How can we get all people who are concerned with social justice and equality speaking out on the issue of sexual and domestic violence against men and boys?
People on the Autism spectrum look at the world in a truly unique manner. What the rest of the world labels as “a disability” is, to those of us on the spectrum, a creative, neurological diversity in how we process information and adjust our “lenses” in viewing the world: Many people on the spectrum can “zoom in” to see miniscule yet crucial details of a situation. I can also pull back the lens and see the extreme whole of a situation, connecting groups of facts across disciplines and fields that may seem to have no apparent relationships. I can do both of these “lens adjustment” feats simultaneously.
Despite the social and sensory challenges of being on the spectrum, I have worked as a professional in the human services and as a advocate of social justice for nearly two decades. I have worked with thousands of hurting children and families in multiple roles, including as a mental health counselor, parenting coach, social worker, educator and mentor. I am also the proud Mom of a 20 year old son I adopted from the foster care system when he was 11.
Like many on the spectrum, I also enjoy research, especially of psychology, anthropology, child development, neurology, human attachment theory, learning theory and trauma’s effect on the human brain. I am able to translate all of my experiences of working with people affected by violence, my own personal experiences of helping to protect and heal my son and the data extracted from my multidisciplinary research into a mosaic of understanding humanity as a whole. In other words, I can see the threads of how childhood trauma and attachment breaks in each individual family lead to the tragic tapestry of global human suffering. Family violence is almost always a symptom of trauma and unmet emotional and physical needs, usually in the childhoods of the adults. I believe that hurt people need compassion, healing and guidance, not punishment. My passion is to heal human suffering at its root causes and to offer people compassion and hope.
When women and girls are victims, I have found that compassion and fierce political action from our society abounds. There is no resistance from professionals or from the media to raising awareness to the suffering and needs of girls and women. I have always expected equally passionate attention to be given to the needs and suffering of boys and men. However, I have continuously run up against an aggressive blockage when I attempt to raise awareness about the suffering and needs of boys and men and how violence in males is a direct result of childhood trauma.
After years of exhaustive attempts to find a forum for these issues in media that is social justice-focused, I have been dismayed to find that it is often frowned upon to mention males as a group unless it is to criticize, blame or even degrade them. Especially taboo is acknowledging the high prevalence of sexual and domestic violence against males, the growing number of female perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence, the mass pathologizing and drugging of boys in schools, the shaming of males in the media, the fact that 80% of suicides are boys and men and that one of the most ignored human rights violations in America is Male Genital Mutilation. The recent, United Nations-backed HeForShe campaign is a good example of campaigns that omit attention to sexual and domestic violence against boys and men. The campaign asks men to take “The HeForShe Commitment” pledge:
“Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.”
However, what about violence and discrimination against men and boys? Why aren’t both men and women being asked to take actions against all forms of violence against anyone?
Males as victims and females as aggressors are human rights issues that have serious implications for the public’s safety. Trying to warn the public is an impossible feat if the information is dismissed or ignored. If human service agencies, social justice campaigns and the media refuse to acknowledge males as victims and females as aggressors, how will the public ever be made aware of the increasing but quiet empirical research indicating that boys and young men actually suffer equal or slightly more rape and sexual violence at the hands of girls and young women than the reverse, or that women perpetrate more child abuse and domestic partner abuse than men? If this information reached the public, what is it that people fear?
I believe that if the public was aware of the research, both women and men would get the help they deserve and that boys and girls would be healed to prevent them from passing on the cycle of violence. We cannot achieve true peace between the sexes and genders or true equality unless we are willing to cease viewing domestic and sexual violence as gender crimes and develop a mutual understanding that sexual and domestic violence against anyone– child, woman or man- is not acceptable by anyone.
Perhaps media outlets will begin offering a more quality forum for the growing numbers of humanitarians who care about the suffering, needs and rights of all human beings?
People on the Autism spectrum are tenacious and intensely concerned with fairness. Many of us on the spectrum have little interest in placating people or conforming to systems simply to fit in, because most of us do not fit in with neurotypical groups or systems. As a woman on the spectrum, as well a mental health professional, a human rights advocate and the mother of a son, I refuse to be silenced about the overlooked side of social justice. I believe it is time for all social justice-minded activists, professionals and citizens to ask ourselves how we can call ourselves champions of human rights if we are overlooking very real human rights issues, ignoring human suffering in half of the population and inadvertently preventing the healing of our human family.
- Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended by Laurie A. Couture
- Coerced Sex Not Uncommon for Young Men, Teenage Boys, Study Finds, American Psychological Association, March 25, 2014
- Male and female recipients of unwanted sexual contact in a college student sample:
- prevalence rates, alcohol use, and depression symptoms by Mary E. Larimer, Amy R. Lydum, Britt K. Anderson, Aaron P. Turner, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Volume: 40. Issue: 3-4, 1999
- One in Three U.S. Youths Report Being Victims of Dating Violence, American Psychological Association, July 31, 2013
- Male Circumcision: Pain, Trauma and Psychosexual Sequelae, Journal of Health Psychology, Volume 07 Issue 03, May 1, 2002
- The WHOLE Network: Research Circumcision
- The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions by Lara Stemple and Ilan H. Meyer, American Journal of Public Health, June 2014
- High Prevalence of Sexual Victimization Detected Among Men; Similar to Prevalence Found Among Women in Many Cases by Laura Rodriquez and Donald Gatlin, The Williams Institute, April 30, 2014,
- Risk Factors for Physical Violence Between Dating Partners: Implications for Gender-Inclusive Prevention and Treatment of Family Violence, chapter in Family Approaches in Domestic Violence: A Practitioners Guide to Gender-Inclusive Research and Treatment, by Rose A. Medeiros and Murray A. Straus, 2006
- Thirty Years of Denying the Evidence on Gender Symmetry in Partner Violence: Implications for Prevention and Treatment by Murray A. Straus, Partner Abuse, Volume 1, Number 3, 2010