Voice Male - Fall 2005
Why Men and Women Must Work Together
to End Domestic Violence
By Marian Kent
Historically, the battered women's movement has been just that--a movement consisting of women counseling and sheltering, advocating and agitating, in support of and on behalf of other women who have been abused. In the process of building this movement, women have created a highly effective national network to achieve safety for themselves and their children and to remake their lives. At the same time, pro-feminist men committed to ending violence have worked with other men, in consciousness-raising groups, through education and batterers' intervention programs, to support men and challenge violence.
As effective as these movements have been, the still alarming rate of domestic violence incidents and casualties requires us to think and act differently. If we want to truly end domestic violence, men and women must begin to work together. And not just token collaboration here or there, either--true partnership, true commitment is required.
Imagine men and women, families, youth and elders, people of different cultures and groups--entire communities--coming forward together to reject violence. Imagine a community taking the position that no matter what its members might be facing, no matter their problems or stresses or hardships, using violence against a loved one is not the answer. Imagine people being supported in their times of crisis so that they have alternatives to battering as a means of grasping for power. Imagine couples and families, where safety allows, being supported in working through their issues together, transforming their relationships, and remaining together instead of separating.
This is the vision Safe Passage, the battered women's organization I direct in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Men's Resource Center for Change, colleagues headquartered in nearby Amherst, share as we commit to a new, historic partnership, working closely together toward truly ending family violence. Recognizing that most of the work of each of our organizations has been focused on intervention, we plan to focus on prevention, in addition to the crucial services we are already providing.
Until now, Safe Passage's safety and intervention work has by necessity usually required a focus on separation--supporting women in leaving their abusers and starting fresh from a secure place. Although the MRC's batterer intervention work through its Moving Forward program (formerly MOVE) makes no assumptions about the partner leaving or staying in the relationship, it is not uncommon for the MRC to be working with the men after their partners have left. Because both organizations have made a strong commitment to women's safety and to ending men's violence against women, we know that some members of our community perceive both of us as "anti-male" or "anti-family." In order for these perceptions to change and in order for us to reach everyone in the community who needs our services, we need to transform our approach to families and communities.
Where in the past women--and women's groups--may have been skeptical about working with men against battering, Safe Passage now sees working together as vital to ending domestic violence and in fact to the health of the movement. We are clear that women and men must work together in order to respond to people and families holistically. Our commitment is strong, as indicated by these new developments:
Safe Passage has recently hired our first-ever male staff member--our new volunteer coordinator. Also in recent months, our board of directors took the historic step of changing its bylaws to include men as members.
The plan for Safe Passage and the Men's Resource Center for Change moving forward together includes engaging citizens in identifying which strategies will work for specific communities--strategies for engaging both men and women to take a stand against violence. We are identifying new ways of working together to provide services to intact families in their communities--to transform our services for families and communities.
An exciting project we are developing together is called "Supporting Boys from Safe Passage House." This pilot program will send MRC staff members into Safe Passage's domestic violence shelter to provide services for boys currently or formerly residing there. This project recognizes that for the sons of women who are survivors of domestic violence, the journey to healthy manhood is bound to be especially difficult.
Boys whose mothers flee abuse with their children and take refuge in a battered women's shelter may have scant opportunity for positive experiences with men. The behavior the boys have witnessed--usually, their dads abusing their moms--reflects the worst aspects of men's socialization: too many men act violently, in part to mask their own hurt, fear, and confusion. These boys are vulnerable and at significant risk. Our project is an attempt to reflect and model positive male behavior and relationships with men, so that these precious boys will grow up to be loving, nurturing partners and fathers themselves.
In the end, it's such a simple question with an obvious answer: Aren't we stronger and more effective working together? Isn't the community better and more holistically served when men and women unite against abuse? Absolutely. We are truly excited about working closely with our allies and friends at the Men's Resource Center for Change--and with men, women, and families--to create a community where violence is not the answer.
Marian Kent is the executive director of Safe Passage, the battered women's agency serving Hampshire County, Massachusetts.