We know that rape culture is pervasive and that it contributes not only to a society that normalizes and trivializes actions that excuse misogyny and sexism, but also directly feeds the very real epidemic of sexual assault.

Studies tell us one in four girls will experience sexual assault before the age of 18. And according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in five women are sexually assaulted during their college tenures.

In fact, over 200 universities are under federal investigation for the way they’ve dealt with reports of sexual assault on their campus. I could run a long list of high-profile sexual assault cases off the top of my head — but instead of giving any more face time to the perpetrators, I’d like to talk about a solution.

Throughout my career, and especially through the organization I founded called I AM THAT GIRL, I’ve been speaking to the female audience, empowering and helping them realize their full potential and worth. However, something I realized a few years ago is how left out men are in this conversation and how important it is for that to change.

For so long, the media coverage around sexual assault has focused overwhelmingly on exposing the men who are committing these crimes – and rightfully so. But in order to change the cycle of rape culture, we also need to engage men in this conversation by meeting them where they are and talking to them on their level.

As with every major cultural shift, prominent influencers and role models serve as guides in times of change. Having spent the last two years speaking in male athletic locker rooms around the United States, I realized that young men, particularly athletes, have a massive, important role to play in changing assault culture. Understanding that athletes are often the trendsetters on college campuses, I created the ProtectHer program to focus on male athletes in order to give them a true sense of personhood and remind them that when it comes to sexual assault on campus, they are not simply part of the problem – they are also part of the cure.

… in order to change the cycle of rape culture, we also need to engage men in this conversation by meeting them where they are and talking to them on their level.

ProtectHer also aims to highlight the men who are doing the right thing (they do exist!). Think about the men in your life: your father, grandfather, uncles, brothers, friends, boyfriends, husbands, coworkers. We all have unique relationships with the men in our lives, positive or negative, but I’m confident there are a few men in your life who you’d consider to be phenomenal.

I’ve joked before that I consider myself a connoisseur of phenomenal men, but really, it’s true. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded in my life by so many incredible men who treat the people around them with respect and kindness. This is a trait I want everyone to be able to enjoy, recognize and encourage in those around them.

One thing I often hear from the young men I speak to is that they simply don’t realize how much women face due to rape culture. Ensuring you walk your dog before it gets dark out or taking the longer route home to avoid cat-callers harassing you or being followed home by a stranger you politely declined a drink from at the bar – incidents like these are second-nature to women, yet are also things men rarely have to think about.

Even though they don’t experience these things first-hand, what I’ve found is that nine times out of ten, once you open up and bring to light the day-to-day incidents in your life that you experience because of rape culture, men care. A lot.

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As an extremely sensitive person, the littlest things get to me. All. The. Time. I worry I’m not good enough for certain things and even get upset and blame people for their successes. Although normal, this isn’t the best thing to do to yourself or for others. • Whenever I’m plagued with feelings of jealousy or resentment, I do any of the following (sometimes all of them!): 1. Write in my GRATITUDE JOURNAL 2. Meditate or have a nice little convo with myself 3. Focus on this quote that has CHANGED how I look at life: “What is for you will not pass you” Any or all of these things help get me through some of those tough times for sure!! ? Niki, 18 IATG: USC • How do you deal when the little things get you down? • ?: @laurasupnik

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Because sometimes, knowing who’s on the receiving end of things like this is what makes them sit up and listen. The first time I gave a ProtectHer talk was to a room full of some of the top high school football players in the country. I came prepared to talk about themes like respect, consent and dignity — but I also came armed with photos of the women and girls in these high schoolers’ lives. Looking at a photo of your sixteen-year-old sister, when hearing about the disrespectful and sometimes dangerous realities every woman and girl faces, suddenly made those themes take root.

I encourage you to very frankly share some of your specific experiences with the men in your life. They might get upset or angry; it’s terrible to hear that someone you love is affected by rape culture. But encourage them to harness that feeling and be increasingly mindful of their own day-to-day interactions with the people around them. Encourage them to enlist their friends and the men around them in this issue by simply talking about it.

Social change doesn’t come overnight and sometimes it can feel like a constant uphill battle. But don’t get discouraged! Change happens one step at a time and the more we work together to positively influence those around us, the faster we can achieve a reality without rape culture.

What do you think? How would you like to see the conversation change on this topic?

