohol (2004) or his book, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help (2006).

Joan: What advice can you give to those of us invested in bystander approaches to preventing sexual violence?

Jackson: I believe that bystander intervention – broadly understood – is the future of sexual assault prevention. But to be effective, we need a common and comprehensive understanding of the term ‘bystander.’ I prefer an expansive definition of ‘bystander’ that is rooted in social justice philosophy and education. Many people think of a bystander as someone who is present at the scene of a potential incident. Part of the confusion is how the word ‘bystander’ sounds; it sounds like it means ‘someone who is standing by.’ The way we have always used the term in the MVP program is to describe anyone who isn’t either a perpetrator or a victim in a given situation but is in a position to intervene before, during or after the act. Or a member of a peer culture that contains abusers or victims. Or an authority figure in a position to enact prevention strategies. In that sense virtually everyone is a bystander. The critical question is: are you an empowered/active bystander or an inactive/passive bystander? To really transform our culture we need to go beyond simply teaching individuals the skills they need to intervene in given situations. We need to expand our thinking beyond the individual 20-year-old college or high school student, drinking at a party. For example, a person in a position of institutional authority, whether they’re a governor or mayor, university or college president, school superintendent or the principal of a high school, who does not use their position to initiate, fund and lead sexual violence prevention efforts, he or she is being a passive bystander. Individual skill building is important, but we need to look at systemic solutions. Unfortunately most people hear the word ‘bystander’ and only look at the very narrow frame of the individual response at the site of the abusive act.

Joan: Can you further explain the social justice-oriented approach to bystander intervention?

Jackson: We have different levels of responsibility depending on where we sit on the continuum of social power. Of course individuals have a responsibility to act in their everyday lives and social worlds. But I am concerned that many bystander initiatives have moved away from the social justice roots of the bystander approach in a way that is both degendered and decontextualized. It is useful to compare our approaches to working against ending sexual violence with anti-racist efforts. For example, do blacks and whites have the same responsibility to work against racism in America? Most of us would agree that while we all need to fight racism, whites have a greater responsibility to act. The same is true of sexual violence. Do women have the same responsibility as men to interrupt sexual violence? When men commit the vast majority of it? (Whether the victims are women or men, girls or boys.) I believe women and men have complementary roles to play, but let’s not pretend that responsibility for prevention is shared equally between the sexes. In our work to develop the MVP program in the early 1990s, social justice was our guiding philosophical foundation. The question I was most interested in was: how do we get more men to speak up to challenge other men about how some of us behave toward women? At the time there were very few men involved in sexual assault prevention work. At MVP we settled on a strategy to address men not as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, but, as we said, as ‘empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers.’ It was similar to challenging whites to speak out about racism, or heterosexuals to interrupt heterosexism. Also, my idea to start MVP was not about the problem of sexual assault perpetrated by male student-athletes. It was about the role that sports play in the larger culture and particularly male culture. Men in sports often have enhanced status, and so we wanted them to use that status to help make it more acceptable for men to start challenging each other about how we treat women along a continuum of behaviors, ranging from sexist jokes and comments to sexual and domestic violence. Fairly soon thereafter we made the program mixed gender, addressing similar dynamics within female peer cultures and empowering women as bystanders as well. We’ve trained many thousands of women and girls, but we’ve never lost sight of the fact that ending men’s violence is more of a men’s than a women’s responsibility.

Joan: How does this social justice approach challenge us in a way that individual change may not?

Jackson: Solutions to social problems of the magnitude of sexual violence have to be social and institutional solutions. 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. For this to happen will require a shift in our expectations about the role of campus leaders – university officials, athletic administrators, and coaches. If they are not offering and requiring these kinds of programs, they are being passive bystanders and hence complicit in sexually abusive behaviors, many of which can be prevented. The same logic about institutional responsibility on college campuses applies to leaders of Greek systems, housing, and other entities.

