As a follow up to the Men Taking a Stand to End Violence Against Women dinner held on April 26, the YWCA/Evanston North Shore is moving ahead with a Men’s Leadership Project. 

The goal is “to get men to take an active role to prevent violence against women and be allies. The project is something that needed to happen a long time ago,” said Antonio Rice, Men’s Engagement Coordinator and Violence Prevention Educator at the YWCA, who is co-leading the project with Brian McHugh, a social worker in Alternatives to Violence program at the YWCA.

The initial plan is to provide training sessions for five or six men on healthy masculinity, media stereotypes, domestic violence, bystander intervention, and sexual assault and human trafficking. From there, the plan is to take what is learned and provide training to more men and over time build a cadre of men who shape and expand an Evanston-based program to help end violence against women.

There are similar programs in communities throughout the country that have had success, said Mr. Rice.

The Scope of Gender Violence

  “We should be outraged that violence against women is so pervasive and continues to be what many consider one of the largest public health issues we face,” said Karen Singer, Executive Director of the YWCA. “The statistics are staggering.”

Nationally, one in five women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner; one in three women has been a victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

“Gender violence continues to plague our communities, impacting women from all different backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, ages, and religions,” said Ms. Singer.

 “For the majority of women, they first experience violent episodes between the ages of 18 and 24; and they are likely to continue to experience that as they move to adulthood,” Kristen White, Chief Operating Officer of YWCA, told the RoundTable. “So it starts young, and the fact that girls are experiencing it tells us that boys are acting aggressively in that same age range.”

The issue is not just a national problem, it is a serious problem in Evanston. In 2015, the Evanston Police Department reported that there were 347 domestic batteries in Evanston, 113 domestic-related assaults or criminal trespasses, and 111 cases in which orders of protection were entered. The EPD says there were also 991 domestic conflicts that did not rise to the level of criminal conduct.

“We are not going to end gender violence if we do not address the root problem,” said Ms. Singer. “And the problem is men abuse women. So how do we begin to engage men as allies with us in ending it?”

Enlisting Men as Allies

The Men Taking a Stand dinner, attended by 180 men, was the YWCA’s first step in engaging men to take a leading role to end violence against women in Evanston and the broader community.

The keynote speaker at the dinner was Jackson Katz, a longtime leader in a movement advocating that men must take an active leadership role in ending violence against women.

Dr. Katz says gender violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, and sexual harassment “have been seen as women’s issues that some good men help out with, but I have a problem with that frame, and I don’t accept it. I don’t see these as women’s issues that some good men help out with. In fact, I’m going to argue that these are men’s issues, first and foremost.”

He said men need to start asking questions like, “Why did this man beat up Mary?” “Why do so many men rape women?” “Why is domestic violence such a big problem?” “What is the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, the economics?

“One of the powerful roles that men can play in this work is that we can say things that sometimes women can’t say, or, better yet, we can be heard saying some things that women can’t be heard saying,” said Dr. Katz. “We need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women and not against them.”

Mr. Rice said, “A lot of times men can get through to other men. If women could have solved this issue a long time ago, it would have happened. They need us. We need to help. It makes sense for us to have this men’s group and talk about issues and educate men in domestic violence and what it does to a family. We want men to be allies in the community, allies in their lives, to be better fathers and better coaches.

“If I go talk to a young man about violence – and it shouldn’t be this way – but they’re more likely to listen to another male than a woman,” added Mr. Rice.

“It’s important that men are involved, because men are typically the offenders, the causes, the people who are violating women, whether it’s emotionally or physically or sexually,” said Chris Livatino, Athletic Director at Evanston Township High School. “It’s men who are predominantly causing this problem. It’s not the women’s fault. It’s men who have to have a better grasp on what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and how society’s influencing them to act in certain ways.

“So why aren’t we talking to men about their role in this whole issue, because they’re the key figures,” continued Mr. Livatino. “They’re causing the abuse, and until we start to change their minds, we’re really not solving the problem. We’re just protecting people instead of fixing things for the long term.”

“Men truly have the power to end violence against women, which I think is only a starting point that will impact many other issues we face in today’s society,” said Henry S. Daniels Jr., Project Management Supervisor at the City of Evanston.  “We need to own that we contribute to a culture of disrespect toward women, and start changing that in ourselves. We need to stop blaming women for how we choose to treat them. … We need to change the script of what makes a man a man.”

Building an Evanston Model

Several national organizations – Vera House: Men Lead By Example,  Men Can Stop Rape, and Mentors in Violence Prevention – have models to enlist men as allies to end violence against women, said Ms. White.

Mr. Rice said he has attended training sessions offered by these organizations, as well as national summits focusing on the issue. “The model everyone is using is somewhat the same,” he said. There may be variances, “but in the end it’s the same goal – to end violence against women. A key part of each model is to provide training sessions for men.”

Mr. Rice said he has talked to about 20 men, one-on-one, who attended the Men Taking a Stand dinner to get their thoughts and ideas on how to proceed and the type of training they would like.

“The feedback we’ve got from a lot of these men has been unbelievable,” said Mr. Rice. “They definitely want this in the community.” A lot of them said, they “are ready now. ‘Whatever you need to have done, let me know.’ They love the idea of training.”

Based on the input, Mr. Rice put together a curriculum for the first set of training sessions that began on Oct. 23. There are five training sessions, each lasting about 1 1/2 hours, which will be offered on five consecutive Monday evenings. A significant part of the sessions will be conversations in which men will share their views and learn from each other.

Each session will focus on a different topic:

Healthy Masculinity: The group will discuss the traits that are traditionally associated with being a “man,” and build a collective understanding of healthy masculinity and unhealthy masculinity.

