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Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men, so why do we call it a women’s issue?

Divided States of Sexual Assault

Imagine a world where the burden to solve sexual violence was on men rather than women.

In response to allegations that Harvey Weinstein had spent years sexually abusing women, millions took to social media using the hashtag #MeToo to share their personal stories of abuse and harassment. It was a powerful moment that didn’t just show women’s bravery — it showed the depth of the problem: Almost every woman on my feed shared a story.

But I became frustrated when I saw women tasked (once again) with sharing their traumatic experiences in order to make people care about the epidemic of sexual violence. In an effort to hold men accountable for their role, I started the #HimThough hashtag to reframe the conversation. The hashtag puts the onus on men, rather than women, to explain how we can begin to solve this issue.

To further highlight the need for a paradigm shift, this week’s episode of Divided States of Women is dedicated to sexual assault. It has an all-female production team behind the camera — and only men on-camera. Too often we depend on women to give solutions about how to curb sexual harassment and assault. Women’s voices are critical in this conversation, but I wanted the answers to come from men for a change.

Men are responsible for the vast majority of sexual violence in America. According to a 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 90 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men. Moreover, when men are victims of sexual assault (an estimated one in 71 men, and one in six boys), 93 percent reported their abuser was a man. It’s true that women also assault men, but even when victims of all genders are combined, men perpetrate 78 percent of reported assaults.

So why aren’t men talking about sexual abuse?

According to Jackson Katz, an author and educator on issues of masculinity, it’s because men aren’t taught to see themselves as part of a group with a culture. “Men’s violence is normalized,” he explained. “I think there's a lot of men who are hostile to the very notion that somehow we are implicated as a sex class in what some men are doing.”

Katz also cited a lack of accountability and responsibility to change that culture, and the idea that caring about women is associated with weakness rather than strength. “A lot of men will say, ‘I'm a good guy. This isn't my problem. I don't rape women. I don't abuse my girlfriend.’” he told me. “I think we need to raise the bar a little higher for what it means to be a good guy in the United States in 2017, in just saying, ‘I don't rape women’ or ‘I'm not a rapist’ is not particularly impressive.”

This toxic mindset is ingrained in our solutions to sexual violence and impacts the distribution of resources. A 2004 Department of Justice study found that only 8 percent of rape education and prevention programs are designed specifically for men.

One approach that gained some traction: former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2014 national campaign to engage men on bystander intervention. Popularized by educators like Katz, bystander intervention teaches people how to get involved if they see a potentially violent situation.

Early research is promising. Thirty eight percent of men enrolled in a bystander intervention course in a University of New Hampshire study reported having intervened in a situation that could have led to violence. For men not enrolled, only 12 percent reported intervening. New research from the University of Kentucky is the largest and longest study of its kind; it found that schools that implemented a bystander intervention program showed a decrease in assaults by 12 percent.

Despite overwhelming evidence and common sense, targeting men in sexual assault prevention programs is still not as common as it should be. Perhaps challenging them to be leaders in these conversations is a good way to start.