NSVRC “Engaged Bystander” Interview with Jackson Katz – Part II

Posted on nsvrc blog by Joan Tabachnick
April 30, 2011

Joan: What is your vision for creating that institutional change?

Jackson: I recognize that I am using a very broad definition for bystander engagement: ANYONE who has peers, friends or colleagues, or anyone who plays a leadership role in a social group or institutional setting – which means virtually EVERYBODY. What is required is not just individual but institutional change. This is beginning to happen in the military. MVP has been doing bystander-focused prevention training in the military for 14 years, and it is exciting that now all four major branches of the U.S. military have decided to employ bystander programming system-wide to prevent sexual and domestic violence. For example, by the summer of 2012 the Air Force has mandated that all personnel at every level need to go through what they’re calling Bystander Intervention Training. This training includes examining and interrupting behaviors on an abuse continuum, and also includes elements of media literacy education.

That level of commitment represents an institutional shift. It is promising in part because of the potential impact this can have in the larger culture. Just like the MVP program’s initial strategy of targeting men in athletics, men in the military have a kind of elevated status in parts of male culture, and it is possible to leverage that status to make speaking out about sexism and sexist abuse more normal and acceptable among men. When men with traditional masculine authority speak out it gives all of us more credibility – especially with men who are skeptical. When the New England Patriots, the Marine Corps or the U.S. Army does bystander training, average guys can’t as easily write it off as “pc” posturing or anti-male propaganda. At the same time, women in the military play an increasingly important role both in and outside of the military in redefining femininity, and bystander training helps them develop skills that can have a powerful effect in the service and beyond.

Joan: How do you see this affecting those who are not in the military?

Jackson: When President Harry Truman signed an executive order in 1948 that racially integrated the military, it was part of – and had a tremendous impact on — the emerging civil rights movement. Recently, I participated in a U.S. Army Summit on Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention in Washington DC. Many key military leaders were there, including the Army Chief of Staff and the Sergeant Major of the Army, who gave keynote addresses. What the military is doing today in this area is really ahead of the curve. There is nothing in the civilian world of this scope and magnitude. Imagine what it would be like for some of the largest corporations or religious organizations to gather together for this kind of summit and make this kind of commitment. It really is pretty amazing. We need to encourage and pressure civilian institutions – especially schools – to study what the military is doing and take ideas from them.

Joan: How do you see changes in technology affecting our work in coming years?

Jackson: New technologies provide new opportunities – both good and bad. And those of us who do bystander work need of course to integrate the new technologies of communication and social interaction into our conception of the role of the bystander. One scenario we use in MVP is as follows. You are a young man sitting alone in your room, and you receive a text from a friend with a sexually explicit photo attached of his former girlfriend. No one else is in the room, but you are still a bystander — to an abusive act by your friend, who’s sent this picture without her knowledge or consent. What do you do? People generally agree that if you decide to send the text to another friend (e.g., “Jimmy you’ve got to see this” and push send) you are no longer a bystander – you are now contributing to that original abusive act. But what do you do? This scenario does not fit the usual bystander paradigm of seeing a friend getting a young woman drunk at a party.

As educators and activists – and as parents — we need to preemptively initiate conversations with young people about these kinds of situations, where people often make quick decisions that in the Digital Age can have ramifications for the rest of their lives. Here again we need to address the question of institutional responsibility. Educators everywhere need to have these conversations long before that moment of truth! If institutional leaders do not initiate curricular innovations or programming on these sorts of issues then they are being passive bystanders.

Joan: Thank you so much Jackson. I loved having an excuse to call you to ask these questions. Questions that I ask myself every day… And I am truly moved by both your passion and your vision for where we all need to focus for the future. Thank you!

