Evanston/North Shore

Men taking a stand

by Karen Singer, President/CEO
Posted May 4, 2017

Karen Singer at the Men's Dinner, with Evanston Mayor Elect Steve Hagerty and Evanston Deputy Chief James Pickett.

As many of you know, the YWCA Evanston/North Shore has, over the last 30 years, developed a comprehensive continuum of services that help women get safe, stay safe and heal from domestic violence. What many of you might not know is that long ago we realized that while we can help women leave abusive situations and build sustainable healthy lives, this does not help men stop abusive behaviors. And so we have also been working with men and boys for over 20 years through our violence prevention education in local schools and universities and more recently with our Batterer’s Intervention Program, a program working with abusers, and Allied Against Violence, a program partnership with Youth & Opportunity United that works to engage young men and boys in ending gender violence.

I started working with women fleeing domestic violence in the early 80s, almost 35 years ago. A decade earlier the feminist movement had given rise to the mantra “we will not be beaten.” Formerly abused women launched the domestic violence movement in the 70’s, to expose domestic violence, and reduce the shame, stigma and silence that women were experiencing. They also worked to bring domestic violence out from behind the veil of being a private family matter, something that just happened behind closed doors. The DV movement has historically focused on women because women are the primary victims. This was an appropriate response given the shame and silence of the issue, and the immediate need of helping women escape violence. 

As the movement grew, it expanded its focus from helping individual women to trying to change the systems that in some ways condoned, or at a minimum turned a blind eye to the violence. We began to demand legislative and system changes to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes and make it easier and safer for women to leave. The emergence of batterer’s intervention groups was a recognition that if we were going to end gender violence, it was men that needed to change. As importantly, the broad social norms that reinforced and perpetuated its acceptance needed to change.

So fast forward three and a half decades and here we are.

Yes, some gains have been made, but not fast enough and most certainly not deeply enough. Violence against women is still with us and continues to be what many consider one of the largest public health crisis we face. The statistics are staggering. Suffice it to say, after decades of efforts from women and women’s organizations, gender violence continues to take place across our globe, affecting women from all different backgrounds, socio economic classes, ages and religions. 

And this violence doesn’t just happen to “other women”. I would venture to say that many of you know of someone it has affected. In fact, it can and does impact those we know; it effects our sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, neighbors, coworkers. And the vast majority of this abuse is perpetrated by men.   

With the rise of violence prevention efforts has come the realization that men are untapped and necessary allies in this struggle. As most abusers are men, men can be the best influencers of other men.

As men, you continue to hold a majority of the powerful, influential positions that determine how we respond to gender violence. If you are a legislator, a hospital administrator, a businessman, if you are a police chief or superintendent, a judge, a prosecutor, a journalist or coach, you make decisions each day that determine how we respond to gender violence.

And you all of you are in relationship to women and girls in so many different ways. So you really have a vested interested in preventing this from happening in the first place. The critical role that men can play in ending gender violence benefits women and girls. It benefits men and boys as well. 

I heard an interview several years ago and it stuck with me. The sheriff being interviewed said that every male death row inmate in his state had experienced violence in their home as a child. We know that children growing up with domestic violence are 3 times more likely to repeat the cycle in adulthood. It is, in fact, the most significant predictor of whether or not someone will be engaged in domestic violence later in life, and also makes you 74% more likely to commit a violent crime against someone else.

So when a man stands against gender violence, he not only changes the life of women, he can change the life of a child. When a boy hears from men in his life that “being a man” is about love, strength, and kindness, not aggression, that changes him.

So we gather as colleagues, friends, leaders in our community, to listen, understand more deeply, and hold ourselves and each other accountable to the idea that violence against women is not just a women's issue, it is a human issue. I encourage you to listen for what is new to you, be curious, let yourself be challenged. Domestic violence is personal. Many of you have witnessed it, experienced it, and have struggled to know how to respond. We come to this conversation to learn, to share, to grow, and to see how, as a community, we can create safety for all those we love.

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