Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The majority of men are not violent. However, too many are silent.

The focus of the Men’s Anti-Violence Council (MAC)—a volunteer program of the Women’s Resource & Action Center (WRAC) at The University of Iowa—is to get the silent majority to spring into action as part of the solution in raising awareness about preventing violence, especially male perpetrated intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking against women.

Currently, there are 15 members of the council, including five graduate students. Jerrod Koon, a doctoral degree candidate in counseling psychology in the UI College of Education, is the MAC coordinator.

“We send a message that men care about these issues and can be helpful. Historically, men haven’t been engaged about these issues and if they were, it was as potential perpetrators,” Koon said. “We engage men because they can be active bystanders and part of the solution. We need more men to step up and get involved.”

MAC members encourage men to make a choice other than silence and to ignore the belief that it’s “none of my business.”

There are numerous ways to get involved. It can be by expressing disapproval or questioning the meaning of a comment or joke or expressing concern if you feel that someone’s safety or well-being is in danger. The point is that bystanders have a choice. They can choose to remain silent or to be helpful.

“I don’t see intervening as an act of kindness. I see it as my (and any person’s) responsibility to step in and correct an injustice or prevent an assault,” said Patrick Dolan, a UI lecturer in rhetoric. “When a man intervenes to say that a joke is inappropriate or that some hostile action toward a woman isn’t right, he is sending a very strong message that our community has values and ways of acting that don’t allow men to mistreat women.”

MAC provides resources, training, and workshops for the campus and community, encouraging men to send a message about what is acceptable in the community.

“We have wonderful men in our community who lead incredibly healthy and fulfilling lives. However, it is the unhealthy messages that often get the most attention,” said Koon.

One workshop teaches bystander intervention skills, applying them to scenarios and providing options about how to intervene when something is inappropriate.

These skills are particularly meaningful to Koon.

“Too many women in my life have survived violence and sexual assault. Too many to ignore or dismiss. However, I never knew how to be helpful,” Koon said. “I never knew what to say, I never knew what to do, and I never knew how to help. I always felt helpless.”

Koon ultimately got tired of not knowing what to do and volunteered with the Women’s Resource and Action Center. His volunteer efforts turned into a job at the center in May 2008.

WRAC used grant funds earmarked for violence prevention to hire Koon to help form what would eventually become the Men’s Anti-Violence Council.

Another MAC workshop covers topics regarding masculinity and the importance of positive mentors in the lives of young men inside and outside the classroom.

“Men need to educate themselves about the things that prevent women from being welcomed in spaces formerly reserved for men,” Dolan said. “That happens in classrooms and the media, but it also happens when a father talks to his son, an older brother to a younger brother, a friend to a friend, or a mentor to a young man. The direct interventions will take a long time, but each one makes things a little better.”

As of last semester, the Men’s Anti-Violence Council has provided workshops and presentations for over 1,000 students, staff, and community members.