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Group encourages men to take a stand against violence

WORTHINGTON -- Nearly a third of American women report physical and sexual abuse by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.

Though historically the struggle against sexual and domestic violence has been primarily a women's issue, men in Minnesota have the opportunity to take a stand, promoting safe relationships, healthy sexuality and respectful practices and public policies, as part of the Minnesota Men's Action Network.

Representatives of the Action Network will host a presentation at 7 p.m. today in room 116 of the administration building at the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

All men who want to help stop domestic and sexual violence are invited to attend as part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. The event is also open to women.

The Men's Action Network began in 2005 with collaboration between Men as Peacemakers and the Gender Violence Institute in Clearwater.

"We started out by really assessing the state of men's involvement and efforts to get men involved, both in Minnesota and around the U.S., and we found that there are efforts largely aimed at education," said Frank Jewell, executive director of Men as Peacemakers. "And we wanted to move people into doing more than just educating, but actually starting to change the environment."

The group found that women wanted men to be involved in helping to stop domestic violence and sexual abuse, but they also found that some efforts to involve men had ended badly. People working with victims were also concerned because the majority of that type of violence was committed by men.

The group needed to find a way to bring men in as good allies, "because I think pretty generally, everybody felt like it would be great to have good-hearted men that we could trust as part of this," Jewell said.

The Minnesota Men's Action Network intends to create a network of men and male leaders involved in the prevention of sexual and domestic violence.

As part of that, the organization is sending representatives to communities across Minnesota to educate and encourage men to be active in prevention efforts.

Many of those efforts, Jewell said, are aimed at changing the existing social norms that limit or objectify women and girls and encourage aggression and violence.

For example, a popular clothing chain once marketed thong-style underwear for 2-year-olds. A snowboard company's advertising campaign featured snowboards with Playboy bunnies and the slogan "Ride 'em hard." Those types of social norming, Jewell said, support sexual and domestic violence.

"Our objective is to get men involved in starting to make a difference. And they can make a difference where they live, where they work, where they play," Jewell said. "The college locker room is a great place for a guy with the right thinking on this to say about a joke that's being said, 'That's not funny,' or to confront the way in which players treat each other that uses homophobia."

On the other end of the spectrum, Jewell explained, is the business executive whose company doesn't have a policy on sexual harassment. He could change that organizational practice, making a statement about what the company believes and making the women who work there feel safer.

Jewell hopes men's involvement will work like people's involvement in making public places smoke-free.

"(Smoking) was the norm. Nobody in Minnesota thought about it until it went away," Jewell said. "So there's a lot of things people aren't thinking about that are hidden right in plain view, that we can do something about."

Jewell isn't sure whether there will be enough interest to start a group in Worthington.

"My job, really, is to do a presentation what will explain to men, and probably women as well, what the problem is," Jewell said. "... it depends on the interest, and what people are able to do... the question, a little bit, is, are there people who will step up to make something happen?"

Any man interested in ending sexual and domestic violence should attend the meeting, Jewell said.