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Media Articles – Page 2 – MVP Strategies
President Obama Models Men’s Leadership in Halting Sexual Assault
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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.

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