Thank you for your comment. Here at MCSR we are very concerned about reducing violence in all forms. We mainly focus on violence against women, because statistically, this is the biggest pattern. However, we acknowledge that violence occurs in all relationships - straight romantic, LGBTQ, friendships, familial relationships, stranger relationships, etc. This is a large part of our healthy masculinity approach that we advocate. Healthy masculinity, we believe, can reduce violence in all relationships. Check out our website if you have other questions about what we do and our approach! www.mencanstoprape.org
University men join anti-rape campus organizations
Conor Shapiro joined Men of Strength after learning his friends and girlfriends were sexually assaulted. / PHOTO BY LINDSEY ANDERSON
Conor Shapiro looks more like a frat boy than a feminist.
But the 26-year-old American University graduate student is a key part of the university’s newest tactic in addressing sexual assault on campus: men’s groups.
Shapiro is a member of American’s Men of Strength club, part of the national organization Men Can Stop Rape, aimed at bringing men into the discussion of masculinity and gender-based violence. And many college men are welcoming the opportunity with open arms.
“I was surprised that the girls I’ve dated in my lifetime, as I’ve gotten to know them, I’ve learned of assault and things that have happened or harassment, it doesn’t necessarily have to be assault. I couldn’t believe it. The more I listened, the more I was just like, ‘Wow. What can I do to change?’ I felt kind of helpless about it,” Shapiro said. “So when I saw there was a group of guys that were going to get involved and make a group, I definitely wanted to be a part of that.”
Shapiro has even put into action some of the bystander intervention techniques he has learned in the group discussions and workshops.
When visiting his brother at the University of Boulder last September, he saw some older college men chatting with freshmen women during a party at his brother’s house.
“And I saw some of his friends like scheming on this pretty young girl, so I’m like ‘Go talk to these guys … Don’t let this kind of s**t happen. Don’t let it happen here.’ So he went over there,” Shapiro said.
About 100 men across the country have joined Men of Strength groups, said Joe Vess, Men Can Stop Rape’s director of training and technical assistance.
“There’s a huge hunger for it,” Vess said. “There’s a huge number of men who really do care about this, who do take it seriously.”
Vess travels across the country doing trainings, workshops and presentations about engaging high school and college men in the issue. And they are crucial to its success, said Daniel Rappaport, AU’s sexual assault prevention coordinator and the club adviser.
“Men making their excuse that anything around sexual assault or domestic violence or stalking is a women’s issue is ludicrous,” Rappaport said. “Men know women who are hurt by all of these things. Men can be victims of them, of any of these crimes … And the reality is the overwhelming majority of people who are perpetrators are men, but the majority of men aren’t perpetrators. So it’s really trying to engage men around that and help them realize that their loved ones, the people that they care about, are worth challenging the silly status quo that is hyper-masculinity.”
In the AU group, about a dozen men meet on campus each week to discuss and do activities around gender-based violence and masculinity. The group is a “safe space” for guys to talk about a healthy masculinity, the men say, one that counters the view of a “real man” as one who regularly gets in fights, parties hard and wants sex all the time.
“We tell men, don’t rape anybody, but we don’t really have a conversation with them about what positive, healthy masculinity and positive, healthy gender equity looks like,” Vess said. “So really, the role of groups like Men of Strength clubs on campus is to model and work with other men to help them develop healthier understandings of masculinity, which, in our experience, are much more consistent with the kind of lives that men want to lead.”
The program began in D.C. public high schools in 2000 and spread to universities as college-bound members wanted to continue the club and universities expressed interest as well.
There are now nine college chapters nationwide, including at Georgetown and George Washington Universities. Howard University is looking into adding a club, and the University of Maryland organization is now inactive. Men Can Stop Rape also has a relationship, although not a formal club, with Catholic, George Mason and Gallaudet Universities.
The group is an avenue for men to enact change, to evict that helpless feeling they have when women they know are assaulted, Shapiro said. He became tangentially involved in combating violence against women after his sister was attacked in college. He tried joining the AU student government’s feminist organization Women’s Initiative but felt out of place as the only guy. Then, Men of Strength came around.
“I think another advantage of the club, in addition to advocation for women and reducing assaults and harassment and all of that type of things, is it’s actually a safe space for guys,” Shapiro said. “We don’t have that emotional outlet. So it’s interesting to go in there and hear guys talk about stuff that you wouldn’t normally hear, not in any context, even best friends, guys wouldn’t usually share that type of stuff. So it was cool. I think it broke down a lot of boundaries.”
Women’s Initiative Director Carmen Rios said having Men of Strength on campus is valuable to the entire AU community, allowing men and women to have their own safe spaces but to also support each other and collaborate in the fight against sexual assault.
“It’s a sign that something on this campus has changed if men are a part of the issue and feel comfortable identifying with the issue,” Rios said.
One of the biggest struggles Shapiro faces as a member is reaching out to other men and intervening in a constructive way, whether during a party or the telling of a sexist joke.
“That’s the main struggle: meeting men where they are,” he said. “If they say a joke and you don’t think it’s funny, if you call that person out, ‘That’s not funny,’ all the sudden that person’s embarrassed or ashamed … So you don’t want to do that really, because I don’t know if that’s an effective way to engage that person. Better to just take them aside and say, ‘Hey man.’”
Sophomore Kostas Skordalos plays on the George Washington rugby team and is a founding member of the GW Men of Strength club.
“The reason I really wanted to do this was because I feel like a lot of guys are kind of lost, in my opinion. We get thrown into college and are expected to sort this stuff out when we haven’t really been taught it before,” Skordalos said. “So if we can get a club out there that makes it OK for guys to have a space where they come and talk and have them, I guess, redefine their own masculinity, get comfortable with the fact that they’re an emotionally whole human being. That’s a way to curtail violence, in my opinion, just to know that there are other outlets for certain emotions.”
Skordalos too became involved in the issue because a women he knew, a high school friend, was sexually assaulted by a man she met at a bar. The experience left him feeling unsettled, he said, and kick started his college involvement in GWU’s Students Against Sexual Assault and Men of Strength.
“Every man has a woman in their life, whether it’s a friend, mother, sister, they care about. And that should be enough to make it a men’s issue as well,” he said. “These are people that you love who are being hurt, so it’s, in my opinion, an obligation to do something, to say something.”
Patrick McGann, MCSR’s Director of Strategy and Planning oversees the Men Can Stop Rape Masculinity Conversations. If you would like to take part, send him an email.
This conversation takes place with David Belt, who has been facilitating both middle and high school Strength Clubs (or what MCSR calls Men of Strength Clubs) in Kansas City for the last two years. He went through a MCSR training in DC preparing him to facilitate. David is also the coordinator of the Man Up! Program for the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA), which serves as the Kansas City rape crisis center. He has over 10 years of related experience, including working as a therapist.