Gender Essentialism, Engaging Men in Sexual Assault Awareness, & Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®

By LB Klein, Jen Przewoznik & Jeff Segal

*This post first appeared on Stop Street Harassment.*

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Every April, men all over the country stumble through public parks in high heels to raise awareness for the gender-based violence movement for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has been a staple of SAAM programming since 2001, and has been praised for engaging tens of thousands of men in conversations on gender, power, and sexual assault in an accessible and fun way. Men have embraced Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®—it’s very often the SAAM event with the most men in attendance, and its popularity has raised necessary funds for rape crisis centers and other national and international anti-violence organizations. However, many activists and organizers have begun to voice serious concerns over the popular event.

It is vital that we consider not only the intent but the impact of our sexual assault awareness events. In Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®, men step into high heels to show their solidarity with women. Wearing high heels is therefore equated with being a woman. But while some women wear high heels, many do not. Furthermore, women are often targeted specifically because they express themselves outside of the normative societal expectations of their gender. By equating high heels and women, we remove gender non-conforming women from our conversations about sexual violence entirely, and reinforce the common myth that people presenting in ways considered masculine are not vulnerable to violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® positions women as victims and men as perpetrators, but there are survivors of all gender identities, including men.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® also creates spaces where transgender people are marginalized. National transgender rights organization Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) says participants in the walk should consider “whether they are re-victimizing more than a third of all victims by ignoring their very existence.” According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf), 64% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Transgender women are often incorrectly and offensively described as “men wearing women’s clothing,” a description that is often used to justify violence against them. Transgender women, particularly those of color, are at disproportionate risk of experiencing not only sexual and intimate partner violence but also street harassment, police brutality, homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, and murder. It is vital for people working to end gender-based violence to closely ally with transgender and non-binary people instead of holding events that exclude and further marginalize them.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® has raised attention, awareness, and funds, but at what expense? We cannot afford to raise awareness by perpetuating an essentialist view of what people should wear or how they should look and act. The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® narrative is accessible because it is reductive, and oversimplification in our work is dangerous. Of course, communities should still hold events to raise awareness, but we must be intentional about changing the norms that perpetuate violence instead of reinforcing them. Events that re-victimize, erase, or marginalize survivors do not have a place in our field.

So, what can we do instead to engage men during SAAM? We can hold events that encourage folks of all genders to work together. We can bring smaller groups of men together for meaningful conversation, or mobilize larger groups for fundraisers not built around reinforcing harmful gender norms. Perhaps, as Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) suggests, we should hold events that encourage everyone to break stereotypes about gender and discuss how harmful gender norms perpetuate violence. Then, we will be raising awareness of the true message of the movement to end sexual assault: that to end sexual assault, we must change culture.


LB_Klein

LB Klein, MSW has dedicated her professional and academic life to ending gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and advancing social justice. She is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this August.

 

JenP

Jen Przewoznik, MSW has over 15 years of experience working with/in women’s and LGBTQ communities as an educator, trainer, technical assistance provider, practitioner, and program evaluator. She is founder of the Queer Research Consulting Collaborative, a project designed to consult with researchers studying LGBTQ issues. Jen is currently the Director of Prevention & Evaluation at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and co-chairs the NC Sexual Violence Prevention Team and the NC Campus Consortium.

JeffSegalJeff Segal, BS resides in NYC, where he works in the tech sector and moonlights as a professional dancer. He has been a part of the movement to end sexual violence for ten years. Jeff has four years of experience as a sexual violence crisis counselor, and currently is leading initiatives to make social dancing in New York a safer space.

