We can’t keep whacking the moles, we need to reduce the moles

Yesterday, the 25th November, marked the start of 16 days of action to prevent Men’s Violence Against Women. Across the world there will be events taking place that shed light on this ongoing and troubling issue.

A story on the BBC Website today (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-46292919) highlighted that on average 137 women across the world are killed by a partner or family member every day (United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime). They suggest that these statistics makes “the home the most likely place for a woman to be killed. Estimates here in the UK suggest that 2 women each week are killed by a partner or former partner.

Much of my work over the past few years has centred on engaging those who witness violence, to see a role in its prevention. We know that victims of violence are silenced by what happens to them. I would like to add also, that those around victims and perpetrators are also silenced.

In my policing career I would interview countless people who saw friends, family members and work colleagues as well as strangers being attacked. Often these same individuals would witness friends, family members and work colleagues being the abuser. In majority of these cases they failed to act and would say to me:

“I knew something was going to happen”

“I could tell this wasn’t going to end well”

I have found that in many ways my ongoing work has helped me overcome the frustration I often felt when hearing these statements.

I now want you to imagine a world where people felt empowered to act. A world where people knew they had options which meant they could intervene without putting themselves at personal risk of violence. I want you to imagine a world where people focused not only acts of violence but on the behaviours and attitudes we know contribute to these acts.

Bystander engagement is proving to be a popular prevention focus. Teaching people to overcome the bystander effect is important. Helping people act when others are present is often a key part of my discussions.

Involving bystanders in tackling the issue of Men’s Violence Against Women, for me, requires a whole new narrative around bystander engagement and training.

I say this, having just returned from New York where I was privileged to speak and deliver a workshop with representatives from UN Women. It was made clear to me that sustainable prevention for the long term, involves more than people simply intervening at the point of attack.

Simply focusing on helping bystanders intervene when they see an assault taking place, whilst important, doesn’t really get to the root of the issue. This ‘whack-a-mole’ focus doesn’t meet the standard that will help prevention for the long term.

In his new film “The Bystander Moment” friend and colleague Jackson Katz, compares this to simply “a training for bouncers”. If we really want to see the dramatic reductions in men’s violence against women, we need to come a bit closer to home when it comes to engaging bystanders.

A focus on friends, team-mates and work colleagues as bystanders is the new narrative that is needed to make the difference. What would you do if a friend, someone in your peer network was being abusive? How would you react?

In these circles of friends, it isn’t a fear of physical violence that puts bystanders off from intervening, it’s more a social fear. This is especially true for boys and men who are often socialised not to call out the abusive behaviour of their peers.

In these incidents it’s the fear of social rejection or humiliation that is the barrier for many men. The result is often men’s silence when they are faced with other men’s sexist or abusive behaviour. If we wait for the act of violence, we are missing the attitude or the behaviour which we know contributes to these acts.

It is here that change needs to happen in how we use the term bystander. How we create conversations on these attitudes and behaviours will help reassure the majority of men that they share similar thoughts when it comes to what is a harmful behaviour. These types of conversations will also communicate the respect that men have for other men who challenge these types of behaviours.

My personal fear is that when it comes to bystander training, we simply focus on the “moles”.

We need a bystander revolution.

We need to reduce the moles.

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