Mind and Body

Men at work to prevent domestic violence

Ten Men, a program of the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, seeks to engage and empower men as a strategy to prevent violence

Photo by Richard Asinof

Lee Clasper-Torch, left, Men's Engagement Coordinator at the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Dr. Peter Simon, a member of the current Ten Men cohort.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 3/6/17
The work of Ten Men is a way to engage and empower men to understand how they can help to prevent domestic violence. The model is funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What are the strategies that can be employed to change the culture from competition to collaboration, in the workplace and in schools? Can the work of Ten Men be replicated in a setting with school-aged males? What happens when women become acculturated to the confines of the man box as a way of consolidating power? What parts of this effort could be applied to prevention of bullying?
Mahatma Gandhi was once asked by a news correspondent: What do you think about Western civilization? He replied: I think it would be a good idea.
And, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said: All change begins on the inside.
The work by Ten Men to focus on self-awareness and empowerment as a strategy to prevent domestic violence is grounded in a community-based strategy.
The consequences of standing up and saying no – in the workplace, on the playing fields, in the political arena – to bad behavior by men [or women] in power can often be severe.
At the same time, learning how to have a forceful voice with having to shout is an important strategy of resistance.

PROVIDENCE – On Tuesday, April 11, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence will be hosting “A Call To Men” symposium, featuring Tony Porter, a leading voice on the intersection of masculinity, violence against women, and on healthy, respectful manhood.

The symposium is billed as an opportunity to learn about “creating a world where boys and men are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.”

The summit, in many ways, reflects the work of an ongoing program, Ten Men, which is halfway though its fifth year, under the direction of Lee Clasper-Torch, the Men’s Engagement Coordinator at the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The program’s overarching goal is to create a space where men can engage with each other to become empowered, working in the community to prevent domestic violence as well as to promote a healthier approach to masculinity.

The Ten Men program, funded through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recruits a group of 10 male leaders each year who commit to do the following:

Educate themselves and others about men’s roles in ending domestic violence

Bring visibility to men engaged in domestic violence prevention, and

Mobilize the community to find solutions for preventing domestic violence.

The men meet monthly, attend skill-building retreats, and participate in community activities.

As Clasper-Torch described the work, what Ten Men does is to create a space where men can explore ways to escape the confines of what he called “the man box,” a kind of gender socialization that often prevents men from seeing themselves outside of traditional roles of so-called masculinity.

Clasper-Torch also rejected the stereotype that somehow this was about the “feminization” of men.

“We’re talking about human rights here, human sensitivity,” Clasper-Torch said. “We are recognizing the difference between toxic masculinity and healthy masculinity.”

ConvergenceRI recently sat down with Clasper-Torch and Dr. Peter Simon, a member of the current cohort of Ten Men, to talk about the importance of the work and the kinds of changes the program engenders.

Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Lee Clasper-Torch and Dr. Peter Simon, talking about the Ten Men program in Rhode Island.

ConvergenceRI: How does Ten Men work? What do you hope that it will achieve?
CLASPER-TORCH:
Ten Men was initiated maybe five years ago; this is fourth cohort. It is “nested” under the prevention program at the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

As you know, the coalition has been working for more than 30 years on behalf of women and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, doing advocacy work on behalf of victims.

In the last five to 10 years, the Coalition, as well as other organizations like it around the country, have expanded prevention work to include men, recognizing that education and prevention has to start with men to address men’s violence against women.

Ten Men started with a pilot grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

SIMON: It was driven by the theory that one of the fundamental principles of changing behavior is that violence is similar to other public health issues, driven by three parts of an intersecting model: the host, the agent and the environment.

ConvergenceRI: Can you explain what you mean by that?
SIMON:
The host is the people who are vulnerable, who end up being injured by the violence…

CLASPER-TORCH: The victims…

SIMON: …Or the bystanders – anyone who is hurt, injured, impaired or dead, because of the violence.

The agent is the perpetrator of the violence.