Sports & Hypermasculinity: Violence, Male Culture and the Jovan Belcher Case: an interview with Daryl Fort

An Interview with Daryl Fort, senior trainer, Mentors in Violence Prevention
by Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
VoiceMale Magazine
Summer 2013

Just two weeks before the Newtown massacre, another high-profile murder-suicide dominated the 24/7 news cycle and—briefly—captured the public’s imagination. On December 1 last year the news broke that 25-year-old Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher had murdered his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium where he committed suicide in front of his coach and other Chiefs staff. Until Newtown pushed that story off the front pages, there had been an outpouring of commentary from people in the gender violence prevention field, sports journalism, and the cultural mainstream.

Much of the conversation revolved around men’s violence against women as an ongoing national tragedy, and the specific aspects of professional football culture and its unique and often combustible mixture of hyper masculinity, bodily self-sacrifice, and misogyny, along with the stark reality that the players—many of them young African-American men—are under intense pressure to perform in an industry where they can become famous and make a lot of money, but where their physical and emotional health takes a backseat to the demands of the business.

In the wake of this tragedy, many people in the gender violence prevention field called on officials of the National Football League to respond by increasing their efforts to provide counseling services to players and their families in need, as well as to provide training for team personnel in how to detect and intervene in potentially volatile situations, and to implement violence prevention programming league-wide.

The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Program, which I cofounded in 1993 at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, has worked extensively with college and professional football players, coaches, and administrators for two decades. In addition, over the past decade MVP has also been called in to work with professional sports organizations after high-profile domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment incidents. Focused workshops at such “teachable moments” can help make future incidents less likely if the participants—individuals and organizations—are willing to forthrightly address some of the underlying causes.

Jovan Belcher’s murderous actions formed one of those teachable moments. Since then, countless people inside and outside sports culture have been talking about domestic violence and asking: what can we do? To provide some badly needed context for the national conversation sparked by the Kansas City tragedy, Voice Male agreed to provide a forum for me to engage in a dialogue with my friend and MVP colleague Daryl Fort. Fort has long been among the most senior trainers with MVP, and is one of the most experienced male gender violence prevention educators in the world. He has worked extensively with NFL players, coaches, and front office staff since 2006. A former senior adviser to the governor of Maine, Fort is a 1992 graduate of the University of Maine, where he played on the football team.

JACKSON KATZ: You’re a graduate of the same college football program as Jovan Belcher, although you’re almost a generation older. That must have hit closer to home for you than it did for most of us. Can you talk about your initial thoughts and feelings when you heard that he had murdered his girlfriend and then took his own life?

DARYL FORT: Like many people around our former collegiate program and among his NFL peers, I felt a deep sadness. Personally, it struck a nerve that was already close to the surface because a couple of weeks earlier, a former high school classmate of mine here in Maine had murdered his wife and committed suicide. On an almost annual basis, the majority of all homicides in this state (as in so many others) are domestic violence related. And almost all of those murders are perpetrated by men against women. It is always disturbing when a man decides to externalize his own pain by lethally assaulting someone he purports to love and care about.

JK: There are hundreds of domestic violence murder-suicides in our society every year. But because this one was perpetrated by a professional athlete, people want to talk about how male sports culture—especially football culture—might be implicated. But as someone who has worked extensively in gender violence prevention with men inside and outside of sports, I was wondering if you could offer any observations about whether football players react similarly to or differently from other men with whom you’ve worked on these issues.

DF: The fact that an NFL player killed his intimate partner is why so many people are talking about this issue now. It’s why many people want to read about it. What makes this a potentially important moment to talk more about these issues is that we know so much about the dynamics involved in the overwhelming majority of DV homicides, as well as the violent and abusive behaviors of many, many perpetrators. We need much more serious dialogue, asking some important questions such as: Why do many men use violence or the threat of violence to gain or maintain control within their intimate relationships? Why do so many people—from professional athletes to, say, mortgage brokers—choose not to “get involved” in the face of this abuse?