In one exercise, Mr. Rice said, men in the group will identify men who had the strongest influence in their lives and explain why – it might be a coach or a grandfather. These men may not have the same characteristics that the advertising media or some segments of society hold up as being strong men, said Mr. Rice.

Mr. Livatino referred to a Ted Talk “Be a Man” by Joe Ehrmann, a former  NFL player with the Colts. He said over the years Mr. Ehrmann had to unwind his thinking on what it means to be a man.

In his Ted Talk, Mr. Ehrmann says that domestic violence is spawned in part by “fundamental lies about what it means to be a man.”  He says masculinity is “all about relationships and commitment to a cause.”

Media Stereotypes: In the training sessions the group will watch and discuss a movie, “Tough Guise,” that examines violence against women as is portrayed on television and in movies, advertising, and the sports culture.

In one exercise, men will be asked to rate certain transgressions against women, such as calling a woman a derogatory name or a sexual assault, on a continuum of harm. Men will discuss why they placed a transgression where they did on the continuum. The discussion is intended to bring out how various transgressions can harm women, said Mr. Rice.

Domestic Violence: The group will watch and discuss a movie, “Escalation,” which Mr. Rice said follows the relationship of a man and a woman from college on and shows how unhealthy behaviors can escalate into domestic abuse.

The intent is to increase awareness of various types of domestic abuse and the impact on victims, including children.

Bystander Intervention: Mr. Rice said, this session will follow the model “Mentors in Violence Prevention,” which introduced the bystander approach, but it also contains elements of “Men Can Stop Rape,” which seeks to mobilize men to use their strength to create cultures free from violence against women.

In the bystander approach, “the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are,” said Dr. Katz. It recognizes that abuse occurs along a continuum and “we’re trying to get men to interrupt each other.” As an example, if men are playing poker and one man makes a sexist or degrading comment about women, a fellow man in the game could interrupt and say, “I don’t appreciate that kind of talk.”

Dr. Katz said, “The bystander approach is trying to give people tools to interrupt that process and to speak up and to create a peer culture climate where the abusive behavior will be seen as unacceptable, not just because it’s illegal, but because it’s wrong and unacceptable in the peer culture.”

 Mr. Rice said, “A lot of men don’t know how to intervene. … There are different ways you can intervene when you’re a bystander, especially in domestic violence situations.” He said an intervention may be direct or indirect, and may include humor or distraction.

Mr. Livatino told the RoundTable, “If our coaches hear kids make an off-color comment about the degradation of girls or women in a practice here in the locker room – the old hot button topic of locker room talk – then our coaches are going to step in and say, ‘We don’t talk about women like that here in Evanston. That’s not something we do. We respect women, and there’s no place for that in our locker room or our program.’”

“The larger goal over time” is that young men are “going to self-police, self-regulate those conversations in the locker room,” said Mr. Livatino.

“Men are critical in creating a culture where violence against women is not tolerated,” said Ms. White, the YWCA’s COO.

Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking: A person from STOP-It will speak on the realities of human trafficking in the region and the impact of sexual assault on women. “I think it’s a conversation we need to have,” said Mr. Rice.

Next Steps

While Mr. Rice said the next set of training sessions will be offered to a new group of men in January, the next steps are intentionally left open, because there is a desire for the men who participate to help shape these next steps.

But it appears that training will be a fundamental part of the program. Mr. Rice said, “The training won’t stop. … Ultimately the goal through the training sessions is to reach as many men in Evanston as possible – to be allies.”

Mr. Rice said he envisions that some of the men who go through the sets of training sessions may become mentors of students at ETHS, or they may provide training sessions, with his help, at their place of employment or to other groups. He added that the group may sponsor another Men Taking a Stand dinner, with another keynote speaker.

Training “is the foundation” said Ms. White. The training will help men build a knowledge base and provide skills to engage others so they have confidence to engage in the work. 

She said she would like the men to imagine the ways in which the program will evolve. Because the work is so personal, she said, the men have to play a critical role in shaping and deciding on the next steps.

Dan Bulf, who is participating in the first set of training sessions and who has led efforts to promote father/son relationships, told the RoundTable, “From this point forward, we’re going to create a core group of probably five or six men, and what’s critical is that these five or six men become pied pipers, and as we’re out in the world and talking with men, we can invite them. Finding men who are charismatic and passionate and who will invite friends and relatives to check out the program is – that’s the way it’s got to be done. It’s got to be grass roots and viral.

“One thing that I think could be a benefit to this program is it has a focus: ending violence against women. Because there’s a focus, there a lot more traction, I believe.”

“I think our first meeting was very productive and promising,” said Mr. Daniels from the City of Evanston.  “We have a great group of guys who bring different levels of experience, and who share the same passion and willingness to take a leading role in ending violence against women. I would be more than happy to be an advocate for the City for the Men’s Leadership Project.”

Kumar Jensen, Sustainability Coordinator for the City and participant in the project, told the RoundTable he thought it was very important for the City to provide a space for its employees to be engaged. He said the YWCA has provided training sessions for some City employees, and one possibility would be for the City to facilitate continuing training sessions for men who were interested. He said it is incredibly important for men to take a leadership role in ending violence against women.

Mr. Livatino said from his perspective as the Athletic Director of ETHS, “We could develop a much more concentrated workshop for our coaches that kind of bundles everything down to about an hour and a half, and then coaches could attend a seminar every three years.” He added that the condensed version could be used with teachers and others in the community – anyone who works with young men.

Over time, Ms. White said, she would like there to be a cadre of men who act as mentors, as trainers, and as advocates who are committed to taking an active role in ending violence against women. This group could decide on the levers to help end violence against women.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...