And then environment piece, that’s about the culture that promotes the idea of what a man is, the acculturation, the way that boys are socialized that makes violence almost a normative component of what it takes to reach manhood. Did I say that right?

CLASPER-TORCH: Perfectly. The work, the really deep work that the Ten Men is doing, is looking at this culture change – the socialization of men, the gender-based socialization of men that is so pervasive.

The Ten Men program is an awareness-based program, an education-based program, an engagement-based program to get men to recognize that socialization.

SIMON: What I hope will come out of it is a willingness to intervene as a bystander: if I see something that is happening as a bystander that makes me uncomfortable, what do I do about it?

How do I help bring down the level of violence.

CLASPER-TORCH: To back up a bit, to frame the work of the Ten Men project, it’s only one of five such programs that the CDC has funded. This past year, the Rhode Island project was chosen to be a case study by the CDC.

To pick up on what Peter was saying, the hope is to engage men, and then to empower men, to do just what Peter’s talking about: to be able to have the awareness raised so that we might be able to intervene and break the silence around men’s violence.

SIMON: We’re now using infectious disease language [to talk about] violence.

ConvergenceRI: Some 25 years ago, there was a national study that looked at the number of males who were incarcerated, and one of the strong correlations was the adult men had either been victims or witnesses to domestic abuse or sexual violence in their own home as children. Has anyone done an updated research study, focused on Rhode Island prisoners?
CLASPER-TORCH:
I would not be able to say, specifically. Statistics show that if a child sees or witness this kind of violence, they are much more likely [to engage in violence].

The coalition is doing a fair amount of data collection; one of the most recent studies was their homicide report that came out just last year on domestic violence homicides.

ConvergenceRI: It might be a fascinating question to research here in Rhode Island. We talk about the prevalence of mental illness in the prisons; we talk about substance abuse in the prisons. Why not the incidence of men exposed to domestic violence and sexual violence when they were children?
SIMON:
I keep hearing that domestic violence permeates every social class, in every ethnic group, and it is not restricted to poverty, and that there isn’t any particular clustering. I keep wondering whether it is a function of what’s known as Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Kaiser did a study in California, looking at 45 years of records. They found that chronic disease rates and response to treatment vary consistently with these Adverse Childhood Experiences.

That’s sort of my frame of reference for hearing that there is no particular risk factor for violence.

ConvergenceRI: How is violence being defined? For instance, there’s the Jackie Gleason sketch from the Honeymooners, where his character is promising to hit his wife, Alice: “One of these days Alice. Pow! Straight to the moon!”
SIMON:
Threats and coercion, that’s part of it.

GLASPER-TORCH: Jackson Katz, a long time worker on men’s issues, in hearing him talk, enlightened me about two concepts.

He said that when we talk about violence against women, we have to be mindful of our language. We should be talking about men’s violence against women.

Because if we’re talking about violence against women, we can put the onus on the women, that they are the victims, and it’s somehow amorphous.

When we interject this concept of men’s violence against women, and recognize that is the preponderance of violence, it was startling for me.

It puts men’s violence front and center in doing this work.

Another observation, which was also enlightening to me, relates to the questions about households. Usually we think about victims as only those who have been directly assaulted. Katz reminded his audience that children in the household are also victims.

In breaking the cycle of violence, we’re working on all of these levels.

[In our work with Ten Men], we are also getting at the normalization of violence, the social norms that lead to a culture where men feel that they have the power and the wherewithal to abuse or demean women.

SIMON: It’s a complicated concept. If you asked people, what caused the 1854 cholera outbreak in London in the time of John Snow, they would say, “The Broad Street pump.”

They recognized that iwas caused by water contamination, by something no one could actually describe, but they knew enough to identify the source of the water an eliminate the exposures.

But if you really study cholera and that outbreak, just being dependent on that water supply [from the Broad Street pump] doesn’t explain the differences in attack rates.

There are other variables, other factors. With violence, we need to talk about it in relationship to other determinants, such as competition.

