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|November 20-26, 2008
• Ending rape
• Who we are
What was once just a women’s issue is a new men’s movement
by Pamela White
A 20-year-old college student dressed in a ladybug costume enjoys herself at a Halloween party with other college students. Like the other partygoers, she drinks and becomes intoxicated. When it’s time to go home, she finds herself on the street alone, where four men attack her. At least two of them rape her while the other two hold her down and cover her mouth.
Her story runs in the local papers. But rather than a community-wide expression of outrage on the victim’s behalf and sympathy for her suffering, the online forum of the local mainstream paper fills with anonymous comments from citizens who feel the need to chastise her for her decision to drink and walk home in the dark alone. Some posters, emboldened by anonymity, go so far as suggest the victim needs to be ticketed for underage drinking, one adding that if she isn’t charged for her crimes, the men who raped her should likewise get off without punishment. One suggested she may be lying about the rape.
After more than three decades of activism and education across the United States about the crime of sexual assault, it seems that much of society, even here in allegedly progressive Boulder, is still stuck in “blame the victim” mode, focusing on the actions of the woman who was brutalized rather than the actions of the men who brutalized her.
It was enough to make one wonder whether Boulder has gained any ground in the fight against rape in the 36 years since local citizens began actively to work against this unforgivable crime — and the cultural biases that make it possible.
Signs of progress
In 1972, two 10-year-old girls were kidnapped and raped. The perpetrator shot them both; one survived.
The horror and brutality of this crime resulted in a series of town meetings and eventually the creation of a network called Humans Against Rape and Molestation (HARM). This organization eventually became the Boulder County Rape Crisis Team — one of the first rape-crisis organizations created in the United States. Its mission was to help rape victims and their loved ones deal with the impact of this crime and to support them in their recovery. The Rape Crisis Team, which in 2001 changed its name to MESA, an acronym for Moving to End Sexual Assault, also worked to build awareness in the broader community about the impact of sexual assault and to expose attitudes that foster violence against women.
MESA is one of the better-known nonprofits in Boulder County, its speakers prominent in local classrooms, its fundraisers and rallies well attended. And yet reading some of the comments made about the recent gang rape made even those who’ve devoted their careers to this issue wonder if we’re making progress.
“We were absolutely appalled,” says Janine D’Anniballe, MESA’s executive director. “I have heard directly from victims who’ve read these comments, and it just further traumatizes them.”
MESA put out a call to action to its supporters, asking them to voice their opinions on the issue in order to make sure another perspective was part of the dialogue.
“First of all, no one is at fault when sex assault happens to them,” D’Anniballe says. “Rape only occurs when a rapist enters the picture. No matter what someone was doing, wearing, saying, no one deserves rape to happen to them, and it only happens because a rapist is there. There’s so much focus on what the victim does or doesn’t do and not enough focus on, first of all, what in the world gives someone the idea that it’s OK to do something sexual to someone without their consent and, second, why isn’t that level of vitriol applied to the offender and the offender’s behavior?”
D’Anniballe says victim blaming typically falls into one of two categories, both of which were found on the local paper’s online forum.
“It’s either, ‘She’s lying,’ or, ‘She asked for it,’” D’Anniballe says. “Those are pervasive. And then in the next tier, there is, ‘Well, that happened. Now get over it.’”
There are other disturbing indicators that attitudes toward women and rape might be slow in changing. D’Anniballe recalls a T-shirt she recently saw in a store window on Denver’s 16th Street Mall. