It's time for men to stop thinking of sexual abuse as a 'women's issue'

People who know me know how I feel about these issues. I've written about most of them before in some forum. I'm not going to say anything particularly new, but it's important to say it anyway and keep saying it until the landscape changes.

For a few weeks now now Canada has been caught up in the unfolding Jian Ghomeshi scandal. While the events described by his accusers are tragic and horrifying, it has created much needed discussions about rape, violence, consent and power. The #beenrapedneverreported hashtag took that conversation to a global audience. So, it is possible that a great amount of good could come from the fallout of a horrible situation.

None of this, however, is really new. For many years now women have been having, or trying to have, this conversation. The have been discussions about the tendency of victims not to report sexual abuse or violence and discussions about the tendency of law enforcement officials to blame the victimm and avoid prosecuting when it is reported since at least the 1980s.  Slutwalk began in Toronto, where Ghomeshi lived and worked, in 2011 calling for an end to “rape culture” and “victim blaming” and has since become a global movement. Another global movement with similar aims, Take Back the Night launched in 2006.

What is missing from all of this, for the most part, is men. It is men that commit violence against women including sexual abuse and domestic violence and men need to play a large role in fixing the problem.

First we need to dispense with the excuses: No it is not exclusively men who abuse, but it is primarily men. Not it is not all men who abuse, but it is primarily men who abuse. It is not enough to say “I do my part, I don’t abuse women.” It’s good that you personally are not a criminal. Not all early Europeans in the Americas owned slaves, not all Germans were Nazis. However it took the participation of European descended Americans to end the slave trade and it took the participation of Germans to end Nazi ideology in that country.

The problem of violence against women remains because while we as individual men may not personally commit crimes, too often we tolerate the language and attitudes that perpetuate rape culture. That tolerance allows others to think that harassment and even assault are in some way justified or acceptable.

Although I can’t claim that I’ve done extensive studies on the subject, I believe that it stems from the idea that women are property. This idea was strongly held by most cultures at some point in the last few hundred years and it still exists, whole and intact, in a few.

Even in the west, where most people laugh at the idea, it continues to reverberate throughout society. For example, there was no such thing as rape within marriage in Canada until 1982 or in the United States until 1993 in some places and 13 states continue to treat marital rape differently from other cases of sexual assault.

In much of the media, in advertising and in popular entertainment, women are still treated as objects to be collected or rescued and possessed and not human beings (not in the same way men are). While women may no longer be considered property under the letter of the law, many social attitudes continue to treat them that way.

Sexual harassment in the workplace and on the street continue without much change and without much chance that there will be negative consequences for those doing the harassing. Sexual assault is absolutely illegal on paper, but in reality it is highly unlikely that an assailant will be charged and even less likely that they will actually go to prison over it.

Sexual assault and harassment are not women's issues, they are human issues. They are, or should be, important to men because we are human and because we have mothers, daughters, sisters and friends who may be or who already have been victimized. If we care about them, we can't sit on the sidelines and see what happens.

The first thing that most men will want to do is familiarize themselves with the term rape culture and the behaviors that constitute and perpetuate that culture.

We have to let our law makers and law enforcers know that there need to be harsher penalties, more prosecutions and more convictions. We have to let them know that blaming the victim is not acceptable. It doesn't matter what she was wearing, whether or not she'd been drinking, or how many previous sexual partners she had. It does not matter if she was in his car or in his house. It does not even matter if she had agreed to have sex and changed her mind, or agreed to have sex but expected a condom or agreed to have sex but not to participate in certain activities. Without consent it is rape, if she says no it is rape, if she didn't say yes it is rape.

We have to let the producers of popular entertainment know that women are people and need to be portrayed as such and not simply used to decorate men's stories.

Beyond that we have to call out our friends, co-workers and others for their behavior. Sexual assault is not ok, harassment is no ok, violence (domestic or otherwise) is not ok. It is not a joke and it is not something you 'kid' about. There is no 'boys club' when it comes to these things. They are not covered under 'bros before hos' or 'the bro-code' or any of the other ridiculous 'codes' that men use to try to avoid the consequences of their behavior.

If talking to the men around you doesn't work, report what you see. Talk to human resources, talk to the police. If human resources and the police won't do their jobs, report them to elected officials or other government bureaucracies. If you see a crime, report the crime. Finally, give women the benefit of the doubt. If the accused is 'innocent until proven guilty' it doesn't mean the accuser is probably lying. They too should be given the benefit of the doubt and taken at their word until 'proven guilty'.

If I've taken up a great deal of your time without saying anything new, I can't really apologize for it. I hope that I am wrong but I'm afraid that I'll have to say it many more times before there is serious change and, really, I suggest that you start saying it too - especially if you are male.
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