JK: It’s important for people to know that in Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), or other programs that utilize the bystander approach, the kinds of abuses we talk about are generally not the sensational murders that happen periodically. Sexist attitudes and behaviors occur along a continuum, and MVP encourages men to interrupt and challenge each other in a range of ways. It’s not just about helping guys know how to detect or what to do when their teammates or friends might be on the verge of killing someone.

DF: No question. At the end of the day, we’re trying to get people to consider the connection between disrespectful, harassing, abusive attitudes and language and the violence and abuse most everyone agrees is unacceptable. We’re looking at rape, murder, and domestic battering at the top of a pyramid of very destructive behavior. At the bottom of that pyramid lies the foundation for those almost universally denounced crimes, things like sexually bigoted “humor,” sexist language, and objectification.

In a larger culture where sexist behavior and sexist media are considered edgy, marketable, and cool, it’s a process to get guys to look past what feels normal and harmless to see the potential harm. Even for guys who are willing to recognize a lot of what they see and hear as abusive and disrespectful, it still takes courage to step into the social backlash they’re likely to get from peers, teammates, and colleagues who are likely to tell them to lighten up for saying, “hey man, why you gotta call women bitches all the time?”.

But with the challenge there also lies an opportunity, when we’re talking about engaging high-level athletes. On the one hand, we’re talking about guys who in many ways are supposed to represent the edgiest, the coolest, and the most “manly.” For them, there is some pressure to go along and uphold rather than buck that system. On the other hand, we are also talking about guys who stand on a cultural platform because of their status. For the many guys who take that responsibility seriously, it’s about leaning hard into that desire to want to do the right thing by shifting the conversation about what “the right thing” is and challenging them to have the courage to take action.

JK: In the Belcher case, many people focus on the violent nature of football, or speculate about physiological factors that might have arisen from head injuries he sustained. I think it’s comforting for many people to think that in cases of horrific violence, “something must have snapped.” But in MVP sessions with men, we talk a lot about manhood and social norms, both in the larger society and in various subcultures. How do you see men responding to that discussion?

DF: Men’s responses are basically the same whether we’re working with college or professional football players, athletes of other sports, military personnel, or corporate professionals. There is almost always a cross-section of responses within football and non-football peer groups; some guys are reluctant—the discussion is especially challenging because of the degree to which some of them have invested in the gender stereotypes of how they are supposed to relate to one another as well as women. We offer an opportunity to have an unvarnished dialogue about these subjects, and guys are often quick and eager to engage.

Men who are reluctant participants at the outset often become the most enthusiastic proponents of taking positive action. For example, at the beginning of an MVP training on one of the largest military bases in the world, a master sergeant with 19 years’ service in the Marine Corps made it clear that he had much more important things to do than talking about sexual violence and how to prevent it. He made everyone in the training aware that he was there because it was required. But by the second day, some junior noncommissioned officers were expressing doubts that they could leave the space and challenge their peers about abusive behavior toward women. The master sergeant firmly told them he didn’t think they had the right attitude, and that he expected more of them.

JK: Many people imagine that football players—because they occupy such a hypermasculine and privileged space—would be particularly resistant to this kind of introspection about men’s violence against women. Do you think that’s the case?

DF: No. I find men want the opportunity to talk about relationships and the challenges that often surround navigating the expectations that the culture can impose on men—expectations to behave in certain ways and represent dominant, in-control roles in their relationships. Elite football players have many of the same issues about masculinity and relationships—and some of the same anxieties—as other guys. But many people see them as “alpha males” who have it all figured out. I believe some of the assumptions other people make about who we are and can be as men trouble NFL players as much as they do regular guys on the street. I’ve had many, many of these guys eager to talk about those pressures when they feel there is a safe environment to do so. Facilitating that space is a big part of my job. It can help when you’re sitting in a locker room or meeting space that some of these guys spend more time in than they do their own homes. It’s literally meeting them where they are.

JK: Some men can get very defensive when you try to strip away the tough exterior.

