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Working with Men to Prevent Gender-Based Violence

January 17, 2017

Research shows that, unsurprisingly, men and boys are influenced by each other.  But what we sometimes forget is that men are most influenced by what they assume other men think – and men tend to assume that other men think violence against women is okay, even though most men are actually opposed to it.[1]  More and more men are speaking up and changing this misunderstanding; thus, engaging men and boys in prevention work is an important strategy to reduce domestic and sexual violence and stalking.

The important role men play as influencers and allies cannot be understated.  OVW has been committed to engaging men for many years as shown through initiatives focused on fatherhood, prisoner reentry, college-age men and teens, and offender programing. OVW was the first federal funding stream dedicated to such work and has supported a range of outreach and community organizing efforts.  One powerful example of the result is the video, “To Be a Man,” recently released by OVW grantee Vera House. 
While some high-profile campaigns are underway, such as the It’s On Us campaign, much more work is required, and is one reason OVW sponsored two in-depth discussions that addressed the issues from different perspectives:

Mobilizing Men and Boys Roundtable. This roundtable, held August 2016, was convened to discuss barriers and gaps in current strategies to engage men and boys, explore strategies to increase national awareness of engaging men efforts, and examine ways that federal agencies can support local organizations to continue prevention and community organizing efforts.  Participants were leaders and experts in mobilizing men and boys to prevent gender-based violence, including individuals whose work  specifically focuses on programs for young people, communities of color, tribal communities, LGBT communities, fraternities and athletic groups.

Overall, the roundtable participants acknowledged that a key aspect of mobilizing males in preventing gender-based violence has been to shift the focus away from traditional cultural views about male aggression, toughness and social norms that sanction sexual violence, superiority and sexual entitlement. In its place, participants recommended an emphasis on healthy, nonviolent relationships based on respect and equity.

The roundtable participants made several recommendations:

  • Establish a national collaborative for mobilizing boys and men. Currently, many entities work to engage men and boys, but there is no centralized source for setting standards, gathering resources, promoting training and research, and advancing advocacy.
  • Practice accountability inside the field and meet boys and men where they are. The participants recommended renewed emphasis on accountability toward each other and those impacted by violence.
  • Address gaps in the sphere of influence and conduct research. Bring more attention to groups that are currently under-involved (such as corporate executives, clergy, and the entertainment industry), create an interagency task force to more intentionally coordinate and collaborate federal efforts to mobilize men, and support research and evidence-based practices.
  • Promote a positive approach in the field of mobilizing men and boys. To facilitate the adoption of a new, healthier mindset about gender-based violence, participants recommended several approaches: create working definitions of healthy masculinity across multiple communities; leverage the power of positive narratives and storytelling; and use hip hop and pop culture as tools for helping youth to connect with and understand more positive, healthier forms of masculinity

Download a summary of the roundtable discussion, “Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going: Mobilizing Men and Boys to Prevent Gender-Based Violence,” from

Native Men’s Gathering. Also in August 2016, OVW held a gathering of American Indian and Alaska Native men at the Oneida Nation, Green Bay, Wisconsin, to ask men to share their perspectives and describe the work they are doing across the country to reduce violence against women.

This was the first gathering of its kind, and for most of the participants, it was the first time they had ever shared their experiences with like-minded men. OVW is especially committed to incorporating men’s involvement and addressing boys and men’s victimization in Indian country, where both men and women have extremely high victimization rates.

The men expressed their sense of isolation and the lack of support they have while working in this field, not only by families and tribal leadership, but also by systems – both tribal and non-tribal. Nearly every man who spoke said that to truly move forward, it is critical that similar convenings happen at least annually. They stressed the need to continue to collaborate in order to infuse a fullness and vitality into the movement for engaging other men.

The gathering’s conversations centered around moving forward – activating men to engage in vigorous roles that foster nonviolence and hold other men accountable for change, responsibility and forgiveness. The men agreed that tradition and cultural practices are the direction for healing in tribal communities.

Download a summary of the discussion: “Native Men’s Gathering: Experiences that Shape Behaviors and Beliefs about Violence Against Women.

[1] Berkowitz, A, “Applications of Social Norms Theory to Other Health and Social Justice Issues,” Chapter 16 in The Social Norms Approach to Preventing School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators, Counselors, and Clinicians, H.W. Perkins (Ed.), San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass (2003)


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Updated April 27, 2017