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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fathers, Husbands, Brothers, and Sons – “ManUp!” needs you!

If you have a Mother, a Wife, a Daughter, and a Sister– chances are you know someone VERY intimately who has been sexually assaulted or will be in their lifetime.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Think about that for a minute….how would you react if you found out your Mom or your Wife or you Sister or even your own Daughter for God’s sake were assaulted sexually?!

Often times, what men do when they hear that someone close to them has been sexually molested is figure out a way to go find the perpetrator who was responsible and kick his ass. I know, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do when I found out someone close to me had been molested and the perpetrator was my very own brother! I spent one solid day trying to figure out where my brother was after he admitted to his assaults – so I could transport myself to wherever he was and physically beat him to a pulp! My brain was dominated by revenge and little else. I call this the rage and revenge response.

Another way men react when they hear someone close to them has been sexually assaulted is to shake their heads, drop their eyes to the floor, and think “what a damn shame!”, “what a freak”, etc. For lack of a better label, I will call this the “disgust and disassociate” reaction.

The problem with this reaction is two-fold. First – it’s a misconception to think that men who sexually assault women and other men are “bogey men jumping out from behind bushes late at night”. Most men who perpetrate such crimes come right from the general fabric or our society. And most times, the perpetrators of such crimes are men the victim knows extremely well already – a family friend, a trusted coach, a confident of some sort, counselor, neighbor, etc. Secondly – by shaking our heads, staring at floors, and thinking “what a shame”, Men absolve themselves into thinking sexual assault is isolated freak-show behavior. And sexual assault is NOT isolated, it happens to 1 in 4 women, and it happens by someone who’s generally already in a relationship of some sort. The laundry list of perpetrators could read like a who’s who of various professions coming from a wide array of socio-economic backgrounds, etc.

What’s missing in these two over-riding reactions (rage/revenge and disgust/disassociate) from men about sexual assault is accountability. We tend to think of sexual assault as a women’s issue instead of what it is – a MAN’S issue. Men are the perpetrators of sexual assault 97% of the time in America. Yet, so many of the “good guys” who are disturbed by sexual assault sit on the sidelines and continue to display the same two reactions over and over – rage/revenge or disgust/disassociate. I would submit to you the only way we can decrease the chances that one of our loved ones will be assaulted is to start having some serious guy to guy talk. More appropriately – some man to man talk about sexual assault, about healthy relationships, about boundaries, date rape, drug and alcohol facilitated rape, etc. We need to be real with each other about why “going for that extra base” to put sex into a baseball analogy is so dangerous, so unhealthy and can lead to a sexual assault more times than not.

And if you think you don’t intimately know any woman close to you who’s been a victim, here’s something else to consider…..even if your Mom/Wife/Sister/Daughter has been abused sexually, there’s a great chance they haven’t told many people, including YOU about it for a variety of reasons. One – they might fear you would respond the same way I did when I found out my brother was a rapist, intent on physical revenge. Second – they might feel a very twisted sense of responsibility which if you actually spend time investigating this issue you would know is complete B.S.! Lastly – the victim might feel like it would damage how YOU would feel about them in some way. Somehow, someway – you might actually place some misguided blame their way. Worse yet, the victim might feel you would label them "tainted" by the sexual assault and create some distance in your relationship with them.

If you have four women in your life who you love, it’s time to take up for them and no longer sit idle. 1 in 4 is a crisis on par with any bad thing you can think of happening to a loved one whether it be cancer or drunk driving. I encourage more men to get involved in ManUp! Please come forward and help us to start pushing the statistics back the other way, it’s time to get real with each other about what the phrase “be a man” actually means.

Matt Sharples
Man Up! Committee Board Member

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