By Billione, HAVEN guest blogger
Before 2005, I was oblivious to issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. I associated such issues with women, and placed the responsibility of addressing them into their hands. I thought I had no role and was in no way responsible for what countless women experience every day all over the world. After accepting invitations to numerous fundraisers, marches, rallies and demonstrations in support of women, I began to understand that not only am I responsible for addressing issues of domestic violence and sexual assault (DVSA), but it is in my best interest to be a vocal ally. But, what exactly is my role?
I began holding my sign as high as I could during ‘Take Back the Night’ marches, lent my support at various Women’s rights rallies, and shouted as loud as I could at a great number of demonstrations in support of women I didn’t even know. However, it wasn’t until I saw my first production of the Vagina Monologues, a play written by Eve Ensler, that I understood my role in addressing DVSA.
In this play, I saw women I knew speaking out about their bodies and self-image, the expectation to fit into antiquated gender roles, and the difficulties associated with a patriarchal society that perpetuates sexism in America. Then it finally hit me: issues of DVSA are men’s issues, as much, if not greater, than they are women’s issues. The responsibility to end DVSA rests in the hands of all of us.
But, how exactly do men go from being perceived as possible adversaries, to contentious supporters, and subsequently active allies? We must first debunk the various myths about DVSA that we encounter through the various mediums that compete for our attention. Television, radio and film are three major mediums that influence our knowledge and shape our views as it relates to DVSA, and does us a disservice when it comes to supporting those affected.
How do we make change when we have been misinformed? The following is a few ways to equip yourself with tools for your journey as an ally to those affected by DVSA.
1) Learn how to identify DVSA. Seek out resources that allow you to recognize patterns of abuse and share those resources with others.
2) Acknowledge that DVSA affects women and men, and either can be an aggressor or victim.
3) Lead by example. Be sure to model healthy behavior and relationships. Those around us are watching our every move and we owe it to them the lead them in a positive direction.
4) Be an ally. Don’t simply support. Actively address negative language and attitudes toward woman and those in DVSA situations. Use these moments to teach others how to identify DVSA and be allies.
5) Don’t make excuses for abuse. If you witness or suspect a case of DVSA, don’t look for justification or a rational reason for the abuse. There is none.
6) Be active in breaking the cycle of abuse. Don’t allow future generations to inherit a legacy of DVSA.
7) Offer your support to organizations. Whether it is time, money or other donations, help strengthen the impact of organizations working diligently to end DVSA.
We must recognize our roles in ending the stigma associated with DVSA, and do all we can to help other men do the same. We must see this as an issue of power, not shame. We cannot allow ourselves to stand on the sidelines while our families are being destroyed, some by our own hands. We must learn to recognize abuse, how to address it, and support those affected. We must use our voices and take advantage of opportunities to break cycles of abuse.
Every opportunity to address DVSA is also an opportunity to help save at least one life. If every person identifies their role and responsibility, we will be better able to improve the health of our communities, strength of our social movements and power of future generations. We must speak up and speak out, so that we do not become oppressed by our own silence.
A Detroit native, Billione is a versatile writer, and the author of several books of poetry including Centric, Love: In Hindsight and Beautyful. His poems Man: or Woman, Anthem and the Hearts of Men have become signature pieces that continue to haunt audiences. In 2008, He published a tribute to the LGBT community entitled USA: United States of Adversity. Billione recently finished writing a short play that examines masculinity entitled the Birth of Mars , scheduled for a summer 2012 release. (Photo credit: Ken Anderson Photography)