Violence against women is at epidemic proportions. Some of it is driven by technology but the biggest problem by far is tolerance. A society genuinely committed to gender equality wouldn’t put up with this situation for a moment.
Most of us are repulsed by it, but what can we do about gender-based violence? Sure, the figures are terrible if you look, but I’m not going to throw figures at you. But if you were bothered at looking at the figures of violent crime against women it’s at record levels.
If that sounds cynical, it’s because I’m sick of a glaring disconnect at the heart of our culture. The criminal justice system is struggling to cope with the number of women coming forward with terrible stories of rape, beatings and – a relatively new one, this – online forms of abuse such as revenge porn.
Cue a great deal of male hand-wringing and a weary sense that perhaps violence against women, while regrettable, is inevitable. Just think of all the training, initiatives and public awareness work that’s been done in recent years, yet the picture just keeps on getting worse. Is there really anything that someone – police, prosecutors, legislators, women – hasn’t already thought of and tried?
There is, but it requires a dramatic shift in public attitudes. How many times have you heard people express sympathy with a man on trial for rape, asking why the victim had had so much to drink or agreed to go back to his hotel room? Public understanding of the law relating to consent is woefully lacking, and there is a persistent tendency to view women’s behaviour much more critically than that of the men who commit even violent assaults.
The same unthinking callousness is shown to victims of domestic abuse, who are often criticised for staying with violent partners even when they have nowhere else to live. A group most at risk of domestic violence are young women between 16 and 24. It’s attributed that their lack of awareness around domestic violence to, among other factors, ‘a lack of experience in constructing healthy relationships’ is the cause. Peer group norms could also make it “difficult for them to judge their partner’s behaviour as being abusive”.
But it’s clear to me that educating young men and boys to change male attitudes is a crucial step to ending violence against women in the next generation.
This isn’t to suggest that every boy is part of the problem. Indeed, many men will experience violence and assault themselves. Rather, it’s about the radical idea that men and boys have the opportunity to be part of the change, within a society that needs to see a dramatic cultural shift in the very idea of what it means to be a man.
Again, and again, when incidents of sexual violence are reported, society blames the victim. We hear countless calls to warn girls: don’t wear a short skirt, don’t go out late at night, don’t walk alone, and yet the rapes and assaults continue. Because contrary to widespread belief, it isn’t the victims that cause them at all. It’s time we started educating boys.