Monday, May 11, 2009

Stop It Before It Stops Part 4 Moving To Action

A week ago Wednesday (4/29) I attended the seminar Stop It Before It Starts: Preventing Sexual and Domestic Violence presented by: Minnesota Men's Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In part 1, I gave my thoughts on the first session which was about the dynamics of domestic violence. In part 2, I covered the session on sexual violence. In part 3, I covered the session on our sexually toxic environment.

This post is a recap of the fourth and final session of this training, primary prevention -- moving to action by Chuck Derry of Gender Violence Institute.

I'll begin by going back to what makes an action primary prevention.

The actions in primary prevention focus on systematic changes which positively influence the behavior of those who would otherwise be violent, the behavior of those who excuse or enable violence and the behavior of those who are responsible for responding to inappropriate/illegal behavior.

Primary prevention of violence through various actions reduces the general toxicity of our cultural environment and removes the barriers to successful prevention efforts.

This is where each of us can be involved and make a positive difference no matter our age, how busy we are or what other people fail to do. Understanding primary prevention gives us many options for personal actions, including working to change formal systems, which combined with the efforts of others who are also focused on primary prevention can have an amazing impact.

Traditional prevention efforts which focused on what people could do to defend themselves does little or nothing to reduce the incoming danger and is not primary prevention. Because this doesn't make the environment safer it is easy for those trying to fight this violence in this way to burn out. The flow of incoming victims will never stop under this approach.

An important tool for those who want to be involved in primary prevention is the spectrum of prevention.

The Spectrum is comprised of six interrelated action levels:

  • strengthening individual knowledge and skills

  • promoting community education

  • educating providers

  • fostering coalitions and networks

  • changing organizational practices

  • influencing policy and legislation
For primary prevention to be fully effective there must be action in all of these areas of the spectrum. Many early prevention efforts focus on education, but we've seen in various areas that knowledge and education is not enough on it's own.

The graphic for this spectrum is a series of horizontal bars, but it can be useful to think of this as wedges on a wheel.

As an example for why we need to look at all elements of the spectrum, in the early days of child safety seats people were taught about how these seats could protect children but many people thought children would never stay in these seats and because of that they didn't even try to use them. It wasn't until these child restraints became a law that the rate of use went up. In the area of fostering coalitions and networks that could be groups which provided child safety seats and helped ensure they were properly installed.

We are really at the beginning of this process of primary prevention of sexual and domestic violence so in many areas we are still learning. Part of this training is to invite people into the process who may bring valuable insight and/or resources to this effort.

Some example activities in Minnesota include: The Coalition for Responsible Sex Ed work on a comprehensive sex education bill at the 2008 legislature. Stop It Now! Minnesota working with youth serving organizations. The St. Paul-Ramsey County Teen Pregnancy Project/Sexual Assault Action Team was formed to provide education about the connection between these 2 issues. A community group in Winona, MN Beyond Tough Guise has worked with Winona State University to improve their sexual conduct policies. Brochures the group created were handed out and I planned to highlight some of the items but my brochure seems to be AWOL. If I find it or can find a link to it, I will add that later.

Some other examples of primary prevention in Minnesota include:

Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault MNCASA has a prevention specialist, has prevention initiatives with the legislature, and is initiating focus on youth leadership in prevention and more.
Ramsey County, MN has a variety of interventions and prevention activities and passed a resolution to prevent sexual violence utilizing strategies across the spectrum of prevention to be implemented across various departments.

Olmsted County, MN (where I live) has passed its own resolution to prevent sexual violence (resolution 08-76) which includes:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners is committed to stopping sexual violence and ensuring a healthy environment for all people in which they can grow and develop free from social and environmental toxins that feed the demand for sexual violence;
Citizens in all the other Minnesota counties are encouraged to approach their county leaders about taking up this type of resolution. This may seem symbolic, but this commitment is more than just symbolic.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, The Board requests the County Administrator to develop specific action steps for each of the Goals; coordinate sexual violence intervention and prevention efforts with state and national plans; identify potential funding sources and/or ways in which departments can internalize implementation of the Goals, identify and assess potential legislative proposals that address sexual violence during the 2009 legislative session; and report back to the Board in 6 months.
This section is what moves this resolution beyond support for awareness campaigns. I encourage everyone who reads this to look at the 2 resolutions passed so far and encourage your local government officials to make similar commitments.

The state of Minnesota's Dept. of Health has been working toward prevention. Check out A Place to Start: A Resource Kit for Preventing Sexual Violence.

Patty Wetterling is the program director for Minnesota sexual violence prevention. The state of Minnesota has a 5-year plan for the primary prevention of sexual violence and exploitation (pdf) put out by the state department of health.

This plan has 6 goals.

Goal 1. Strengthen social norms that encourage healthy and respectful relationships.
Goal 2. Identify and train leaders across the state to educate people.
Goal 3. Ensure that all voices are heard in order to prevent sexual violence.
Goal 4. Increase the ability of individuals, groups, and communities to prevent sexual violence.
Goal 5. Seek action by local and state public policy entities.
Goal 6. Implement and evaluate data and best practices for preventing sexual violence.

While many prevention actions are not dependant on having men join this effort we can't have approximately half our population uninvolved and still claim that we as a society are serious about being opposed to sexual and domestic violence. Much of the sexual toxicity does not directly hurt most men once they reach adulthood which can make them more blase about this problem. I could write about situations where men are victimized, but self-protection should not be the only motivation.

Too many boys and men are part of the problem, not enough are part of the solution.

A list of 10 things men can do to end sexism and male violence against women can be a starting point for men. Here's the first item (examples follow):
Understand how your own attitudes and actions perpetuate sexism and violence. Work toward changing them.
This can be a tough step since many people, men and women, who are non-violent don't like to think that anything they do perpetuates violence, but when we live in a sexually toxic environment toxic attitudes are more likely to be normalized and be spread without those spreading it realizing what they've done.

A key example where many men perpetuate sexism is the habit of trivializing women's experiences and opinions. For example, when a man dismisses date rape as something which shouldn't be prosecuted he is dismissing the trauma of most rape victims and he is providing practical support to most rapists.

Included in this list is speaking out against gay bashing. There is also a note related to this item which points out that men who speak out against gendered violence are often subjected to homophobic abuse. This is part of our sexually toxic environment.

As I think about this abuse I think about what it says about the abuser's view of heterosexual men when a man being boldly anti-rape causes him to be classified as not heterosexual. The result is that the abusers are equating "heterosexual male" with being a rapist or being someone who protects rapists or being someone who conveniently looks the other way when it comes to rape and abuse.

In this primary prevention effort it is important to work to expand those who are partners in this prevention effort including individuals who are policy makers and community leaders. We also want to partner with all levels and types of government, businesses, civic and community organizations, faith communities, educational institutions and health care.

As I think about primary prevention, I realize that strong effective responses after violence has been committed play an important role in primary prevention. As long as victims of domestic and/or sexual violence are commonly terrified of reporting or some aftermath of reporting (being billed for rape kit exam) then something is seriously wrong. This will require a mix of education, legislation and funding.

Failures which are defended with, "We followed all applicable rules and regulations," give us a starting point for a primary prevention action not a stopping point.

Primary prevention is possible. I am making a commitment right now to increase my focus on primary prevention and to look for what actions I can take in this area. Join me in making that commitment.


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