Feature Image by Federico Riva for Darling Issue No. 18

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11 comments

  1. “…something I realized a few years ago is how left out men are in this conversation and how important it is for that to change.”

    I agree, especially when it comes to giving men the right feedback about what it means to be a man. A strong, respectable, admirable man. Without structures, rituals, and feedback mechanisms in place to give men a healthy definition of masculinity, we leave that definition up to forces that might be and often are destructive. And I don’t think the solution is a backlash against masculinity, since there are elements of our nature that are fundamental and dangerous to inhibit, but those things – competitiveness, aggression, discernment – can be bent to the good if we know what good is. I think it’s safe to say that all men want to feel valued and respected. Even those of us who are somehow free from the need for external validation at least want to be able to respect ourselves. But most of us are slaves to external validation, and this can be used to society’s benefit. The more men who come to believe that thoughtfulness, respect, kindness, accountability, emotional awareness, and self-mastery are valuable and compatible with masculinity, the more we will cultivate those traits and bring them into harmony with the darker, more dangerous aspects of our natures.

  2. I recently came across I AM THAT GIRL. It’s a beautiful initiative and I am glad to be a follower, would love to be contributor as well. There can never be too many initiatives/ voices for this cause.

  3. I’d like to say that I do support the efforts of anyone who is willing to combat sexual harassment and assault.

    However, I also don’t like seeing that females are the only ones who are the victims. I was trying to find a comic strip that was used to illustrate how young men (particularly young men who may not appear to be “manly”) are harassed as well (it was a great illustration, I think on Pinterest). I don’t know what the numbers are, whether young men are harassed as much as young women; but, regardless, any person who is harassed for merely being who they are and made to feel victimized because of it is one victim too many in my definition.

    Who is providing this level of care and encouragement to young men who are trying to combat these experiences? What’s worse is that young men may even feel more guilty or victimized because they’re supposed to be “the strong ones” and “can’t appear weak”. More often than not, they probably hide it even more than young girls because of this mindset that they can’t afford to talk to anyone about it because they have to do the “manly” thing.

    Just a thought.

  4. I actually agree that the term “Rape Culture” should not have been used. I don’t believe this exists in the United States. That being said, I would encourage anything that can help to reduce rape. I don’t think that you can honestly discuss this topic without including the problem of alcohol which affects both the judgement of the man and woman in these situations.

  5. I can’t help but be jealous of Alexis Jones. She can dislike unwanted attention from the opposite sex because she gets so MUCH of it. I’ll bet if she spent just one month in the shoes of a typical guy, she’d run off to a corner and begin weeping at the lack of attention from the opposite sex. Women are so spoiled it’s sickening.

    1. Dear Tom,
      I was pleased to find a male commenter as it’s rarely the case here, and we do need more men who are willing to engage in conversation. For me, the barrier to meaningful discussion is generalisation. The danger of lumping everyone in one category is that you’re only able to view people as being one extreme or another; as stereotypes. Spoiled men and women of course do exist in our realm garnering both envy and disdain, unfairly or not. But if ever a typical guy or woman did exist, it would be those who long for meaningful connections, struggle with loneliness and weep at being ignored by those we long to be with.

    2. Tom,

      Lack of attention from women does not send me weeping into a corner. Even if it did, I would rather feel alone and face the self-image issues that were driving me to tears than feel hunted the way that I assume many women at least periodically do. I’m making an assumption with that last statement, but less of a dangerous and misguided one, I think, than to say that women are so spoiled it’s sickening. You’re enough,
      Tom. You are all you need. Peace doesn’t come from attention from women. That’s just a bonus that comes when you realize that you have plenty of intrinsic value.

  6. I don’t understand something: why this article mentions “rape culture” over and over again and yet I believe rape is nowhere near as prevalent as it used to be. Shouldn’t something be getting worse to repeatedly refer to it as the “culture”?

    1. While there is a decline in crime in general, I think “rape culture” is a reference to the attitude towards sexual assault in society. When rapists are let off with a mere slap on the wrist, when we are still asking questions about what the victim was wearing or how much she was drinking when it happened… it all gradually and inevitably shapes our culture. We need to move toward a culture of courage, where we recognise men who call out bad behaviour and feel brave enough to stand up to pack mentality.

    2. Tom,

      If you had ever been raped, I’m guessing you would approach this conversation differently. The issue isn’t whether things are better or not, it’s that they aren’t where they should be, and I think productive dialogue focuses on how to get there.

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