 

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How Do We Know If It Works? Measuring Outcomes in Bystander-Focused Abuse Prevention on Campuses

PIRCResearch Summary

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The use of bystander education programs (including Prevention Innovations Research Center’s (PIRC) Bringing in the Bystander ® In-Person Prevention Program) to prevent sexual and relationship violence and stalking is increasingly common, and as more colleges and other institutions adopt these programs, better means of evaluating them are needed. Since the programs focus on preparedness, attitudes, and behavior changes, evaluations should test their effects in these areas. Research that helps develop reliable means for testing the impact of bystander education programs is important for demonstrating program efficacy—hence the article title, How do we know if it works? Banyard, Moynihan, Cares, and Warner—a team of two psychologists and two sociologists—have developed several potential instruments for measuring the attitudes and behaviors that bystander programs target. Measures like these make it possible to assess bystander education programs by allowing comparison between peoples’ attitudes and behaviors before and after participation in a program.

The bystander intervention framework addresses shortfalls in earlier prevention efforts by emphasizing the community behaviors and attitudes that create a culture of respect and collective responsibility for preventing violence. Informing people about sexual assault, empowering them to speak out against it, and giving them tools to help prevent violence has the potential to create safer campus cultures. New programs have developed faster than evaluation metrics, and the authors of this study created and tested several possible means of evaluating a program’s efficacy. (See Banyard, 2015; Banyard, 2008; and Banyard, Plante, and Moynihan, 2004 for more information on developing metrics). Three of the proposed bystander-focused measures gather responses on self-reported attitudes, and a fourth gathers responses on self-reported behavior.

Drawing on responses from 948 first-year students at two U.S. universities, the authors investigated the psychometric properties of four key measures of bystander action. Since asking someone, “are you now prepared to be a good bystander?” is unlikely to prove informative, several steps of evaluation are needed to determine whether a person has internalized the intended messages of bystander intervention training. The authors drew on related research that established the validity and reliability of several approaches to measuring participant attitudes and behaviors, and tested their reliability and validity with this population. Their aim was to see if the measurements were equally valid and reliable for testing the attitudes and behaviors that bystander education programs aim to encourage as they had been in other contexts.

The Readiness to Help scale is revised from a 36-item assessment of readiness for change (Banyard, Eckstein, and Moynihan, 2010), and re-named Readiness to Help. Designed to gauge participants’ awareness of a problem and their willingness to take responsibility for addressing it, the scale consists of 12 parallel items related to sexual abuse, relationship abuse, and stalking. It asks respondents to rate how likely they are to perform those actions on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (not at all likely) to 5 (extremely likely). This metric was broken down into subscales for Action, Responsibility, and Awareness.

Perceptions of Peer Helping drew on a series of 20 questions developed for this study that asked participants to indicate how likely their friends were to help in various ways in different situations, on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all likely) to 5 (extremely likely).

Intent to Help Friends and Intent to Help Strangers uses a set of 38 actions related to helping friends and 41 actions related to helping strangers to measures attitudes or willingness to help in situations where there is risk for sexual assault or relationship abuse. It is based on a shorter, 51-question scale by Banyard (2008) that showed good reliability and construct validity.

Bystander behaviors directed at friends and strangers was assessed using a set of 49 actions related to helping friends and 49 actions related to helping strangers that could be taken in situations where there is an apparent risk for sexual assault or relationship abuse. This scale builds on an earlier, shorter version developed by Banyard (2008).

The results from this study indicate that “readiness to help…, intent to be an active bystander, self-reported bystander responses, and perceptions of peer norms in support of action all showed adequate reliability and validity” (101).

The researchers also noted that this particular study relied on notions of what helping looks like in a university context, and was designed with a student lifestyle in mind, where attending parties features prominently. As assessment measures mature, researchers will need new evaluation strategies that reflect different cultural contexts. The metrics developed in this study, and related ones, are available in full on PIRC’s website http://cola.unh.edu/prevention-innovations-research-center/evidence-based-initiatives#BEM. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Banyard, V.L. (2015). Toward the Next Generation of Bystander Prevention of Sexual and Relationship Violence: Action Coils to Engage Communities. New York, NY: Springer Publications.

Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., Cares, A. C., & Warner, R. (2014). How Do We Know If It Works? Measuring Outcomes in Bystander-Focused Abuse Prevention on Campuses. Psychology of Violence 4: 101-115.

Banyard, V. L. (2008). Measurement and Correlates of Prosocial Bystander Behavior: The Case of Interpersonal Violence. Violence and Victims, 23, 83– 97.

Banyard, V. L., Eckstein, R. P., & Moynihan, M. M. (2010). Involving Community in Sexual Violence Prevention: The Role of Stages of Change. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25, 111–135.

Banyard, V. L., Plante, E. G., & Moynihan, M. M. (2004). Bystander Education: Bringing a Broader Community Perspective to Sexual Violence Prevention, Journal of Community Psychology, 32, 61-79.

Public Policy:  Prevention or Harm?

By Grace Mattern

PIRC Research to Practice Specialist

Author and Nonprofit Advisor

www.gracemattern.com

[Left Photo Source & Right Photo Source]

In the late 1990’s the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) worked with the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) to amend New Hampshire’s child abuse statute to provide what everyone hoped would be increased safety for abused children and women.  Wouldn’t tougher penalties for abusers who violated stay-away orders make battered women and their children safer?

At the time I was working with Susan Schechter, a pioneer of the battered women’s movement, on another initiative—a national project to address the intersection of intimate partner violence and child abuse.  I asked her what she thought about the proposed policy change in New Hampshire.

“We should be trying to enforce the laws we already have,” Susan said.  “We don’t need more laws, we need to change how communities keep women and children safe.”

The law was changed. It didn’t improve enforcement of orders and it led to disagreements between DCYF and NHCADSV about an advocate’s role in reporting violations of orders.  Putting a criminal penalty in a civil statute—designed to outline the state’s work with families to heal abuse and reunite children with their biological parents—didn’t work, and it didn’t make children and battered women any safer.

The development of sex offender registries is another public policy initiative that was meant to protect children, but has turned out to be harmful in too many instances.  Sex offender registries were established with the belief that parents and the public could keep children safe if they knew where all the sex offenders were.  The instinct was protective.

But in reality, the most likely offender of any child is a family member or friend: someone from the community you would expect you could trust. In a third of cases the offender is another child, according to the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth.  In many states a juvenile convicted of a sex crime, no matter how unjust or misguided the conviction, is subject to a lifetime on a public sex offender registry.

In The New Yorker, Sarah Stillman recounts troubling stories of the children, some as young as 10 at the time of their offense, who are on public registries. The negative consequences they face include vigilante violence against them and their families, misguided and ineffective treatment, and crippling discrimination in education and employment.  Criminalizing trauma-related behavior by a child, and publicly identifying that child as a sex offender, doesn’t prevent child abuse. It perpetrates it through policy.

To be clear, I’m not making an argument against sex offender registries.  I’m pointing out that when we advocate for policy changes we believe will help protect victims, we need to think as creatively as we can about the ways policy changes might be harmful to vulnerable people.  If we can identify potential unintended negative consequences then we can advocate for policies that minimize unintended harm as much as possible.

After trying for too long to find justice for victims in the criminal justice system, advocates in the battered women’s movement learned that justice can never be fully realized by any system of government. No matter how well-crafted the policy, government retains the authority to implement it however it wants, including in racist and sexist ways.  We criminalized domestic violence and advocated for the police to put batterers in jail, and the men who ended up incarcerated were disproportionally black or poor or both.

As a movement, we hope to learn from our mistakes.  The emphasis on criminal justice responses to intimate partner violence and sexual assault shifted years ago, with more attention on other systems—medical, mental health, community-based, child welfare, public assistance—as places to advocate for the support of survivors and their families.

There is growing recognition across child sexual assault victim rights groups and groups of family members affected by the registry of juveniles, such as Women Against Registry, that reform is needed.  Stacie Rumenap of Stop Child Predators, talking about lobbying for states to adopt registries, told Stillman, “Never in our wildest dreams were we going state by state asking lawmakers to punish juveniles.”

We need to have wild dreams when we advocate for new policies so we make as few mistakes as possible.

 

For more information on state registry laws and juveniles, please visit the Center for Sex Offender Management.


matternGrace S. Mattern was Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence for 30 years. She has been actively involved with public policy and systems advocacy to promote effective community interventions in response to domestic and sexual violence and coordinated a statewide network of programs that assist victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. She served on the Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Chairing the Research Committee. She has also served on the Attorney General’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee, the National Greenbook Policy Advisory Council, and on numerous Boards of Directors, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the NH Network of Child Advocacy Centers and the NH Coalition to End Homelessness. She is currently the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the NH Center for Nonprofits and is a member of the Advisory Board of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

 

 

Surviving Sexual Assault is Expensive

By LB Klein, MSW
*Read a response to this post from Dr. Patrick Brugh here*
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Surviving sexual assault is not only devastating to survivors’ bodies, minds, and spirits; it can also bankrupt them. Supporting survivors means thinking critically about how to alleviate the financial burden of being sexually assaulted. Economic justice is a critical component of building more survivor-supportive cultures.
Sexual assault survivors have bills and long-term financial losses. Those bills can start with the cost of medical care. Survivors may not even go to the hospital because their families cannot afford medical care or because they are concerned that a parent or guardian will receive the bill, forcing them to tell family members about the assault before they are ready. Vital mental health support, or transportation to get to no-cost or sliding scale services, costs money. Purchasing the morning-after pill or prophylaxis to fight sexually transmitted infections requires funds.  
These are just the immediate costs of navigating the health consequences of sexual assault. The long-term costs continue to add up. Survivors may need to treat a sexually transmitted infection, and some infections have lifelong costs, such as HIV. A survivor may become pregnant and could incur the cost of terminating the pregnancy or raising a child. Ongoing therapy bills pile up, or survivors may postpone mental health services because counseling is just too expensive. If survivors choose to report sexual assault or rape to the police, they incur costs in that process, from phone bills to talk to the police, to plane tickets to return to a former city of residence for a court date, to more significant expenses like hiring an attorney.

Moreover, trauma is costly. It is challenging enough to juggle work or school or care taking responsibilities without having survived trauma. Survivors miss work shifts, job interviews, final exams, study abroad opportunities because of the psychological toll of surviving sexual assault. If a survivor chooses to withdraw for the semester to take time to heal, their tuition, housing costs, and fees are rarely reimbursed. Many employers will not accommodate the time away that survivors might need to cope and heal. Seeking justice through a campus conduct or criminal legal system or seeking an order of protection takes time away from work or school. Delays in academics, employment, and promotion opportunities increase a survivor’s financial burden.
Due to fear of the perpetrator, lack of support, or debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress, survivors may drop out of school or be unable to continue in their jobs entirely. They may be fired. They may be expelled from school, or fail out. Survivors who are in romantic relationships with their perpetrators might also face ongoing abuse, including economic abuse. Losing opportunities at work or school may also make survivors more dependent on abusive partners or family members. Failing grades, not finishing a degree, or having a poor track record at work can then directly impact a survivor’s earning potential for the rest of her life.
Researcher Matt DeLisi estimated that each rape costs $151,423, which is compounded if survivors are repeatedly victimized (see: Costs, Consequences and Solutions). Survivors are charged for surviving rape, and those bills often continue long after the immediate aftermath of an incident. To build survivor-supportive communities, we must consider survivors’ needs holistically, including financial needs. To alleviate these costs, we must ensure survivors have swift access to accommodations such as changing classes or housing, shifting work schedules, taking time off to heal, access to medical and mental health services, and refunds on tuition. We must call on schools and employers to not only provide accommodations and support, but to provide them free of charge. We must agitate for survivors to have access to confidential survivor advocates or mental health benefits to help alleviate trauma and its associated financial costs. Beyond the initial aftermath of sexual assault, we must ensure that our schools, workplaces, and communities are invested in survivors’ financial well being for the long haul.
It is imperative that communities invest in preventing sexual assault. Until we can end violence, however, survivors will continue to face significant costs. In the meantime, we can at least work to create systems that keep survivors from being charged for surviving rape.

LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She primarily builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this Fall.