CIVIC CENTER — Community leaders are embarking on a new mission to stem the violence in Santa Monica by changing the way boys think about manhood, trading traditional views of masculinity that can be harmful to both sexes for an emphasis on positive, non-violent definitions of male strength.

The Male Violence Prevention Project — a community initiative led by Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman, the Westside Domestic Violence Network, Sojourn Services for Battered Women and City Hall’s Human Services Division — borrows heavily from the teachings of Dr. Jackson Katz, an internationally recognized expert in the field of gender violence prevention education for males and one of America’s leading anti-sexist activists.

Katz was the keynote speaker at a conference held Friday at Rand Corporation entitled “The Macho Paradox: The Next Generation of Domestic Violence Prevention.” The conference, which focused on male stereotypes and the influence of the media on boys, was attended by representatives from various nonprofits, public schools, law enforcement and the faith-based community. All groups participated in hopes of reducing the number of violent acts — such as spousal abuse, bullying in schools, gang violence and rape — that occur in the city and beyond.

“Whether it’s in the home or on television, in video games or ads in magazines, it’s generally accepted that men are violent. End of story,” said Pat Butler director of Sojourn, a project of OPCC.

“So many people say rape or violence against women is a woman’s issue,” Butler added. “[Katz] says it’s not. … When you look at violence and victims of violence, the vast majority of people who perpetrate violence are men and the mass majority of victims are men. It’s obvious that violence kills and hurts men more than it does women and girls. What Katz does is he finally brings men into the conversation.”

Katz said men will often tune out when asked to discuss domestic violence or gender issues, believing the topics only apply to women; however, he believes men are critical to the discussion.

Various community leaders, led by Jackman, have been meeting for the last year to develop an action plan. City Hall has dedicated $30,000 to the effort, paying for training city staff and employees at the Virginia Avenue Park Teen Center and plans to expand the effort by using nonprofits, business leaders, school and public safety officials, said Julie Rusk, City Hall’s Human Services manager.

The goal is to make institutional changes that reflect a new definition of masculinity.

“Unfortunately we live in a violent society where boys are taught that being tough and violent is a way to define one’s manhood,” said Oscar de la Torre, director of the Pico Youth & Family Center and a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.

“We have a crisis in education in regards to how our boys are doing. When you look at suspension rates, incarceration rates and who is a victim of homicides … all of this points to a crisis on many levels.”

To alleviate the issue, De la Torre aims to create a peace academy at Santa Monica High School where students collaborate with police officers and elected officials on ways to create a nonviolent society. He believes more school districts should institute a curriculum that decreases homophobia, bullying, sexism and racism.

SMPD Capt. Wendell Shirley, who oversees the police department’s Youth and Family Services Division, was a counselor working with at-risk youth before joining the force and has seen first-hand the devastating effects of domestic violence in the home on youth. He believes strongly in a child’s ability to be resilient despite dire circumstances.

“If you take a kid who has been in trouble and you inject that kid with confidence, support and faith, and you let them know that despite what they have done that you still believe in them, you would be amazed by their transformation,” he said.

Shirley said the SMPD is committed to violence prevention and is taking a leadership role in the initiative. The SMPD works closely with at-risk youth through the Police Activities League, a non-profit after-school program, and has partnered with students at Santa Monica High School to create a video on cyberbullying. To be successful, Shirley said it is critical that those in positions of power get involved.

“This has to be a top-down approach, meaning leaders have to have a paradigm shift first,” he said.

Getting involved can be as simple as speaking up when you hear a friend or colleague speak inappropriately about women, homosexuals or other minority groups, Katz said.

“Silence is compliance,” he said. “Men need to challenge each other in how they view manhood. That means getting fathers to be more emotionally invested in their children. There are so many barriers to making that happen. We live in a culture that rewards the opposite of empathy, that emphasizes the dog-eat-dog mentality and the rugged individual.”

By having conversations like the one Friday, Katz said change can happen, but it will be a struggle. He praised Santa Monica for embracing this challenge, and said he has never seen a city commit to change like Santa Monica.

“This is cutting-edge and to have a police chief who is engaged, you just don’t see that,” Katz said.

To learn more about the Male Violence Prevention Project and Katz’ work, go to www.smgov.net/hsd/ or www.jacksonkatz.com.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *