There are countless stereotypes associated with domestic violence, but one of the most common has to be that it is a crime solely perpetrated against women. While there is some merit to this thought, it is not completely true. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 73 percent of domestic violence victims are female. Of course, this means that 27 percent are male, and yet when people think about domestic violence, the image of a strong man beating up a weak woman is typically what comes to mind.
This notion yields a negative consequence: By suggesting
that women are the only victims of domestic abuse, society believes it
is women’s problem to solve. Hopefully people realize this isn’t true,
but the stereotype has sunk in enough that there is a noticeable gap in
the number of women and number of men actively volunteering in victim
advocacy and violence prevention.
At Promoting Awareness, Victim
Empowerment (PAVE), men are some of our most vital volunteers. In our
commitment to educate the campus about the realities of domestic/dating
violence, our male volunteers often take a leading role, writing
editorials or leading a class that delves into the specifics of such
crimes. I’ve witnessed firsthand that the difference men can make is
profound, yet there is a gap in the gender of our volunteers.
are a number of possible reasons for this. Social connotations are
definitely one of them. Contrary to what some people may feel, it is not
sissy or feminine to work for an organization like PAVE. After all,
isn’t the idea of men protecting women a theme we constantly see in the
media? This is not to say men should be the shields protecting women,
but they can most certainly stand by women’s sides and help to end the
Another stereotype preventing male participation is
the belief that their help isn’t welcome, that a man’s involvement is a
perpetrator’s involvement. This is simply not true. It is no more fair
to men that they are constantly labeled abusers than it is to women that
they are constantly labeled victims.
People like to think in
black and white, but for most situations, including this one, narrow
definitions don’t fit. We know the vast majority of men are
anti-violence and don’t practice it in their relationships. This routine
awareness could be channeled into violence prevention, but because of
these labels, it rarely is.
Perhaps the ultimate reason men (and
women, for that matter) are hesitant to be active in this endeavor is
because the task of eliminating violence is daunting. Tapping someone on
the shoulder and saying, “Psst, don’t hit your partner!” rarely yields
the effects we would like, and when your gender has been stereotyped as
abusive, it can be easiest to just ignore the situation. When this holds
true, it is best to start with an approachable and doable first step.
is what Ben Atherton-Zeman does. For a crime that can feel so massive,
Ben narrows domestic violence down to what someone at UW-Madison might
see or experience. Taking situations that are far too familiar, Ben
dissects the ways victims and those around them may react when
confronted with the reality of dating violence.
He also touches
on the imperfect system of support most victims encounter when seeking
both personal and legal help. All of this is meant to shed light on an
often-silenced issue and encourage people to do something about it.
of this is meant to imply that if you don’t get involved with violence
prevention you’re ignorant or don’t care about these issues. That’s
obviously not true. And while we at PAVE would love nothing more than to
see some smiling male faces in our office making buttons or at our
events, we’d also be satisfied with knowing men are out there
recognizing what the problem is and doing what they can in their
everyday lives to make sure it doesn’t happen.
awareness and casual advocacy is what Ben’s message gets at. He’s not
looking to create the next male head of PAVE, but rather day-to-day
activists who speak up when they hear a wife-beating joke, intervene
when they see an argument turn physical and support a victim when one
comes to him for help. This widespread consciousness is what will
ultimately eradicate domestic violence.
(as published in the Badger Herald on February 9, 2011)