Mens’ silence supports rape

By Dan Mollison

Last week I had the opportunity to personally speak with Jackson Katz, a leader who is dedicated to preventing violence against women. In a talk at Foellinger Auditorium, Katz conveyed a powerful message about the reality behind sexual violence and the responsibility that men have in working to prevent it.

The idea of men working to end rape may seem strange. Even though 99 percent of perpetrators are men and 90 percent of victims are women, we rarely hear about the need for men to care about and work toward solving what is commonly seen as a “women’s issue.”

Katz discussed the ways that men are directly affected and suffer because of this violence. He told us a story about an old friend of his from college that he recently bumped into at a reunion. The friend pulled Katz aside and confided in him that his wife had been waking up screaming in the middle of the night because she was having flashbacks that were associated with being sexually assaulted years ago. This man had no idea what, if anything, he could do for his wife. Katz then asked us, “Has this man not been affected by sexual violence?”

He continued by clarifying the magnitude of the impact sexual violence has on men on a national scale. There are 18 million women across America who have identified themselves as survivors of gendered violence. This means that there are 18 million fathers of daughters who have been raped, approximately 18 million intimate partners who are in love with survivors of this violence, and countless more brothers and male friends who deeply care about the survivors in their lives. To say that the violence that men perpetrate against women is only a “women’s issue” is simply not the case; we are all affected by and suffer from the damage this violence brings, whether we are aware of it or not.

Katz cautions that it’s true that most men aren’t rapists, but it’s also true that most men aren’t doing nearly enough to prevent sexual violence. He argues that a man should challenge gendered violence not to be a “nice guy” or because he wants to “help out,” but because to be a responsible family member and community leader requires addressing this violence.

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All men have an obligation to openly and honestly confront these issues, especially those who fill most of our society’s leadership positions.

The most fascinating aspect of Katz’s talk was his analysis of jokes. Studies show that belonging to an all-male group that encourages rape-supportive attitudes (usually through making jokes about women and rape) is a common factor identified in college-age rapists. One of the first ways we as men can help prevent sexual violence is simply by challenging these remarks when the men around us make them. Ironically, men who speak out in support of women often have their manhood challenged by other men; but as Katz points out, “it takes much more strength and self-confidence to speak up to your friend when he’s telling jokes and sexist comments than it takes to stand by.”

We need to redefine what it means to be a man. We need to set the bar of what it means to be a “good guy” a little higher than “I’m not a rapist,” or “I don’t beat my girlfriend.” All that perpetrators ask of us is that we mind our own business, be silent, and allow them to continue their violence unchecked. If a man implicitly supports rapists with his silence, can he be considered a “good guy”?

Can we be considered “good guys” if we’re in a position to intervene and stop a rape from happening and we do nothing? Can we be considered “good guys” if we make jokes about women or rape, or hear friends making these remarks and say nothing? Can we be considered “good guys” if we hear a man gloating about a rape (usually framed as a “hook-up”) and we don’t step up to challenge him?

Can we be “good guys” if we support rape with our silence?