Boys, we see your silence on sexual assault

It is far more dangerous to be a woman today than a man

On March 3, a man named Wayne Couzens kidnapped and later murdered a woman named Sarah Everard near London. When the news of Evarard’s death flooded headlines a week later, I was neither an acquaintance who mourned the death of a friend, nor a mother who grieved the loss of a daughter, but I was a girl, and that single connection bound me to a pang of misery that came with acknowledging what it means to be a girl in today’s society. 

Only when I scrolled through social media did I find comfort in solidarity as I watched a countless number of women express their support for Everard and her family. However, as I continued to tap through Instagram stories I saw that each girl’s cry for justice preceded only a boy’s celebration of his favorite sports team, a renewed feeling of misery screamed to me that boys cared more about Stephen Curry’s latest game than the issue of violence against women.

In a culture that enables sexual assault and harassment towards women, silence is complicity; boys must speak up and stand out against sexual violence for there to be any real shift in this perennial problem.

While most people wish for it to not be true, reality upholds that it is far more dangerous to be a woman today than a man. To deny this is to also ignore how most women cannot jog safely at night, cannot leave the house without pepper spray, and cannot even walk down a street alone with both earbuds plugged in.

Similarly, dismissing the issue of sexual violence means also brushing off the stories of women who survived sexual assault; it means turning a blind eye on the girl who was raped while walking to a local convenience store, the woman who was raped during a casual run around town, and the girl who was sexually abused while riding on a school bus with other students.

These were all real events, and these were only three victims out of millions.

   According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, there are 433,648 victims, ages 12 or older, of rape and sexual assault in the United States each year.

Sexual violence impacts women on a day-to-day basis far more than it does men, so it makes sense that women have been the ones protesting, posting, and speaking up against it. However, when dealing with an immense issue such as this, men’s support is a necessity for creating substantial change. Furthermore, men have to recognize that sexual violence is not solely a “woman’s issue”.

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey which revealed that men made up 90 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against female victims, and men were also 93 percent of perpetrators against male victims.

Men are majorly responsible for the sexual violence problem in America, so they must also take responsibility in becoming a part of its solution. It is important to recognize that boys can also be victims of sexual assault, but when the gender statistics of perpetrators are so disproportionate, we have to focus first on the ‘bad’ men rather than those who are victims.

Today, men have not yet taken up this responsibility, as the burden of solving sexual violence often seems to fall only on women. While the imbalance of effort in combating various forms of misogyny is not new, we now have the power to end men’s silence on this topic by recognizing and dissolving the factors that first led to their silence.

   For one, popular culture normalizes men’s violence through movies, video games, and pornography, to the point where caring about women appears more as a weakness than a strength. Some people even fear that by standing up for women, they are losing a part of their masculinity or jeopardizing their place in the “men’s club.” As a result, many boys choose to pick their nails, shuffle their feet, and ultimately, look away during a situation in which they have the power to protect a woman.

However, inaction during necessary moments only continues the cycle of toxic masculinity. When men witness sexual harassment or assault and do not interfere, they are complacent with our flawed society, and they also send a message to male perpetrators that they are okay with their depraved behaviors.

On the flip side, when men do speak up, they make clear to both harassers and the people around them that they do not tolerate sexual violence. Taking a stride in standing up for women opens up space for more men to chime in, and that then promotes a safer, more comfortable environment for both men and women.

The second part of undoing a culture already acceptant of sexual violence is to understand how the issue remains existent in present-day America. In a Harvard Business Review article, Getting Men to Speak Up, author Michael S. Kimmel wrote that sexual harassment today generally persists due to three coexisting conditions: men’s sense of privilege and power over women, the presumption that women are not going to fight back, and the expectation that other men will not call out sexual abusers. 

With the recent surge in the Me Too movement and the outpour of 21st century feminist movements, it is evident that women have been resisting sexual violence loud and clear.

Now, men must break down the third factor by dissolving complicit assent.

In a 2005 Access Hollywood tape, former President Donald Trump said, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women … I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

To any person with a good conscience, Trump’s words most likely evoked a sense of disgust and disagreement. Yet, Billy Bush, the show’s host at the time, responded to Trump with a chuckle and said, “Whatever you want.”

At that moment, Bush presumably thought he was simply engaging in harmless “locker room banter”, but the conversation was anything but harmless. Bush’s agreement only cemented Trump’s belief that power and fame mean undeniable access to women. If Bush had said, “Donald, that’s wrong,” perhaps Trump would now have one less sexual misconduct allegation.

In taking the focus away from Trump, Bush’s failure to discord also unveils the way he views the women in his own life. Even though very few men would wish ill behavior upon a woman they know, staying silent about sexual harassment is akin to allowing it to continue and possibly later on impact one’s sister, girlfriend, mother, aunt, or daughter.

More importantly, boys and men alike must remember that women are people, and their value and safety are not decided based on whether you know them or not.

It’s imperative that boys respect all girls, not only the ones they care about or want attention from. The first step in doing so is to be more mindful about sexual violence, then to speak out against it both in public and in private to set an example for other men to follow.

According to RAINN, someone in America is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds, and one out of every six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape.

For decades, people accepted sexual assault as a norm in American culture, but when these extreme statistics lay right before our eyes, men need to acknowledge that sexual assault is a problem they can no longer view from the backseat. 

One in six women have been victims of sexual assault. These numbers are not just figures of a study; these are real people that we see and interact with every single day. Sexual violence is not a foreign issue, it’s not a past issue, and it’s not a minor issue.

Women play a central role in most of our lives, and they deserve more support in combating sexual violence. It is not their responsibility alone to address a problem that is rooted mostly in toxic male behavior.

In response to hearing this, some men may bring up the idea that “not all men are bad!” While this is true, and it is unfair to categorize all men as harassers or even someone who enables sexual harassment, the “not all men” mindset is an extremely harmful one that arises more as a defense than an attempt at providing relief.

If someone tells you that a certain species of bees may sting you at any moment or location, and they add that nine out of ten of that species of bees have red wings, you will most likely avoid every single bee that has red wings from that moment on.

The problem with men and sexual assault are the same. 

Men need to shift their mindset about sexual assault and begin calling out ‘bad’ men rather than trying to excuse themself from being one. There is no significance or progress if a man considers themself to be ‘good’ or ‘unlike the others’ but does not take any action to back that up. 

Let me make it clear, this is not an attempt to bash the shortcomings of the entire male population. I believe that most men support and hope to help women but are simply unsure of how to do it.

A 2004 Department of Justice study found that only 8 percent of rape education and prevention programs were designed specifically for men.

The unproportionate distribution of resources displays how, in the past, the public viewed rape as a women’s issue as opposed to men’s. Even though such beliefs have been present for decades, they are also not permanent in any way. 

In a study done at the University of New Hampshire, 38 percent of men who enrolled in a bystander intervention course later reported having intervened in a situation that could have led to violence. Conversely, out of the men who did not enroll in the intervention course, only 12 percent of men later reported having intervened.

When men proactively work to remove themselves from America’s long-withstanding misogynistic culture, sexual violence decreases. No matter how uncomfortable it may be to do so, the research supports that, in the end, people’s views and knowledge about sexual assault are fluid and can change with effort and education. 

Whether this effort means talking to a few friends or sharing a post online, the important part of all of this is to let women know that they have men’s support. It’s time for men to become women’s allies and not enemies. Do not continue to let girls only hope for your support; let them see and hear it. 

With that, I have nothing left to say. It’s your turn to speak up, boys.