Not in the headlines: Men working to end male violence

by Pat Shelly


A major news story this month is about a NFL football player who punched and knocked out his fiance, with a security camera video recording the brutal act. The player was eventually fired, but only after a huge protest about the initial reaction by the NFL to this violence off the field: the player was suspended for two games.  These Twitter hashtags act as a short-hand summary of the trends in the news stories about this assault and about violence against women (VAW) that followed:

#RayRice  #NFL  #Abuse  #DomesticViolence  #DV  #WhyIStayed  #WhyILeft  #VAW

Missing from most news feeds? This:


Image: The question is not "Why didn't the vicitm leave?" The better question is "Why does the abuser choose to abuse?"

image: National Network to End Domestic Violence @NNEDV




Lately, I have spent time reflecting on the 40+ years that the global End Violence against Women movement has existed (the first Speak-out on Rape in the U.S. was held in January 1971 in New York City). While women have made up a large majority of activists in this area, I know first hand that men are concerned about violence against women (VAW). Here are a few of the ways that men, and institutions led by men, have joined in this struggle. Perhaps these can generate some headlines, too.


United Nations: HeForShe


Last week, the United Nations launched a new initiative to address male attitudes and behavior toward women and girls. British actor Emma Watson, a U.N. Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, gave a speech to introduce the “HeForShe” campaign to enlist men and boys as advocates and allies in attaining gender equality. HeForShe is “a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other of humanity, for the entirety of humanity.”

Ban-Ki Moon, U.N. Secretary-General, is quoted on the HeForShe website: “Violence against women and girls is a global problem; it harms women, families, communities and societies. We can only stop it by working together. Women and men.”

In addition to ending male violence against women and girls, such equality includes human rights for women and girls around the world, freedom of women to self-determination and control over their own bodies, equal pay for equal work, access to education, an end to child marriage, and more. [See also U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993].



The White House: It’s On Us


On September 19, 2014, the White House launched “It’s On Us” to address the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. The campaign is a follow-up to Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault issued in April 2014. One part of this plan is to engage men: “ thing we know for sure: we need to engage men as allies in this cause. Most men are not perpetrators – and when we empower men to step in when someone’s in trouble, they become an important part of the solution.”



Image of a stop sign but with the  wording "Stop Rape"

Image: SlutWalk Philadelphia Facebook

Men as Allies: Not a new phenomenon


In the 1980s, I was a staff member at Erie County’s rape crisis service, the Advocate Program at Crisis Services in Buffalo, New York. I worked with almost 50 volunteers who responded to calls from hospital emergency rooms 24 hours a day, and accompanied those who saw an arrest in their cases to courthouses.

We had men as volunteers, who were partnered with a woman to team together when answering calls and offering support to rape victim/survivors and their families in hospital emergency departments. These men – 10% of our volunteers – were especially helpful in negotiating the high emotions expressed by angry and blameful male partners or family members. In addition, these advocates were often the lead team member when dealing with any male victims/survivors (although there were few seen at the hospitals in the ’80’s). I saw the care and commitment that these men gave .

During my first national conference, I attended a workshop by Rus Ervin Funk, who founded Men Can Stop Rape — my first exposure to a male activist and organizer in the larger movement against VAW.


In 1994, then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden succeeded in shepherding the passage of the first Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the first legislation to provide federal funds for new programs to address VAW. It has since been reauthorized by Congress, though not with some challenges: in 2013, some members of Congress objected to its expansion of jurisdiction to Native American tribal authorities when sexual assaults occurred on Native lands.


Many movements, many men

The emphasis in the 21st century has been on men taking responsibility for interpersonal and collective male violence against women. I have listed below just a few of the many organizations that focus on changing traditional roles and emotional restrictions that boys are still too often expected to grow into. Campaigns educate men that sex is only OK when fully verbalized consent is given by the partner – or in the words of the White Ribbon Campaign in Canada: to promote “Consistent, enthusiastic, real consent”; others instruct men on how to intervene when a woman is incapacitated by alcohol or other drug and may be in danger of being assaulted; and most have an underlying principle of valuing equality between men and women, while actively challenge male privilege.


These campaigns and the individual men who sustain them are not often in the headlines. No continuous media coverage over weeks or months is given to their efforts to change the world, one boy or one man or one village at a time. Maybe that can change.


Blog MENvsVAW rule1isACCEPTresponsibility







Have you seen positive change in men accepting responsibility in changing destructive or violent behavior by men? Tell us about it – Leave a comment!



The 24-item Gender Equitable Men (GEM) Scale measures attitudes toward violence, sex, LGBT people, sharing household chores, and condom or other disease prevention use.


Lundgren, R. and Adams, M.  2014. “Safe Passages: Building on Cultural Traditions to Prevent Gender-Based Violence throughout the Life Course.”  Anthropological Approaches to Gender-based Violence and Human Rights, Working Paper #304 of the Gender, Development, and Globalization Program of the Center for Gender in Global Context at Michigan State University.


New York Model for Batterers Programs


United States:

It’s On Us

Men Stopping Violence

Men against Domestic Violence

Men against Violence against Women


The White Ribbon Campaign


United Nations:

HeForShe: “Gender Equality is Your Issue Too.”

UNiTE to end violence against women







  • It’s unclear what exactly is furthering the idea that males need to be allies in the process of gender equality, but it certainly is powerful to see the argument framed in such a manner. It seems like a larger conversation is taking place in which the idea of gender equality is good for everyone, not just women. Part of that might be to the conversations happening among the younger generations, which seems to face less gender stereotyping. Lately there has been a letter that has gone “viral” from a 15 boy in the UK in response to Emma Watson speech at the UN. The letter is fascinating as it shows how successful gender equality advocates have been in terms of further the conversation about gender as a whole. The letter can be seen at the following website:

    Very refreshing to see such open mindedness from such a young person.

    • Sarah, it is heartening to read this young man’s letter. And I agree that many find that the benefits of gender equity are universal – and that some, not a majority, of teens today are more open in questioning the socially-constructed sex roles of the past half-millennium and more.
      Thank you for the link to Ed Holtom’s letter – Pat

  • Interesting sidebar: Philanthropy for VAW Prevention efforts lags. From 2002 – 2011,
    ” the percentage of total grant dollars going to domestic violence remained flat at 0.4 percent” and of those funds, only one-third goes for prevention. The rest goes to fund direct services, where the need is still is so great.

  • I have been seeing this video everywhere lately. It has the potential to reach multiple demographics by using a wide range of celebrities. I’ve noticed it playing during sporting events in particular. This campaign uses more men in different videos which is refreshing to see. There are more men that are making a statement to stop domestic abuse and violence against women.

    • Thanks for posting this! On the website at the end of this Public Service Announcement (PSA), I found this page on talking with your children and their friends about the incidents of interpersonal violence by many NFL players: . An elementary teacher, Anna Vinopal, used this tactic in her class: “We held discussion circles every Friday on acceptable, appropriate, and efficient ways to address and express anger, along with giving the students the chance to share stories of any form of DV they had experienced, the way it made them feel…” With good back-up form the school social worker, I’m sure!

  • We are lucky here in Buffalo to have one of the first “one stop” locations for domestic violence in the country. The Family Justice Center (FJC) opened in 2006 after receiving a federal grant. The Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence had begun collaborations in 1995, following the murder of Nicole Brown by her husband OJ Simpson in 1994. Her death brought domestic violence to the public eye then, like the Rice case is now. The media attention sparks many questions and emotions. It is up to people like you, me, and this courageous teen, as well as the FJC, to educate the public and support those who are being victimized.

    The FJC provides free services for domestic violence victims and their children through an extensive collaboration with 14 partner agencies, including the District Attorney’s office, medical, police, social services, Crisis Services, and video conferencing with Family Court. Services are all located at one secured, comfortable location in downtown Buffalo, where victims can get all the services they need to safely escape abuse. There are now 2 satellite offices open 3 mornings per week in Orchard Park and Amherst.

    The FJC offers “Behind Closed Doors” tours of the facility by reservation. I attended a tour a few months ago and volunteered there for service hours. The tour distressed me hearing the horrendous stories of abuse, maybe more than normal since I have experienced domestic violence firsthand, however working at the center was therapeutic. It would have been nice if the FJC was around 18 years ago as I had to navigate the system myself. They provide trauma-informed care and the facility is beautiful.