ConvergenceRI: What do you mean by that?
SIMON:
I think that we have become indoctrinated to think of the solution to all of our problems is competition: that we can create better health care, we get better educational outcomes, but we cannot do it unless we create some sort of economic incentive to make people compete.

I’m not sure if that sense of competition isn’t also a part of marriage and relationships and the age-old struggle between men and women.

CLASPER-TORCH: I would agree that the reliance on competition is an unchallenged assumption. I think where you are going with this is the thought: how does competition play out in the men’s world.

SIMON: And the way that people relate to each other emotionally. Even the best of households often slips much more toward a competitive relationship rather than teamwork and collaboration.

CLASPER-TORCH: Part of the work we have done with the Ten Men cohort is inviting the participants to give themselves to community service for a year, to involve themselves.

Part of the work is recognizing that how, as men, we are all really in this man box. As men, we’re brought up to be a man, and all [the myths that] go along with being a man, such as real men don’t cry.

This gets at the emotional aspect of it; if you are living a truncated life as a man, and can only see what masculinity is inside of this man box, and you’re unable to see or act upon other ways of being. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about gender socialization.

ConvergenceRI: There was an interesting cartoon in The New Yorker that got shared on social media recently, with a man and woman looking at a piece of abstract art, with the caption, the woman saying to the man. “I asked, what do you think the artist is trying to say? Not, telling me what the artist is saying.”

Today, without trying to politicize the conversation, so much of what happens with President Donald Trump, he seems to exemplify what it means for a man to be caught in that man box.

Everything is about winning and sexual conquest. Women seem to recognize that right away, to sense it, to intuit, to respond to it.

How does the Ten Men process give men the opportunity to see the world differently, to see themselves and their masculinity differently, to listen and not to tell?

CLASPER-TORCH: When I tell folks what I do is to work as the men’s engagement coordinator at the Coalition, they often think that I’m working with batterers or abusers.

I correct them quite quickly, to say that we’re engaging with professionals and community leaders…

SIMON: …People who can bring their leadership position to bear in the dialogue.

CLASPER-TORCH: As a wrestling coach, I am aware of what locker room culture is. It’s not what Donald Trump was calling locker room conversation.

It gets back to the idea of competition, the travesty [of the idea] that to be a real man, to be a real athlete, one has to put on airs of machismo.

The reality is that you can be a really superb athlete and be a decent human being.

ConvergenceRI: How do women respond to this work with Ten Men? Is there criticism or push back?
CLASPER-TORCH:
Just the opposite has been true for me, in my experience. Women, when they find out what we’re engaged in, have been very impressed, supportive and grateful.

I push back against the stereotype that somehow this work was about the “feminization” of men. We’re talking about human rights here, human sensitivity. We are recognizing the difference between toxic masculinity and healthy masculinity.

We’re attempting to educate one another, not denying our masculinity, but recognizing what healthy masculinity looks like, and being a whole person, emotionally and psychologically.

SIMON: I saw a soccer coach, being interviewed, about how he picked his team in preparing to go the Olympics.

The interviewer asked him: what are you looking for?

The coach replied: They are all talented, but my team will be built around the notion, what is your impact on the people around you. Do you make the other people around you better, as part of a team?

In families, with adults and kids, you have that same opportunity, as men, to be team players.

CLASPER-TORCH: There is a film, related to the bigger picture issue, it’s called “The Mask You Live In,” and it deals with the issues of boys and men in our culture, and our acculturation to this man box, and the sociological, psychological and emotional effects on boys growing up. It’s a powerful film.

It describes the dilemma that we’re in as men, the mask that we live in, walking around with a mask, and not really allowing ourselves to be full human beings. Part of the work of Ten Men is opening that door up and getting rid of the mask.

Ten Men is about awareness raising, that the norms we have often been given, as men, that the man box that we have been put into, are harmful. The work is to gain the recognition how it harms us, and, with it, the recognition how violence against women harms us all.

It’s a part of becoming healthy and whole as a man, and to break out of the man box.

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