Sexual assault has led to a man-hating mission. Society has grown to view men as the perpetrators and women as the victims, which results in a very strict labeling system that does not accurately depict reality and does not help ameliorate this grave societal issue.

These labels, assumptions and sprouting norms have, in my opinion, hindered the journey toward change. Men are considered the "out group" and are excluded from conversations regarding sexual assault prevention and awareness. In doing this, the problems related to sexual assault – mainly, the lack of discussion, and the fact that the statistics continue to grow – persist.

In order to decrease statistics, we must include men, and even focus on men, when examining this problem.

Continuing a battle of the sexes perpetuates the message that men are immune to rape and do not understand what it feels like to endure such a horrific incident. This is simply not true.

“Men get raped or have sisters and friends and girlfriends who get raped,” said Beth Curry, University of Richmond's coordinator for sexual misconduct education and advocacy.

“Either way you look at it, men are involved.”

Data show that one in five women are sexually assaulted. Most often this is by a man, which will not be disputed. But data also show that one in 71 men are sexually assaulted.

Given such statistics, it is nearly impossible for a man to not have some personal connection to sexual assault. But for some reason men do not want to be a major part of discussion, nor do women allow it.

On this campus, Patrick Benner, associate dean of Richmond College residence life, cannot seem to get men overly involved.

“I’ve tried to have male groups step up and take on the [White Ribbon] project, but I couldn’t get consistent takers year in and year out,” Benner said.

The White Ribbon campaign is the largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity. Beginning in 1991, men were asked to wear white ribbons as a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. The campaign has continued ever since.

The White Ribbon movement is exactly what society needs, but we need more of it. In order to stop sexual assault, we must adopt a holistic approach, which includes men. The aura of silence must evaporate, and education must be increased.

“We don’t have a safe place to speak out about sexual assault,” senior Whitney Schwalm said, “and there is a misconception about it.”

In a GQ article published earlier this year, more than a dozen veterans and currently enlisted military men described personal attacks they had endured. The common theme of the piece was that the survivors rarely wanted to report the incident immediately following its occurrence. There existed an unspoken rule of not speaking.

Men often refuse to discuss their attacks because they fear appearing less masculine and/or less in control. One officer in the article said, “I wasn't ‘afraid’ to report it — I was ashamed and disgusted. Guys aren't supposed to be raped. I didn't want to tell anybody about it. I didn't want to say anything.”

Because society labels men as the “bad guys” when it comes to sexual assault, there is a tendency to believe, as the officer in the GQ article stated, that men do not get attacked or raped. This unfortunate perception results in the oversight of disheartening facts: 14,000 military men were assaulted in 2012, and of 40,000 households surveyed in 2013, men were the victims in 38 percent of sexual violence and rape cases.

It is imperative for men to be encouraged to report incident against them, and they should be privy to the same recovery resources as women. But this will not happen if society continues to push men outside of the inner circle and ostracize them from the fight against sexual misconduct.

Sexual assault education is equally as important for men to grasp, and women must allow this to occur too. There are many organizations, most of which monopolize the sexual assault education front, that promote women empowerment and inspire women to take responsibility for their own protection. The downfall of such groups is that they exclude men. Rather than living in fear that every man is potentially a threat, education programs should boast collaboration between thesexes. A societal shift that engenders a community filled with sympathy and understanding among men and women is a necessary step towards the reduction of sexual assault cases.

Schwalm recalls incidents in which friends and family members were ostracized and humiliated by not only the perpetrators, but also by men siding with the attackers.

Men should be better included in the education and awareness of sexual assault. If they were better informed about dealing with victims, or if they were cognizant of the startling frequency of rapes, maybe situations like this this would not happen.

But we cannot live on “ifs.” We can only except change as a consequent of action. This world is not divided between males and females, or any sexual orientation for that matter, so we must remove the wall that bifurcates.As a preempted response to those who will say this outlook disregards the men who actually are bad and who actually do rape and who actually don’t care about their victims, I do not disagree. Women suffer sexual assault nearly every day, all over the world, and it is tragic. This viewpoint purposes that developing a deeper understanding of men as they relate to sexual assault and including them in conversations is a necessary step towards change.

Sexual assault is a societal problem and requires the whole of society to fix.

Contact staff writer Stephanie Manley at stephanie.manley@richmond.edu

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