DF: Often we see an initial defensiveness regarding the subject; I once had a young college basketball player from a Division II school ask me before a session, “I’m from the Bronx, what can you teach me about violence?” Of course he was flexing a little bit, trying to let me know a classroom couldn’t teach him anything of value about life “on the street.” It’s still a surprise to many who work with us that the “teaching and learning” isn’t some kind of PowerPoint lecture. We want to have a conversation – one that is structured, yet, open, honest and frequently raw – and, hopefully, come to some often difficult and also empowering conclusions about our responsibilities as men hold ourselves and each other accountable with courage and compassion.

Another assumption a lot of these guys make coming in is that we’re going to point fingers at them and treat them all as potential perpetrators. For some, that has been their experience. For many others, it is a taught reflex in the wake of the media stereotype of “athletes behaving badly.” Of course, a big part of the real message is that men’s violence against women affects all of us one way or another. What can we do as men, as brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, teammates, friends, to be part of the solution? Once these guys see they have an opportunity to participate in an honest dialogue, to speak their minds, the introspection, the curiosity about one another’s perspective, and their personal desire to talk about personal wants, needs, and challenges often takes over. Don’t get me wrong—not everyone feels comfortable with the content of these conversations. Far from it. Especially since we focus on their responsibility to address these issues within their peer cultures and interrupt their teammates’ or friend’s sexist behaviors. For a lot of people that’s anxiety-producing. Think about it: How do I tell my friend that taking that drunk woman home to try and have sex with her is a bad idea for him and her, when before we went out, his game plan was to get laid? How do I talk to my boss about how inappropriate and uncomfortable I think sexist banter around the office is when he/she’s one of the participants? When we bring it down to those types of authentic and difficult circumstances, you can see the wheels turning in people’s minds because many of them have encountered those very situations. In terms of inspiring leadership, finger wagging won’t get it done. But in a team/peer group concept we don’t necessarily have to go it alone – we can “have each others back.” That’s also part of the message.

JK: What’s your strategy for motivating men as leaders in gender violence prevention?

DF: A way to do this is to get folks to see themselves as the friends, family, teammates, peers of both perpetrators and victims of abuse. We will ask directly what it might feel like to have a woman they care deeply about be the victim of violence or abuse. Too many don’t have to imagine it—they already know. Others find it upsetting and infuriating. An important dynamic to consider is to ask ourselves how we would feel about someone or a group of people who had the opportunity to do something about stopping that abuse. In the end, most of us want those bystanders to find a way to help, whether they know our loved one or not. The next step is to figure out how individually and collectively we can develop and nurture the tools to actually help. But the opportunity to step up and make courageous choices here comes, in part, from recognizing how much influence we have over our peers’ attitudes and behaviors on a daily basis already. We do it in positive ways and, unfortunately, in negatives ways as well. It is our choice to make.

JK: One particularly sensitive dimension of the Jovan Belcher case is his—and his victim’s—race. Belcher was African-American, as was Kasandra Perkins. I realize you did not know Belcher personally, and so you can’t presume to know the dynamic of his, or their, relationship struggles, and how race did or did not play a critical role. But as a black man yourself, and one who has facilitated countless dialogues with men and women of color, as well as white men and women, can you talk about how race—and racism—plays a role in workshops devoted to men’s violence against women? Do men ever talk openly about race?

DF: Like almost everywhere in our culture, it is often a challenge in MVP sessions to have a nuanced and honest discussion about the dynamics of race. It’s woven through the fabric of American life. One of the issues is an old one: guys in a room mixed along racial lines are usually unwilling to speak to any conflicts over race. Ironically, this is also true within sports and military cultures, where over the years great strides have been made in this country in the ways that people work together across racial lines. You might think some of those bonds help create an environment where enough trusts exist to have those difficult conversations. But as with gender, utopian dreams and some significant denial often overshadow our vision of reality.

