Statistics say one in 10 high school students report being purposely physically hurt by a boyfriend/girlfriend. Preventing teen dating violence and treating victims involves everyone, including parents, educators and peers. More and more, engaging men and boys in teen dating violence prevention is becoming an important piece of the prevention puzzle.
Safe Start Center Director Elena Cohen answers a few questions about how best to engage men and boys and why it’s important.
Why is it important to engage boys in teen dating violence prevention?
Teen dating violence is a significant public health concern in the U.S. Although there are a growing number of legal and social services for teens, we don’t have effective resources for helping men learn to recognize and take responsibility for their patterns of hurtful behavior. Some of these men have been exposed to violence themselves, and as a result, they feel the emotional, physical and mental impacts of this violence. Often men try not to pay attention to their pain and believe that an admission of difficulties is showing weakness and a proof of not being a “real man.” Sometimes violence is an attempt to cope with hidden pain.
Violence prevention requires a change in the social conditions that impact the community which make violence normal and acceptable. Men and boys receive, sort through, and enforce messages about relationships, violence and power every day. Men and boys also send powerful messages about relationships, violence, and power that affect members of society. Generally speaking, men have greater access to resources and opportunities to influence large social structures and institutions. They, as a result, play an important role to prevent teen dating violence
What ways/strategies have you found effective in reaching boys about teen dating violence prevention?
Young men are trained to be masculine in a way that leads to confusion, repression, isolation and domination. The understanding of what it takes to be a successful man is going through big changes. Teenagers are being called upon to develop new ways of relating to their emotions, their dating partners, even their work. This can easily leave young men feeling confused, disoriented and overwhelmed.
Some strategies to engage men in dating violence prevention include:
• Providing written information by using pamphlets, posters, articles, and other relevant materials. These materials need to be adapted to the community and language of the young men in the groups.
• Holding ongoing nonviolence classes or education groups. In a group setting, provide concrete examples reflective of the community. People from marginalized communities are inundated with negative representations of themselves
• One-on-one, meaningful, mentorships. Young men comprise a very diverse population and respond to a diversity of voices. Identifying individuals with whom they fell comfortable will solidify the message.
• Offering presentations that teach young men the dynamics of healthy relationships and providing basic skills to put knowledge into practice. Know your audience and history of the community—coming into unfamiliar communities and expecting them to teach us about themselves can be perceived as disrespectful
In teen dating violence prevention, should boys be approached differently than girls? If yes, how so?
Gender-specific groups teach young men that violence against women is simply not part of who they are as a people; it is not inherent or traditional. This message is a powerful one to transmit considering the negative representations of men, especially those of minority communities who are usually represented as less than human and violent.
Gender-specific groups can more specifically address how environmental circumstances affect men and boys in the community and working through gender-relative examples can better help men and boys personalize the topic as they begin to see themselves reflected in women’s experiences of violence. This may have the effect of validating their experiences and in this way create an opportunity for them to be allies to women through their realization that ending violence against women is a struggle to end all forms of violence and oppression, including that which they personally experience.
Gender-specific groups teach young men to be proud of who they are. It builds self-esteem and creates buy-in into the group. Creating spaces where men can be proud of their identity and use that as a point of departure to discuss healthy relationships can be a powerful experience for group participants and trainers alike.
Redefining masculinity is better done in men groups. The group process in this setting may lead to redefining masculinity in ways that are more respectful of people’s culture and inclusive of what group members deem to be “masculine” qualities.