My last two blogs have focused on men who love or care about women or men who are victimized. My most recent post examined how men can be supportive (even when we don’t know what to do) when a friend or loved one shares their experiences of having been raped or abused (“What to do when you’re Standing there”). Most of these suggestions focused on what individual men can do.
Since many, if not most of us, as men, can relate to being the loved one or friend of someone who has been directly victimized, the experience of being drawn into this as a loved one can also be a call to activism. The experience of being the loved one or friend of someone who has been victimized can also lay a foundation for how we as men can respond more collectively and more publicly to issues of rape, domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence. In Men Speak up: A toolkit for action in men’s daily lives (published by White Ribbon Australia), Dr. Michael Flood outlines a series of things that men can do to proactively help to respond to and prevent gender based violence.
His paper suggests starting where we’re starting in this short series of blogs. According to Dr. Flood, the three things men can best do to support victims and survivors are to Listen, believe and respect. Listen to what women (or men) say about their experience; Believe them when they share what happened to them (even when there are parts that don’t totally make sense) and respect her/his feelings and decisions.
These suggestions also lay a foundation for ways that men can take more public and collective action. I want to argue for our role to believe, and to believe out loud! when women or men disclose that they have been victimized in these ways.
Why is believing, and Believing Out Loud, so critical? The default position by many, if not most, men; as well as by our society as a whole seems to be to disbelieve women and men who share their experiences of being raped, or battered, or harassed or stalked. This dis-belief seems to be magnified for black and brown women. We, as a society and for the most part as men, force women and men who have been victimized to “prove” to us that something happened, or that the person they’re accusing was actually capable of doing such a thing – often by something like the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. We seem to start with doubt and force women or men who have been victimized to convince us that something “really happened.”
As should be no surprise whatsoever, facing this as a response only magnifies the trauma and the harm that people who are victimized experience.
For us, as men to turn this around and make our default position that we believe, puts us in a position to help shift the dialogue. Imagine if the public response to the next time someone claims that some beloved icon had sexually assaulted her/him/them; that the public response was something more like “wow, that must have been an incredible violation for you, and how brave of you to come forward about this experience.”
Some of us have had this kind of experience on the personal level. Some of us have had women or men that we know and love tell us that they were hurt in an atrocious way, by someone that we know and love. On a personal level, many of us have felt the very real confusion about and the heartfelt dilemma that emerges when we consider someone we love raping or abusing someone we love. And, because it was our mother or our sister or our roommate or our best-friend’s cousin, our default was to believe. Even when what they shared with us didn’t coincide with our view of the person they were accusing. On a personal level, many of us know how to start with believing. I’m challenging us to take what we know on the personal level, and move it to the collective and public arenas.
There are reasons why we as men may be hesitant to readily believe women or men when they disclose their experiences of being victimized. In short, we don’t want to believe that someone like he could do something like that because he looks and acts a lot like me, and I surely don’t want to believe that I could do something like that. So we create a distance between us and the person who was victimized.
But this distance doesn’t move us forward in our respond to and prevention of, all forms of gender based violence and abuse.
So I suggest we begin by creating a default, by men, of believing when women or men share that they’ve been victimized. As a next step, practice “believing out loud.” Anti-racist activist Anne Braden was known to say that the two most important aspects of being an ally is to be vocal and be visible. I want to borrow from this perspective in terms of men’s proactive support for women or men who experience rape or domestic violence. Being visible and vocal about the fact that we believe!
So what does it look like to “Believe Out Loud?”
- When we’re out with friends and the conversation turns to the latest public rape or domestic violence story, take a position – “I don’t’ know any more than anyone else does, but I believe her.”
- Where a T-shirt during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (April in the US) or Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (October in the US), or Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (February in the US) that simply says “I believe. When asked about what that means, you get to explain.
- When people are talking with you and raise doubts about someone’s sharing of their story of victimization, ask “why would she/he lie?”
- Attend Take Back the Night, Victims Night, and Domestic Violence Awareness events…and bring five friends.
- Talk with your place of worship about holding a prayer service in support of women or men who are victimized.
- Connect with your local rape crisis center, domestic violence, agency, or state/tribal or provincial coalition to learn more ways that you can Believe Out Loud!
Men have a powerful role to play in helping to shift our social response to better support and care for women and men who have been victimized.
A part of what I offer as a consultant, is services and resource to help rape crisis center, domestic violence agencies and victim advocacy programs to better reach and connect with men…including men who love women or men who have been victimized. I have recently developed an assessment tool for such agencies as a beginning point, and based on this assessment, can help rape crisis center, domestic violence agencies, and victim advocacy programs to develop a strategy to better reach out to, engage and support male loved ones.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
© 2017 by Rus Ervin Funk