Christina’s Corner: Men must join fight against sexual assault

Christina Coleburn, Deputy Opinion Editor

On Feb. 7, The New York Times published an extensive feature about bystander intervention, an innovative tactic to curb sexual violence on college campuses. The theory behind the effort is relatively straightforward — a third party intercedes if a man aggressively pursues an intoxicated woman. The approach to these programs, however, is somewhat revolutionary. Bystander intervention aims to integrate men into the fight against sexual assault, a battle that has so far largely been waged by women through research, campaigns and rape crisis centers. The programs have been adopted on campuses throughout the country.

Although the effort to address sexual violence has thus far been dominated by females, movement leaders should extend their outreach to include men. Engaging male students not only expands the network of advocates against assault, but it also introduces young men to a cause that can appear irrelevant to their interests. Society usually directs its messaging about rape toward women with focuses ranging from drinking habits to caveats about the psychological and physical trauma that violence brings. Until now, this communication has scarcely been conveyed to males. If attempts to prevent sexual assault are to be successful, young men must be made aware that they have a vested concern beyond avoiding prison.

Even more detrimental than excluding men from the conversation is adopting a message that can be perceived as alienating. The New York Times piece noted that some men feel targeted by the tone of prevention efforts and are made to feel that they have directly perpetuated the culture surrounding sexual assault. On the contrary, statistics demonstrate that this assertion is far from the truth. According to the article, about three percent of college men are responsible for 90 to 95 percent of rapes. This figure implies that 97 percent of young men can appreciably be part of the solution. The public does a disservice by suggesting that male voices are invalid or that men have little to gain by participating in the general discourse.

Regardless of societal conception, poor communication or misguided doubt, male participation is imperative to successfully combat sexual assault on campuses. While bystander training and interventionist programs may not completely solve the predicament, they reflect a positive advancement. The subjects of rape and gender violence represent a pervasive epidemic that cannot be sufficiently confronted by only half of the population. Society must shift its message to teach young men that preventing sexual assault is not simply a women’s issue — it is a human responsibility.

Christina Coleburn is a deputy opinion editor. Christina’s Corner is published every Monday. Email her at ccoleburn@nyunews.com.

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