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Engaging men in the battle against sexual assault

By: Burton W. Patterson, Rape Prevention Education Coordinator, Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA)

“It happens to women, not men, so why should men even be concerned with a ‘women’s issue’?”  

What role do men play in ending sexual assault? Although the narrative of sexual violence as a “women’s issue” is slowly changing, there are still men who believe that because they are not directly affected by sexual assault, that it isn’t their problem. It is true that there is a very large disparity in the percentages. CDC research shows that most survivors of rape are women–nearly 1 in 5 or 18.3%, will experience rape in her lifetime. But there are also male survivors, with 1 in 71 or 1.4% of men reporting rape. Approximately 1 in 20 women and men (5.6% and 5.3%, respectively) experienced sexual violence other than rape. 4.8% of men reported they were made to penetrate someone else at some time in their lives, while 13% of women and 6% of men reported they experienced sexual coercion at some time in their lives. This is not a “women’s issue”; it is a pervasive issue that affects everyone regardless of their gender identity.

This has been said many times, but it is important to repeat- not all men are rapists. From a very young age, boys are told by society that they need to fit inside a box made up of societal constructs that encourage domination and control of others rather than intellectualism and empathy. This limits the choices and expressions of men to rigid traditional masculine roles and values, and keeps men from exploring gender constructs. It also keeps them from intervening when they witness sexual violence.

How do we engage men in these conversations and help them see the importance of their role in the fight to end sexual assault? That’s my cue: Enter stage right! One of the things I am working to do in my role as a rape prevention educator is to define traditional masculinity and discuss how it affects bystander intervention. I have the privilege of working with young men in fraternities on college campuses across the state of Indiana. Creating a safe place for men to discuss other meanings of masculinity helps engage them as allies in the fight against sexual violence on campus, empowers them to practice bystander intervention, and to imagine a healthier version of their gender identity. We chose to work with fraternities because the Greek culture on many campuses is a well-established social system with a wide-reaching network and influential presence. By engaging in ongoing conversations with fraternities, while applying their influence on campus to bring about positive change, we can help shift rape culture and work toward the elimination of sexual assault.

The name of the primary prevention program is Speak Up Speak Out Project. Topics range from toxic masculinity and male privilege to healthy relationships, alcohol’s impact on consent, and bystander intervention. A major goal of Speak Up Speak Out Project is to motivate participants to encourage other fraternity members to engage in sexual assault primary prevention programming while ultimately becoming sexual assault activists in their fraternitiesand on their campuses as well.  To learn more about our work, check out our website at



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