The Male Voice: unveiling & understanding the male response to sexual assault

Written by: Kathleen Shriver
Womans hand

Six months of jail time for sexual assault.  That’s what a California judge decided to give Brock Turner, a Stanford University varsity swimmer, after assaulting an unconscious woman.  Thankfully, the public responded with incredible dissent.

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t usually hear about the millions of other assault situations just like this one.  Young women all over the world have suffered, and continue to suffer, in silence.  Imagine the shame and isolation.  Imagine the discomfort and embarrassment.  Women should never have to experience this.

In a statement written by the survivor in the Stanford case, she expressed the immense feelings of isolation she endured after finding out from a news article that she had been sexually assaulted. She reads, “I tried to push it out of my mind, but it was so heavy I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone. After work, I would drive to a secluded place to scream. I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone, and I became isolated from the ones I loved most.”

These feelings are not unique to the Stanford survivor, they are sentiments that are echoed by the millions of women who have faced the overwhelming feelings of shame and isolation after being assaulted. They are the same feelings women come to face after reporting an assault, having to relive the trauma over and over again – to be revictimized – only to have their perpetrator walk away almost unscathed.

It goes without saying that there is more our society can do to improve upon this issue. But, we cannot expect women confront the issue alone, I believe that men need to join the conversation.

What happened to Turner’s victim was not okay and what happens to women on college campuses all over the world is not okay. This issue is not just indirectly, but also directly relevant to all of us – we are all vulnerable to assault.  Thus, we can play a part in ending it.

What occurred in the Turner case is one of many stories of sexual assault on college campuses, which brings me to the pressing issue of date rape.  According to the University of Sciences, date rape is “non-consensual sexual intercourse by a friend or acquaintance”. .  Many people believe non-consensual implies force, however this is not necessarily the case. Non-consensual simply means without agreement. Let’s be very clear, if someone is unable to give consent or does not agree under any circumstance, it is still rape.

In 2015, the survey from the Association of American Universities reported that more than one in five female undergrads at an array of prominent universities said they were victims of sexual assault. These results point to a glaring reality: sexual assault is all too common on college campuses. This cannot, and should not, be ignored.

In addition, “Because date and acquaintance rapes are less likely to be reported than stranger rapes, the likelihood of reporting sexual assault is lower on college campuses” (National Institute of Justice). Victims of sexual assault often fail to report the incident for a number of reason including lack of proof, fear of hostile treatment by the authorities, uncertainty of whether the incident was serious enough for a report, or even shame and embarrassment. Being uncomfortable or potentially unable to share their experience, women are often met with feelings of deep isolation, which often keeps them from reaching out to get the help and support they need.

So, how are we currently confronting this issue?  There are thousands of service groups across the U.S. and the world that aim to both support women and fight the culture of male dominance and violence.  However, most of these groups are women’s groups.

I just graduated from Boston College (BC) and will use it as a model for universities in the United States.  At BC, we have feminist groups and dialogues, we have a Women & Gender studies program, and we even have a Women’s Center.  The movement of girls and women who are coming together to build networks of support is incredible.  I fully endorse these societies of powerful women.  Nonetheless, I believe that women need to do more to get the men and boys involved in the conversation.

A local Bostonian organization that has provided refuge and support to victims of domestic violence since the early 1900s, Jane Doe Incorporated, has more recently adopted a new campaign.  The White Ribbon Campaign, started in Canada after the tragic events that occurred at École Polytechnique University, is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. It works to examine the root causes of gender-based violence and invites men to take the lead in facilitating dialogues around how to promote masculinity that “embodies the best qualities of being human”.  The idea is that men’s active participation is critical to ending men’s violence against women, children, and other men.

The campaign pledge is: “From this day forward, I promise to be a solution to ending violence against women”.  Jane Doe has found this to be its most impactful campaign so far.

While initiatives like the White Ribbon Campaign are great, we need to see more men’s organizations and groups taking an active role in eliminating all forms of violence against women. We need to invite men into the dialogue.  We need to invite men to tell other men that they can lead the way in creating this change.  Boys will also feel less attacked and more open to listening if they feel that their voice is being heard as well. And, I truly believe that male students can (and will) have a huge impact on other male students.

It is unquestionably not okay for women to be violated. It is not okay that Turner’s case is one of many. Women, and all victims of sexual assault, need to feel that they have a voice and they need to be reassured that when they do speak, that voice is heard. To do this and to support these survivors, the topic needs to be addressed and it needs to be publically addressed by both sexes. We need to remember, this is not just a women’s issue.

How do we get men to listen? We get them to talk.  If we want to change men’s view of power, of violence, and of women, we need them to speak to women and to one another.


kathleen

As a freelance writer for the SocialConnectedness.org website, Kathleen Shriver is bringing a youth voice and perspective to the movement.  Kathleen is a recent graduate from Boston College with a background in communications, journalism, and film. She has experience as a camp counselor and community programs coordinator along with a range of support roles with organizations including the Newseum, the Forger, and Grey Advertising. Kathleen has a passion for promoting inclusion through Unified Sports with Special Olympics where she has volunteered in the US, Greece, and Nicaragua. She loves to play tennis and appreciates the art of spreading the word for causes through social media.