Wednesday night I read in horror about the shooting in a Seal Beach hair salon where an estranged husband murdered his ex-wife and her seven co-workers in an unspeakable act of domestic violence. This followed by less than two months the fatal stabbing in Santa Monica of Christina Talley, a woman killed by her estranged husband while she worked as a checkout clerk in a local grocery store.
These shocking public acts of violence are an assault against all of us! Though more common outside of the workplace, domestic violence makes far too many family homes places of fear for women who are battered by male partners, and for children who witness or experience such abuse. Even when children in an abusive household are not directly injured, exposure to violence in the home can contribute to behavioral, social, and emotional problems that play out in forms such as dating violence and gang violence. It can spill over beyond the home into senseless beatings on Santa Monica neighborhood streets or racial bullying in our high school.
How can we as a community combat this threat? In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’d like to invite you to learn more about one important effort initiated to combat violence in Santa Monica households and among our youth. In February 2010, Santa Monica Police Chief Timothy Jackman, the Westside Domestic Violence Network, Sojourn and the Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women hosted a forum where community leaders came together to discuss what we could do to systemically challenge the root causes that foster violence.
Inspired by Dr. Jackson Katz, a national expert on male violence prevention, members of the Santa Monica police and fire departments, school administrators, religious leaders, local social service agencies and youth activity organizations, and City Hall’s Human Services Division launched an ambitious collaboration to try to change the social norms that traditionally have led to male perpetrated violence, and to promote positive roles for men and boys in our community. The outcome of these efforts is the Male Violence Prevention Project.
The mission of the project is to galvanize our community, and particularly male leaders, to challenge aspects of traditional masculinity that are harmful to women, children and to men themselves, and to promote positive, nonviolent definitions of male strength, power, respect and trust.
Why focus on male violence? Isn’t the issue violence in general?
The reality is that the vast majority of domestic violence and violence in general is perpetrated by men and boys, and both men and women suffer as a result. In fact, while men and boys are violent toward a deplorable number of women and girls, the largest number of victims of male violence are other men and boys. It is important that men speak out against the idea that aggressive or violent behavior is “manly,” and promote healthy masculinity.
How does the project work? It utilizes a unique methodology, combining Jackson Katz’ “bystander approach” with discussions among adult men and women who have influence in the lives of youth. The bystander approach views women and girls not as potential victims, and men and boys not as potential perpetrators, but instead as allies who can take action against behaviors that can lead to violence. The focus on adults stems from the belief that youth are influenced most by the adult role models in their lives. In order to change social norms among youth, we must change social norms among the adults who influence them, particularly men.
The project uses a “top down” approach, engaging leaders and heads of community organizations to commit four hours of time and staff to join the community-wide process of taking a stand against male violence, discussion and dialogue about what it really means to “be a man,” and how to influence friends, families, co-workers and others to take action to prevent violence. A curriculum for a facilitated discussion has been developed that challenges traditional and stereotyped ideas about masculinity and what it means to be a man in our culture(s), and to stimulate thinking about alternative, respectful ways to be a man.
The goal of the project is to engage 1,000 Santa Monica leaders in this important work for our community. If you are interested in getting involved or learning more, please e-mail the project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Stegemoeller is the chairperson of the Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women.