    It is great that men of all ages are speaking out against the oppression imposed by domestic violence. I found it interesting that it took the NFL until September to indefinitely suspend Rice when the incident happened in July. The 2 game suspension he originally received seemed to be a slap on the hand. Allowing him to return to play would have signaled to many men and boys that what he did wasn’t really that bad. The time frame also seems to suggest that many men still don’t recognize the seriousness of domestic violence.

    FJC Executive Director Mary Travers Murphy spoke about the Rice case and how good the perpetrator is at making the victim believe it was their fault in her interview with Time Warner Cable News It is difficult for many people to understand how the victim can stay with the abuser, however the psychological abuse of domestic violence, that is often accompanied by physical abuse, beats the victim down. She (or he) often returns because she believes there are no other options, because the familiar is better than the unknown even if it’s bad, or because of fear of retribution.

    The FJC’s MOSAIC fundraising event is coming up 5:30—8:30 p.m. Thursday, October 16th at Larkin Square. Music will be provided by local X-Factor Contestant and recipient of Nightlife Buffalo Music Awards Best Female Vocalist award, Caitlin Koch, with a special guest appearance by Sabres Head Coach Ted Nolan. Tickets are only $40 ($50 the night of the event). For more information contact Tiffany Szymanek at 716-558-5272 or visit the website at .

    • Karen: What a fulsome account of the Family Justice Center! You certainly learned a lot about its operations, satellites and history.

      I hope you were able to find some support 18 years ago when you were living with domestic violence. If you lived in the Buffalo area then, Haven House would have been a place to get help, as it has been providing shelter, 24/7 response and support services since the 1980s. Here is the contact info:

      “If you or someone you know is being abused and is in need of support, please call the 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline
      Response for Erie County at 716-884-6000 (for shelter) or 716-862-HELP (4357).
      Hotline counselors provide crisis intervention, safety planning, support, information and referrals.”

      And since 1978, the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence – – works as an umbrella of agencies that serve victims/survivors of DV and other Interpersonal Violence (IPV) such as child abuse and elder abuse. It is through the efforts of its many members that the success in obtaining funding to establish the start-up of our own and other one-stop centers like FJC was possible. We are very fortunate that we live in Erie County where such strong advocacy around VAW has existed at least since the 1970’s!

  • Not in the Headlines

    I’m happy to see that the media has been increasingly emphasizing the role of men in ending violence again women. Moreover, emerging campaigns that promote awareness and encourage men to accept responsibility are a step in the right direction. However, following the broadcast of Emma Watson’s UN speech for HeforShe, there’s been a great deal of differing viewpoints on the message that her speech conveyed. One blog post (that was rather eye opening for me) took a rather critical stance. In response to Watson’s statement on the negative impacts of gender inequality on men, McKenzie retorts:
    “This message is flawed and unfortunate, as well. Telling men that they should care about gender inequality because of how much it hurts them, centralizes men and their well-being in a movement built by women for our survival in a world that degrades and dehumanizes us daily. This is problematic for the same reason telling white people that they should end racism because racism ‘holds us all back as a society, so eradicating it will help you, too,’ is problematic.”
    While perhaps controversial, what I appreciated about McKenzie’s post was that it highlighted the important role patriarchy plays in violence against women. She elaborates further:
    “Saying that men don’t have the benefit of equality creates a false narrative that we’re all hurt in the same ways and at the same degrees by the evils of gender inequality, and that no one’s really benefiting, and that’s simply not true. Emma Watson being sexualized by the media at 14 years old isn’t the same as her male friends not being so comfortable expressing their feelings. It’s a false equivalency. The ways that gender inequality is bad for men and boys are very, very different from the ways it’s bad for women and girls. Namely, it oppresses and abuses women and girls in nearly every facet of life.”
    I guess the point I’m trying to get at here is that: yes, it’s good that men are being included in the promotion of gender equality, and it’s good that we’re urging men to take responsibility for the violence committed against women. But the fact remains that gender inequality hurts women in so many more ways than just the physical aspects of violence that are visible. True change in the oppression of women will only arise when men begin to acknowledge and relinquish the power that they have in our patriarchal society.

