Moving from domestic violence awareness to action

As October and Domestic Violence Awareness Month come to an end, at Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) we are reflecting on how we can move beyond awareness to take action to stop the cycle of violence. CFW’s recent Report on the Status of Chicago’s Women and Girls examines the staggering impact of domestic violence in our region: based on police department data, in 2016 there were approximately 121 reported incidents of domestic violence per day. It’s time to move beyond reactive, stopgap measures to proactive, lasting solutions that address the root of the problem.

Shelters, call centers, and other safe spaces are absolutely critical in saving and changing the lives of women, children, trans individuals and men (yes, men) who have experienced the trauma of domestic violence. But these resources are not a first line of defense - they are a last resort after violence has already occurred.

One proactive strategy is to work with young men to re-imagine masculinity and prevent violence before it happens. The new initiative What’s Up with Manhood at Options for Youth, a CFW grantee, gives young men the tools to understand “how negative stereotypes of manhood can be harmful to their health and well-being and… to examine the link between socially defined gender roles and violence in their daily lives.” At a national level, A Call to Men is unpacking “the man box” that constructs masculinity as controlling, domineering and violent, and developing new ideas about what it means to “be a man” that don’t include violence or misogyny.

We are in the midst of a push to rethink domestic violence, no longer as “violence against women,” but as violence committed by men, centralizing the role men have to play in breaking the cycle of violence. Center for Advancing Domestic Peace, another CFW grantee, is one of the few local organizations to focus primarily on rehabilitating perpetrators of domestic violence. The Center offers a 24-week program to help individuals who have previously committed acts of abuse “examine the beliefs they have used to justify their violent behavior, learn to take responsibility for their actions, and develop the communication skills essential for creating safe and healthy relationships.” The program also offers a community of peer mentors to provide support and accountability.

How can men of conscience join the movement and take action to end violence against women and girls? They can start by joining the conversation. Rape Victim Advocates created Men in the Movement, a series of events to discuss how men can be part of the anti-violence and anti-rape movement, with conversation topics that range from healthy male sexuality to confronting misogyny in activist circles.

As these efforts continue to gain traction and work toward a safer, more equitable world, we must continue to challenge our responses toward gender violence and our understanding of why it happens. October may be coming to a close, but our conversations and action to end domestic violence will continue throughout the year.

Follow K. Sujata and Chicago Foundation for Women on Twitter: @k_sujata and @ChiFdn4Women

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