sex, dating, & relationships

A Role for Women in Preventing Men’s Violence against Women

I’m breaking from the discussion of my plans for teaching in order to reflect on a recent experience I had as a student at a training in preventing men’s violence against women.

Many different aspects of the program, called Mentors in Violence Prevention, struck me as fascinating and insightful; I’m still reeling, however, from the “bystander approach” used: The facilitators address participants as witnesses to men’s violence against women and trained participants to actively respond to potential scenarios.

As a female, I’m not only a bystander to men’s violence against women. I am by definition a target as well. I listen to music, I watch television, and I walk down the street. Furthermore, most women have suffered more specific targeting through violent interactions with men.

As I sat in the training, part of me clung to my identity as a target and wanted to a right to hurt, to cry, and to remove myself as quickly as possible from any situation, real or hypothetical, in which I personally felt targeted. But I found no room for these reactions in the training. According to the MVP philosophy, even when I’m a target I also have the responsibility to address the violence as an active bystander.

But I want to run away!

At first I felt offended. When I’m hurt, my first responsibility is to take care of myself. Yes. And after that, what is my responsibility? Is there an “after that” — what would it mean to “fully” recover from violence?

Can taking a stand as an active bystander play a role in the process of recovery? What’s the ethical responsibility of targets in preventing their perpetrators from harming others? How can we support survivors in recovery AND encourage active response in a way that both validates their experience AND empowers them?

I could continue listing question after question… Right now, I would love to hear your ideas as I sort through my own thoughts and feelings and figure out the implications for my personal and professional work.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator