U.S. initiative aims to show male bystanders how they can stop rape

Men Can Stop RapeI recently got the chance to chat with a representative of Mencanstoprape.org, a fantastic group that advocates proactively against sexual violence with an accessible approach that targets young men. The organization proposes a completely fresh (and true) perspective on sexual assault, placing the burden of responsibility and prevention on the accused instead of, as is often part and parcel of systematic victim-blaming, on the accuser. In a society where police have said that dressing like a “slut” leads to rape and public awareness campaigns blame victims, Men Can Stop Rape fosters positive masculinity and an awareness of sexual violence to prevent, counteract, and help stop instances of sex crimes and the mentality behind them.

Washington-based co-founders Patrick Lemmon and Jonathan Stillerman started MCSR after realizing how ill-prepared they were to support female friends who approached them with personal experiences of sexual assault.

“They wanted to help other men learn how they could better support survivors and also play a positive role in preventing sexual violence,” says MSCR representative Pat McGann.

The organization hosts educational speaking events at schools and colleges across the U.S., also providing leadership training with the hope to perpetuate confident, mindful men who can be strong in ways not related to sexual dominance or violence. Public awareness campaigns are also a huge cornerstone of MCSR’s work.  Their focus is to “redefine masculinity and male strength” in a non-violent way, using an approach that feels friendly and [dare I say] “cool,” as if simply the advice of a friend rather than a social justice campaign.

“From bus shelters in D.C. to billboards and movie theatres across California to U.S. military instillations across the world, MCSR’s public education campaigns have reached hundreds of thousands of men with their visuals and messages,” McGann says.

The mission hasn’t exactly been easy, though. McGann says that the biggest roadblock MCSR has experienced is the fact that many men are hesitant to denounce sexism when they witness it or intervene in situations where sexual assault could be an outcome. They may be scared of how other men will perceive them, or worry that it’s not their place. He says that some of the group’s campaigns, such as “Where Do You Stand?” try to offer the support men need to speak up in these scenarios.

Another opposing force to the organization’s ideology is the ubiquitous sexist and patriarchal institutions that are so ingrained in modern society that they are almost inherent.

“Media perpetuates problematic concepts like victim-blaming and the idolization of male violence,” McGann says. “Media are enmeshed in the dominant stories that define conventional responses to sexual assault and that define what has traditionally been valued about masculinity.”

He says that this will only stop when society as a whole adopts a broader cultural understanding of rape prevention that includes men, and not just women.

“Historically, it has been women’s responsibility to prevent rape by taking precautionary measures. This lets men off the hook.”

Organizations like MCSR are fighting to change these embedded behaviour patterns and values for a better future for both genders. And, considering how far they’ve managed to spread their message, it’s working – though it will be a long time before even this single facet of the battle against sexism and rape culture is anywhere close to won. I can only hope that initiatives like this can make their way into Canada and into our collective consciousness.

“Together, we can change the culture of rape,” McGann says.

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