Let’s face the truth: most perpetrators of violence are men. This is clearly spelled out for us by the Office of Violent Crime’s 2013 Statistical Overview. Male violence, whether it’s intimate partner violence, gang violence, child abuse, or any other form, is a real problem in the United States and worldwide. Policies and laws to prevent violence and protect victims of violence are critically important. Direct services and support are vital as well. I’m in no way implying otherwise. However, laws only go so far in preventing male violence and direct services are there to aid victims and survivors, not so much to prevent future perpetrators from acting again or from perpetrating violence in the first place. What else can be done?
The term masculinities kept coming up in my courses on gender in graduate school, but it was a new concept for me then. I recall a feeling of overwhelming excitement after reading an article about a program in Ecuador that engaged male perpetrators of intimate partner violence in an intensive group program to breakdown the root causes of their violence toward their female partners. I thought to myself—wow, society has evolved.
We are finally tackling the issues. In meeting with Miguel Perez this past week, I started feeling that excitement again. Miguel is the Coordinator of the Male Violence Prevention Project (MVPP), a project of OPCC founded in February, 2010 by a group of Santa Monica-based organizations. At 28-years-old, Miguel just gets it. Growing up in Venice and attending Venice High School, Miguel watched gang violence infiltrate and take a toll on his community for years. After playing and coaching football for 15 years, Miguel realized he wanted to do something to change things. When asked to take on the role of coordinating MVPP, Miguel felt that it was the right place for him to put his experience, education, and objectives to work. “Since I had been a football coach, I felt that I had a market to engage men in non-violence in work.”
The Male Violence Prevention Project is uniquely targeting adults who work with children and youth to shift their perceptions and norms on masculinity. The program began when Dr. Jackson Katz conferred with the Santa Monica Police Chief and the Westside Domestic Violence Network in 2009 to discuss a program that would combine Katz’s “bystander approach” with the concept that the responsibility to create non-violent future generations falls on the adult men and women who influence and interact with our youth.
The “bystander approach” aims to shift the culture. “Instead of people looking at each other as potential victims or perpetrators,” explained Miguel, “we look at each other as allies. How would allies speak up?” He told me of a case from the 1960’s, that of Kitty Genovese, who was brutally stabbed to death in front of numerous people who watched, but did nothing to stop the murder. Phil Ochs even wrote a song about the incident:
“O look outside the window
There’s a woman being grabbed
They’ve dragged her to the bushes
And now she’s being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun I’d hate to blow the game
And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends”
There have been numerous studies on why people just stand idly by at times when they know that what they’re seeing is wrong. However, bystander interventions have proven effective in reducing violence. MVPP uses the concept that bystanders should intervene and that the new generations obtain their cultural norms from older folks, so infusing the two in workshops with adults can truly make a difference.
So far, MVPP has held programs at Santa Monica and Olympic High Schools and they are open to working with other high schools. NCJW/LA is collaborating with MVPP to bring their workshops to West Hollywood and other local schools. They’ve conducted workshops with administrators, coaches, counselors, and teachers. Program attendees are both women and men and the facilitators are women and men as well. Male facilitators often start off the discussions with personal stories of violence that they’ve witnessed or been involved with in their lives and how it’s affected them.
At first I wondered why the program was for both men and women, but I realized quickly that it’s just as important for adult women to understand male violence as it is for men. Women teachers, counselors, coaches, and administrators are influencing young men and women just as much as men are.
Miguel mentioned that one of the questions program participants have had is why aren’t they talking about violent women? When I asked Miguel how they deal with such questions, he said that he would have to quote Jay Z: “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” Miguel explained: “men sometimes feel threatened by the concept of discussing only male violence because most men are not violent so they feel insulted by it. There’s some sort of push back by those who think at first that this is not their problem.” The great thing is that most of the responses to the program have been positive, with participants thanking MVPP for bringing these issues to light and for engaging them in such important conversations. Personally, I’m impressed.
February 14th is Valentine’s Day, but it’s also V-Day, and we are rising up against violence against women as part of Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising movement. I applaud all women and men who are playing a role in shifting norms on violence, masculinity, and femininity. This V-Day, NCJW/LA hosts Miguel Perez, Patti Giggans of Peace Over Violence, Barrie Levy of UCLA, Ava Rose LCSW of NCJW/LA, and Terra Slavin of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center on an important panel titled Dating Without Danger: Teen Dating Violence Prevention & Intervention. The panel will be moderated by Lindsey Horvath, the Regional Coordinator of One Billion Rising. Visit www.ncjwla.org for information.
MAKE SURE TO WEAR RED AND BLACK in solidarity. We will be showing the One Billion Rising "Breaking the Chain" video before and after the program to dance as part of the One Billion Rising movement.