    M McKenzie. (2014, September 24). Why I’m Not Really Here For Emma Watson’s Feminism Speech At the U.N. Retrieved from:

  • I wanted to share that on September 18th of this year, I attended Halton region’s annual Take Back the Night event. Take Back the Night, for those who are unfamiliar, is an international event held to raise awareness about the right of women, children, and Trans identified people to walk safely alone at night. In Halton, this event included bringing together multiple community partners and members for a night of resource sharing and performance. This was my first time attending this event, and I wanted to share that one of the most powerful parts of the night for me, was seeing the support provided by the Male Ally Network (M.A.N.), a group of men who support the cause. At the end of the night, the women, children, and Trans identified people marched through the night to claim their right to safety. It was incredible to see the M.A.N. showing support verbally and with homemade signs, cheering for these people as they finished their walk. It was especially incredible to reflect back immediately afterwards, and even now, on how special it was to see a group of people who are not directly affected by a cause, supporting that cause simply because the cause affects fellow human beings.

    • Molly, Your account illustrates the importance of allies: a group of people who are not directly affected by a cause, supporting that cause simply because the cause affects fellow human beings.” Thanks for your comment- Pat

  • Danielle Pinkerton

    I’d like to point out efforts to end violence against women in Monroe County with support from or under direction of SUNY Brockport, such as ‘Take Back The Night’, ‘The Clothesline Project’, and ‘Slut Walk’. It is moving to see the numerous popular events that have taken off in that area. I have often witnessed a significant male presence, particularly by students from the surrounding campuses. To see men participate in such groups as SUNY Brockport’s “Stand Up Guys”, who work to influence their peers to end violence against women initially was a shock to me. I was impressed by my fellow male classmates who made the effort to participate in these events, and viewed them condescendingly. However, after participating in a study regarding sexual assaults on campus, and seeing the reaction of the student body to the high statistics of campus assaults I realized that perhaps some men really did care about ending violence against women. The concept of encouraging more men to play a role in the effort to stop violence against women came during my senior year at SUNY Brockport when Clayton Whittemore murdered Alexandra Kogut in her dorm room. The outrage that we as a community felt for our classmate resonated across gender lines. The number of students who worked on our usual campaigns to end violence against women increased dramatically, both male and female. It is unfortunate that it often takes a tragedy to really send a message. However, seeing that the message got through inspired me to realize that the men who support the effort, are doing so with sincerity, and should be encouraged and supported in this movement to end violence against women.

  • It is great to read and hear about so many events that support and raise awareness to end domestic violence, violence against women. In addition, the events serve to foster respectful, healthy relationships. In Chautauqua County, NY we have a Take Back the Night yearly held in Fredonia, NY through SUNY Fredonia which is well attended and supported in the community: . Our county government also takes efforts to address this through giving of information to talk about what violence is, domestic violence is, as well as rape. It adds hotlines and where to go for help through the website and a pdf of information that can be printed and handed out or posted:; . I agree that raising awareness and gaining the support of men is important as men who do not abuse can serve as positive role models for other men–especially if men who have or are abusing wish to make changes or as a way to motivate through persuasion to affect change. It is tough to change without having a frame of reference: . Thank you to everyone for such a great discussion, information, and resources!

    • Thanks for these resources, KA. I remember when Take Back the Night marches were women-only events (Buffalo, early 1980’s); the thinking then was that women cannot and should not rely on men to provide a protective presence – times have changed. The comments here show how valuable it can be to have men as allies and activists in the efforts to end male violence against women. For the history of Take Back the Night, here are a couple of links: and I learned that it was first a protest over violence against sex workers in San Francisco’s “red light” district. The account from the Temple University site about the rally in response to the murder of a woman walking home in Philadelphia is an earlier event. Pat

  • Note: Here is a related post on this topic: Men’s Non-Violence Educator Shares Resources to Engage Men in Gender-Based Violence Prevention Work, by Relando Thompkins, MSW, LLMSW: published October 20, 2014

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