Owens: Men have a critical role in preventing sexual violence
This column is one part of a series of articles on sexual assault awareness at the University of Oregon. Read Emerald editor Sami Edge’s letter to find out why we’ve dedicated today’s edition of Emerald Monday to the topic.
One out of every five college-aged women in America will be a victim of sexual assault — compared to one out of every 16 college-aged men, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
As a man with healthy, platonic and romantic relationships with women, I cannot comprehend why some men feel that sexual violence is acceptable. Although it can be difficult to take a stand against this issue, there are things that men can do, and need to do, to help.
Different forms of oppression such as sexism, racism and heteronormativity largely intersect with sexual violence. Gender is at the center of social structures all over the world, often with men as the dominant group, so we must use our power and privilege as men to create safer and more equal communities.
Men have been linked to being in control and being aggressive, but we must reject the popular belief that dominance means strength. Toxic masculinity cannot be overlooked any longer. No more “boys will be boys.”
Activism can be small-scale; one of the most powerful things we can do as individuals is just listen. Whenever someone tells a story pertaining to sexual violence it means that they trust their audience. They just need someone to listen. They don’t want to be blamed and they don’t want to know how they can protect themselves, they just need someone who will validate their experiences. Even if the violence was never reported, it is still very real.
When a survivor puts their trust in you and tells you their story, do not get involved in your own feelings, you must just worry about them. We are not always aware when we are being judgmental. It is not your job as a listener to tell a survivor how they could have prevented sexual violence. These survivors are looking for a nonjudgmental response – and it’s important that they get that response every single time, no matter when their experience occurred. Getting infuriated about the situation will not make the survivor any more comfortable about telling you.
No survivor should be told what they have to do next. They are the only person who knows what is best for their healing process at that time.
It is not always easy to believe that our brothers, coworkers and friends are the men committing these acts. No matter how many great qualities someone has, when they cross the line they must be called out. By crossing the line I don’t just mean committing sexual violence, but also calling women inferior names, telling or supporting sexist jokes, etc. It takes courage to intervene and stand up for someone, but men listen to men. Even if it is not how it should be, men have a certain power and connection to other men that women often do not.
Communication plays a key role in preventing and intervening in sexual violence. We cannot remain silent; we must be models of respect for our peers.
We need to educate ourselves on these issues because they are not something that many of us were taught by the education system or media. Consent is such an important concept that often gets blurred by society. Consenting to one sexual activity does not mean you have complete permission for all sexual activities and, contrary to popular belief, sexting is not consenting. For most of us there was no talk of how to get consent in high school, and much of popular media has actually portrayed overcoming a woman’s resistance as romantic. Sex without consent is not romance. It’s rape.
It is not enough to know that since you aren’t committing the sexual violence yourself that you are done doing your job. So many men don’t think that rape is okay, but then do nothing to put a stop to it. It’s time that men get their voices out there and take part in organizations that help survivors and promote healthy relationships.
I hope you will join me in being a real man who stands up to sexual violence.
Follow Tanner Owens on Twitter @T_Owens21
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