Positive Masculinity and Sexual Assault Prevention: Male Voices in the Anti-Violence Movement

In Sexual Assault Awareness on October 4, 2011 at 4:00 am

We hear it all the time: never accept a drink from someone you don’t know. Don’t walk alone after dark. Don’t put yourself in positions of vulnerability by drinking too much or wearing revealing clothing.

Even though these common “self-defense” slogans are generally regarded as out-dated among today’s sexual assault prevention educators, they do reflect the still-pervasive notion that sexual assault prevention is the victim’s responsibility. Despite adamant proclamations that it is never the victim’s fault, many prevention efforts focus on reducing “high-risk” behaviors that may lead to victimization, rather than reducing “high-risk” behaviors, thoughts, feelings etc. that may lead to perpetration. While not all perpetrators are men, about 96% of offenders are male (U.S. Department of Justice), and additionally 1 in 6 men is a (reported) sexual assault victim (Bureau of Justice Statistics, y. 2000).

Why then have we primarily written this off as a “woman’s issue?” And why have men not been included in the dialogue on prevention of sexual assault?

As victim’s rights gained speed in the 1980s and 90s, violence, and specifically sexual violence, were first critically examined as issues stemming from traditional notions of masculinity and having to do with power and control. While the response to this was focusing efforts on the empowerment of women, in many ways it disempowers men not only as oppressors and/or perpetrators, but also as important and meaningful allies. If we really want to stregnthen our efforts in primary prevention (prevention efforts made before an assault occurs), it seems essential to empower all genders to construct positive masculinity, femininity, and everything in-between.

So what are we doing now?

In recent years there have been a surge of programs (though arguably not enough)which focus on the engagement of men in discussing, constructing and implementing notions of ‘positive masculinity’ so as to combat violence in our society. What we think of as hyper-masculine archetypes: “The Strong-Silent Type,” “The Warrior,” “The Provider,” “The Protector,” are all personifications of strength, stability, and duty. Many programs seek to reconfigure these values into more positive representations of masculinity, such as Men Can Stop Rape’s “My strength is not for hurting” campaign. Other domestic and sexual violence prevention programs such as In Touch With Teens, address sexism, racism, classism and homophobia as “institutionalized” forms of violence and explore how these influence interpersonal violence as well. Many colleges and universities are also adopting bystander intervention programs and working with fraternities and sororities to develop sexual violence awareness and intervention programs on college campuses.

For more information on programs that seek to engage men in the dialogue of sexual violence prevention, follow these links!

Men Can Stop Rape– a program to engage men, work toward positive masculinity, and build allies for the prevention of sexual assault


Peace Over Violence– In Touch With Teens program examines institutionalized violence and its contributions to interpersonal violence


Security on Campus– focuses on bystander intervention to improve prevention and intervention on college campuses


Binghamton University’s 20:1 Program– A program which engages fraternities, male athletes, and other men’s groups on campus to train peer educators and implement bystander intervention techniques.


If you have any questions, comments, or concerns or would like more information about implementing a prevention class, program or presentation in the Fredericksburg area, please contact me (Rosie) at prevention@rcasa.org



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