James Landrith salutes the men making an impact in sexual violence work and survivor advocacy programs.
If you’ve been around the blogosphere for longer than five minutes, you may have noticed recurring discussions on sexual violence and feminist related blogs related to the need for men to step up and take a bigger role in prevention and recovery. I’m not going to dispute that. Men do need to assume a higher profile, but as equal and respected partners, rather than out of guilt or as some form of penance for the actions of other men. That said, some people may not like the form that such involvement can take.
Putting Away the Keyboard
More often than not, the role that men are expected to assume by such bloggers, particularly by those who are not directly involved in real world advocacy themselves, is that of background support for the work of women already in the field. There is a philosophy, promoted by some, that men involved in sexual violence work should never seek leadership roles or question the present orthodoxy in any way. For some men, that may be a good fit. However, there are far greater opportunities available to men interested in making a real difference in sexual violence prevention or survivor advocacy programs.
Typically, men involved in sexual violence work are expected to engage ONLY in the following ways:
- Attend Men Can Stop Rape events and programs.
- Raise funds for crisis centers and prevention programs.
- Participate in protests and walks such as Slutwalks, Take Back The Night events, or locally inspired actions.
- Join campus organizations as an ally.
Making a Difference
There is nothing wrong with any of these approaches to involvement. If that is how you choose to make an impact, then I encourage you to make the most out of it. That said, there are many other under-utilized opportunities for men to get involved in sexual violence work. Some examples are below:
- Volunteer and train as a crisis line counselor. – Contrary to opinion among some in the blogosphere who do not engage in real world advocacy, not all female survivors want to talk to another woman. Some female survivors are impartial with regard to the gender of the person on the other end of the phone. Others still, prefer a male voice on the phone. Additionally, some male survivors may prefer to talk to another man.
- Join an advocacy organization that is involved locally. – Attend meetings, sign up for committees and participate in campaigns and events. Make your presence known through your actions and attitude. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions or question the status quo if you believe there is a better or more efficient way to accomplish a particular goal. Remember that an idea’s validity is not determined based on the genitalia of its proponent. The people who believe such nonsense tend not to be involved in the real world grunt work.
- Participate in a survivor speaker’s bureau. – If you are a survivor and at a place in your healing where you feel comfortable sharing, this can be a very healing and high impact form of involvement. Please remember that most survivors will NEVER feel comfortable with public disclosure. It is not a reflection on your healing or courage if you choose to not get involved with public speaking. For those of you who do get involved, you will be surprised at how many organizations are eager to hear from male survivors. The overwhelmingly vast majority of survivor speakers tend to be white females and event planners are looking to diversify their discussion topics. The impact of your presentation may be the very thing a survivor suffering in silence needs to feel validated and worthy of healing. Your words can help change someone’s life and further heal your own wounds.
- Speak out online and offline when you feel the need. – There are so many ways to change opinions and make an impact that don’t require the access and approval of specific organizations. Campaigns to rid Facebook of troubling groups that make light of sexual violence; correcting rape myths in everyday life as you confront them; and getting involved in legislative and legal campaigns when possible are additional options.
Potential Obstacles and Challenges
As a man involved in sexual violence work, you can expect to confront some very uncomfortable situations. For instance, you may be put into the “perp” box from time to time. This can come in the form of fellow advocates who promote generalizations based on gender. Also, you may experience the same while in contact with female survivors of male rapists.
The latter will be the hardest to overcome as you are dealing with a person who has had their trust violated in an extreme and traumatic manner. The former may come via people who are confusing advocacy work with ideological agendas. While this is far more common online with people who do not commit to real world advocacy, it can still occur offline in more limited supply.
When in contact with female survivors struggling with severe trust issues, you will need to work hard to gain trust and this will take patience. It is not your job to “fix” anyone. You are support to those who want your support. Your actions, more than anything, will communicate loudest to such female survivors. For some, you will never be trustworthy. You cannot control this and should not be made to feel guilty for the actions of those who hurt them. It is not possible to truly make a difference if you are attempting to atone for the actions of others. It is not a burden you can bear and no good will come of it for the survivor in the end. All you can do in such a situation is to put forth your best work and stay focused on the organization or campaign’s goals.
Advocates, however, have no excuse for treating male volunteers like pariahs or subjecting them to abuse or discrimination. Such treatment should be challenged as it is not appropriate in what is expected to be a healing environment. Bigotry and hatred have no place in sexual violence related efforts. If such advocates are willing to treat men who have volunteered their precious time and money in such a manner, they surely cannot be trusted around vulnerable male survivors or even female survivors who have been hurt by other women.
Keeping It Real
It is important to remember when dealing with any trauma survivor, that the healing process is theirs to own. It is entirely their decision as to how they heal and who they allow to assist them on that journey. No survivor should be made to feel pressured or emotionally manipulated to accept anyone’s help regardless of how sincere it may be offered if said help is not something the survivor is comfortable accepting. Everyone heals at their own pace and on their own terms. That should be respected without question or debate. Sexual violence survivors often create multiple layers of emotional barriers to protect themselves from harm. It is entirely the survivor’s decision who they allow to breach those walls. Please remember to respect that while serving the greater needs of the survivor community.
Far too often, advocates and volunteers completely lose sight of the real reason they are doing the work – the needs of the individual survivor and potential future victims. So long as you always bear in mind both the why AND who, you will be prepared to make a real and lasting impact.
Whatever your reasons for getting involved, please remember to take care of yourself as well. Working with survivors or on related campaign issues can be exhausting and emotionally stressful, even if you are not a survivor yourself. Practicing good self-care will ensure you are able to participate to the best of your ability and keep your mind and body in tune with your goals as a volunteer.
Why I Do It
In 2008, I finally decided to acknowledge what happened to me so many years ago as rape. I was drugged, raped and then blackmailed into silence by a female friend of a friend. As I’ve been involved in civil liberties work for years, it was a natural progression for me to add sexual violence work to my agenda. I had already acquired a thick skin from years of publishing The Multiracial Activist and The Abolitionist Examiner magazines online as well as participating in multiple civil liberties coalitions and efforts to include a U.S. Supreme Court case.
Since then, I have blogged about my own experience and related topics frequently on multiple websites. I’ve been interviewed online, via podcast and for print publication. As an active member of the speakers bureau for RAINN and speaker/trainer for the Survivors Caucus of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance I’ve visited college campuses, youth groups and churches to discuss rape myths, survivor needs and participate in panel discussions on sexual and domestic violence. My own story has been adapted for use by the Empowerment Theatre on stage. In addition, I was interviewed for a video segment that is shown during Precious Porter’s awesome one-woman performance of “No More Drama: Love Should Not Hurt”, which was recently performed/screened for a group of over 3,000 attendees in Atlanta, Georgia. Online, I am moderator for the Facebook group associated with the healing handbook Resurrection After Rape. In addition, I have served as a Section Moderator at Pandora’s Aquarium, one of the largest online mixed gender rape survivor communities. Offline, I have served as a secondary survivor for several female and male survivors who have done the same for me.
However you choose to make an impact is your decision. Just remember to keep your goals in mind and take care of yourself mentally and physically. This is important, but emotionally painful work. I salute each and every one of you who decide to take on such a burden.
Originally appeared at JamesLandrith.com.
—Photo Alex E. Proimos/Flickr