In recent years, social media discourse has started to shift the public conversation on sexual assault. Everyday, new posts go up reinforcing the idea that sexual violence is not a result of how a woman acts or dresses, but the actions of predators. However, despite societal changes that are starting to emphasize men’s culpability for gender-based violence, the natural conclusion that violence prevention must start with men, is still controversial in some ways. Gender-based violence takes root in social environments that value patriarchal and misogynistic beliefs, but with proper intervention and education, many of these behaviours can be unlearned as well.
This is not to suggest an individual acting on their own can change deeply ingrained patterns of abuse in a partner. However, pilot programs are developing across Canada that provide counselling and other services to men who identify as potential perpetrators of abuse. By examining the sources of their physically or emotionally violent patterns, these programs hope to rehabilitate participants to keep abuse from occurring. In London, ON, two such programs (Caring Dads and Changing Ways) have already launched and show positive signs of success.
There are valid concerns with focusing on men in discussions on gender-based violence. With shelters and other domestic abuse resources for women already chronically underfunded, it can be difficult to find the additional money to run unassociated programs. Yet for years, the numbers on gender-based violence have indicated that reactive measures don’t impact overall rates of violence and have a higher cost than these early counselling programs.
The impacts of gender-based violence are clear, but the solutions are more complicated. While our priority should always be supporting those experiencing abuse, there comes a time to consider how we, as a society, can use education and support services to ensure their safety is never at risk again. And perhaps with the wide adoption of school programs aimed at building healthier masculinities and counselling to those in need, we will see a time where no one is at risk in the first place.
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