How do you prevent domestic violence and sexual assault? Finding an answer to that question is central to work being done by UW Tacoma Social Work & Criminal Justice Associate Professor Erin Casey. Casey is co-director of Mobilizing Men for Violence Prevention [MMVP]. The research project started in 2008 with a goal of documenting global efforts to engage men in gender-based violence prevention and chronicling what works.
MMVP is a collaboration between the University of Michigan, University of Kansas, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Stony Brook University and UW Tacoma. “We want to contribute by better describing the range of ways that programs around the world are engaging men in violence prevention to try to assess what strategies they are using to get men in the room and to develop tools for better assessing the effectiveness of those efforts,” said Casey.
A former social worker, Casey spent ten years working with victims of domestic violence. “We didn’t really know what we were doing at that point around how to prevent violence,” she said. “We had a good sense of how to work with survivors but it was this never-ending job where it was survivor after survivor and one person would be safe and recover and then the next victim would come in.”
Casey started working at UW Tacoma in 2006. “Part of what drove me back into academia was to try and figure out how we could do this better and how we could get more people involved in ending violence,” she said.
In recent years there has been a shift in philosophy around what role men should play in preventing gender-based violence. “We used to approach men mostly as potential perpetrators of violence,” said Casey. “This wasn’t very effective because the vast majority of men are not perpetrators of violence and they didn’t feel included or particularly compelled by that message.”
"It can be liberating for men to feel like they don’t have to live up to this completely unattainable image of what masculinity is about.”
The emphasis now includes seeing men as partners and engaging them to be part of a solution. Because this approach is somewhat new, however, there is still limited knowledge about the best way to get men involved.
MMVP hopes to fill this void by being a kind of clearinghouse for information. Casey and other members of the research team started with a survey of 165 organizations around the world to find out their level of involvement with men and violence prevention. The next phase included in-depth interviews with thirty of those organizations. “We talked about the different strategies they use, the programming they use, how they frame prevention, what they think works and what the challenges are,” said Casey.
MMVP recently completed a global survey of almost 400 men. Survey participants had to be at least 18-years-old, identify primarily as male and have attended at least one event focused on the issue of preventing gender-based violence. Questions ranged from the motivations behind involvement with anti-violence programs to beliefs about gender.
The survey—it’s worth noting that a majority of the men who responded are employed with organizations that deal with issues of gender-based violence—yielded some interesting results. Participants listed a commitment to social justice and hearing stories from survivors as reasons for their involvement with anti-violence work. Many of these men said they were willing to engage in bystander behavior such as talking to younger males about relationships with women or telling another man who was being disrespectful to women to stop.
The data—while not comprehensive—do provide insight that could be potentially useful to social workers and others involved in the field of violence prevention. “Programs that provide men with opportunities to critically evaluate what it means to be a man are the most successful in helping them to reconsider some of their violence-related attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors” said Casey. “It can be liberating for men to feel like they don’t have to live up to this completely unattainable image of what masculinity is about.”
Casey says the United States has a much more “siloed” approach to violence prevention. “We tackle each issue in relative isolation rather than recognizing the shared root causes of social problems and tackling prevention more holistically. For example domestic violence prevention is separate from sexual assault prevention which is separate from HIV prevention.”
One of the more intriguing findings thus far is on the importance of communication between men. “Men are well-positioned to be able to do really concrete things about challenging their peers, their sons or brothers when it comes to comes to sexist language or sexist behaviors,” said Casey. “Sometimes those messages are received better by men when they’re coming from other men.”
MMVP’s next step is to get the survey results and analysis published in peer-reviewed journals, a process they’ve done for each phase of the project. In the long term the team hopes to play more of a role in supporting violence prevention programming and policy in the US. “We’re going to start thinking about how we can take some of those really cool strategies we saw in use around the world and assessing how they might work here,” she said.
The research conducted by MMVP shows there is no easy answer for preventing gender-based violence. It will take incorporating different strategies and best practices. Until now finding out what works has been relatively difficult. Casey hopes providing access to this information will bring more people into the conversation. “If we want to reduce violence for everybody then everybody has to be involved and feel like they own it to some degree or have a part to play.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org