- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Pat McGann, director of outreach at Men Can Stop Rape.

Question: How has the Kobe Bryant case affected the discussion on rape?

Answer:Thus far, it has not led to the discussion and understanding of the issue that I would like to see from my perspective. What I mean by that [is] it has ignited this national discussion about whether Kobe committed sexual assault or not.

But from our organization’s perspective, that’s the wrong discussion. The right [discussion] is how we can keep this from happening in the future — prevent sexual violence — and how all men and women can play a role so that no one finds themselves in that situation. We believe in order for that to happen it can’t be just a women’s issue any longer. So, we have to rethink not only our understanding of what it means to prevent sexual violence, but also explore and better understand what it means to be a man.

Q: What are the root causes of sexual violence?

A:We believe the answer is pretty simple, although it’s complicated in many ways. It’s easy to name. It’s nothing more than seeing a group of people as less than human. And we know that this applies to all kinds of acts of violence. Whether it’s racial violence or ethnic violence or gay bashing, it’s about all of us beginning to challenge and change that perspective.

Q: Why are women seen as less than human and what can men do about it?

A: In many ways, men are miseducated. We [as men] are taught how to get respect, but not how to give it. So what we learn is if we are going to get respect we have to rise to the top of the pack. The messages we receive in a lot of ways are about lifting ourselves up at the expense of others, so when those are the messages that you get it’s hard to pay attention and listen to what other people have to say and respect their opinions and desires.

Men Can Stop Rape wants to redefine traditional masculinity, so it’s about raising oneself up and other people with you. We do this in a number of ways — we believe there are a lot of men out there who understand the importance of preventing sexual violence and violence against women, but really don’t know what to do about it. Part of our work is to provide role models and programs with avenues for them to take action.

For example, our “Strength” campaign, which we launched in all D.C. public high schools in February 2001, promotes the idea that men can be strong without being violent. We have five different posters that are part of the campaign. The posters depict men listening to women in positive ways. One of the posters says: “My strength is not for hurting, so when I wanted to and she didn’t — we didn’t.”

Q: Tell me a bit more about the “Strength” campaign.

A: The “Strength” campaign emphasizes how men can be strong without using intimidation, force or violence to get what they want in relationships. The campaign has received national attention because it provides men with positive role models and messages. Since the 2001 launch date in the District, campaign materials and messages have spread across the country and outside the United States.

Currently, our “Strength” campaign posters have appeared in all 50 states and in six countries. And most recently the Virginia Department of Health has licensed the campaign and currently is running it throughout the state. We’re in the process of initiating discussions with others outside the D.C. area about licensing the campaign.

Q: Do you believe men can make a difference talking to other men about this issue?

A: First, let me stress that women have been speaking out about stopping violence against women for years. A significant part of what we do has been influenced by them, and we owe them a great debt. We join them as allies, men and women speaking out together against a violence that has to end for the benefit of all.

Q: How do you go about re-educating men?

A: Well, one of the things we’ve learned in terms of trying to work with men on this issue is that conducting one workshop is really of limited value. That’s not to say it’s not important, but in order to really have a lasting impact the work has to take place over a longer period of time.

One of the ways we’re addressing sexual violence against women is through our Men of Strength Clubs. They take place in D.C.-area high schools, in organizations and institutions that help male youths throughout the metropolitan area. The clubs meet weekly and focus on creating a safe forum for young men to explore men’s role in preventing sexual violence and other forms of men’s violence. We work with teenagers over a period of anywhere from one semester to an entire school year.

This is about re-educating men — we do not suggest that everything about masculinity is negative because there are positive qualities associated with what it means to be a man. The clubs explore the commendable aspects of manhood and identify the destructive and harmful qualities.

As men we’re told how to be a man. It doesn’t seem like there is a choice, so part of our goal is to help young men and all men recognize that there are alternatives to violence — healthier versions of manhood. We all have a choice about alternatives to violence and how we define ourselves.

Q: How prevalent are sexual assaults in the metropolitan area?

A: We know that somewhere in the U.S. a woman is raped every six minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. On the basis of that statistic, we know that it’s undoubtedly a common occurrence in the Washington, D.C., area and we also know that it’s the most underreported violent crime in the United States. According to the National Victim’s Center, National Survey of American Women, five out of six rapes go unreported.

You just mentioned a rape in Rock Creek Park, we know there was a gang rape that occurred at the end of September a few blocks from our office that received very little media attention. Rapes occur frequently and are rarely reported. The media tends to pay attention to the most high-profile cases and we also know that when the media does pay attention, it frequently is a stranger rape — meaning the victim does not know the individual.

But approximately 80 percent of sexual assaults are acquaintance rapes.


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