Women and femmes, cis, trans and non-binary alike, we know how to stay safe. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t leave your drink unattended. When going on a date, always tell a friend where you’re going and who you’re going with, in case you don’t come back. We know these rules backward and forward, for they have been ingrained into us from as early as we can remember. We have been programmed to be the first and last bastions against our own assault, against our own oppression. However, outside forces such as misogyny and rape culture (the existence of which is not up for debate in this article) make it difficult to protect ourselves 100 percent of the time. Since we are the first ones responsible for preventing our own assault, we are the first ones to blame when something does happen.
Most “staying safe on campus” articles read more like rape-prevention articles, basically saying to people at-risk “make sure that, if someone gets raped, it’s not you.” Yes, a person of any gender can be raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by a member of any gender, but statistically, cis (non-trans) men commit most rapes, assaults and harrassments against women or femme-identifying people. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, male students were the perpetrators of 97% of rapes and sexual “victimizations” of female college students in the U.S. between 1995 and 2013. Where is the responsibility for them? Why, when my cousin and I went to college at around the same time, did he get a box of condoms and a flask and I got pepper spray and a recommendation for self-defense classes?
In order to challenge the systems of oppression that put women and femmes at risk, men need to be held accountable to other men especially on college campuses, where, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, women in college are three times more likely than the average population of women to be sexually assaulted and 21 percent of trans, gender-queer or gender non-conforming students have reported being sexually assaulted.
So what can be done? What serious, tangible action can be taken by men at parties, in dorms, or just while hanging out with friends to put a stop, or a least hinder, this pervasive culture that ranges from sexist jokes and degrading talk about women to sexual harassment, domestic violence and rape?
Heidi Rademacher, the program director at the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, outlined some warning signs for men to look out for from other men. She said if someone is “spending an excessive amount of time with a “vulnerable individual” (someone who is younger, new to campus, or intoxicated), pressuring an individual to drink excessively or take drugs, gradually increases physical contact and/or sexualized talk, or attempts to separate a potential victim,” other men should take note and intervene.
As for what men should do when they see these behaviors, Rademacher points to advocates who “suggest college men receive training in Bystander Education. These programs focus not only on how to identify behaviors on a continuum of violence but also how to develop empathy for those who have experienced violence, practice safe and appropriate invention skills, and commit to intervention (before, during, and after).”
Mohammed Elbadry, a senior computer science and applied mathematics major and former president and current chair of Stony Brook University’s HeForShe Club, echoes these calls for accountability. “Positive peer pressure should be utilized to its fullest extent to create an impact on how men act. If men are held accountable [for] everything they do at parties by others and not excused, many things would not happen.”
Holding other men accountable benefits men as well. According to Rademacher, “Sexual violence impacts [people of all genders] and therefore, is not simply a women’s or feminist issue. In addition, we know violence against women is connected to other social issues including gender equality, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health. In addition, engaging men in this conversation can provide a mechanism for seeing the problematic nature of patriarchy, privilege, and inequality in society.”
While no one is asking men to have all of these social and political issues in mind whenever they go to a party or hang out in their dorms, having basic awareness of the actions of the men around them and taking action when intervention and accountability is necessary, will go a long way in keeping women and femmes more protected against sexual violence. So women and femmes, keep doing what you’re doing. You know yourself, your surroundings and your limits. Men? If you’re not with us, you’re against us. It’s time to step up and step in.