Race is always a subtext to the work we do, but sometimes we make it visible and explicit. There may be 40 football players sitting in a stadium meeting room having a conversation and the split is 60/40 black-to-white. I’ve often asked a group of guys who have no issues referring to women as “bitches” how they would respond to a group of white guys using the term “niggers” to describe their teammates of color. Most groups consider the racially bigoted term unacceptable, because, they will say, the word has a history and current meaning that is derogatory. It’s degrading to black people. Well, doesn’t the “b-word” carry the same derogatory status, both historically and in current times? Half may look at me like I’m crazy. Another quarter of the group may take on a contemplative disposition. The other quarter of the group may nod in agreement and challenge the rest to see their point of view. The personal challenge we’re posing to each person in this instance is, “What is the difference between racial bigotry and gender bigotry—in principle? Just because we have normalized one form, does that make it right? And further, don’t we all still make the choice to participate in and/or condone the use of bigoted language?” To be clear, it’s not a magical spell that transforms everyone’s opinion. But people are always engaged and you can clearly see some attitudes change.

JK: In an interview the day after the murder-suicide, Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said, “When it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently. When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?” Quinn was expressing what many people around perpetrators—and victims—often feel. Could I have prevented something terrible from happening if I knew more, and was willing to act? In MVP trainings we encourage men to speak up and support their teammates and friends when it’s possible, or to interrupt their abusive behaviors—even if they merely suspect something might be going on. We make it clear that being an active bystander is an act not only of friendship but of leadership.

DF: This can feel like tricky and anxious territory for a lot of guys; how do I “get in his business,” meaning issues about a teammate/friend’s personal relationship or apparent depression. What it highlights is the limited emotional range of expression and means of support within which too many people—men in particular—operate. Sadly, in the sports culture, there seems to be even less. Think about what Brady Quinn was suggesting: locker room culture doesn’t allow its male inhabitants to ask for or offer certain types of emotional support. It’s the type of support that is labeled “feminine,” and that’s the last thing many men want to have associated with their reputation—especially among other men. My experience is that there is implicit pressure to limit your range of deeply expressed emotions to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

But think about it: if your teammate is reluctant to share with you problems he’s having in his relationship for fear of being “clowned” as a punk or a “pussy,” can you really say you’ve got his back?

MVP Strategies Leadership Training

MVP Strategies leadership training gives student trainees:
  • Ways to think critically about their leadership role in challenging harmful or dangerous gender and sexual norms that contribute to sexual harassment, sexual assault and relationship abuse.
  • Several options to employ in response to situations of actual or potential violence.
  • Information about the role of alcohol as a correlative factor in incidents of abuse and strategies for bystander intervention in circumstances of potential sexual assault where alcohol is involved.
  • Ideas about how to apply the bystander concept to issues of bullying, heterosexism, racism and mental health issues.
  • Support to introduce the key concepts of bystander intervention to incoming students who live on campus in both group settings and one-on-one interactions.
  • Information about on or off-campus resources they can share with students, including referrals for further information or services.
  • Handouts and other MVP curricular materials.

College Athletic Programs

NCAA Division I College Student-Athletes & Athletics Staff

The schools include:

Arizona State University Auburn University Baylor University
Boston College DePaul University Duke University
Duquesne University Florida State University Fresno State Universitys
Georgia State University Harvard University Indiana University
Kansas State University LaSalle University Louisiana St. University
Michigan State University Mississippi St. University Northeastern University
North Carolina St. University Penn State University Purdue University
San Jose State University St. John’s University St. Joseph’s University
Stony Brook University Temple University University of Alabama
University of Akron University of Arkansas University of Central Florida
University of Florida University of Georgia University of Hawaii at Hilo
University of Hawaii at Manoa University of Illinois, Chicago University of Kansas
University of Kentucky University of Louisville University of Iowa
University of Michigan University of Minnesota University of Mississippi
University of Northern Iowa University of Pennsylvania University of South Carolina
University of South Florida University of Tennessee University of Wisconsin
Vanderbilt University Villanova University Wake Forest University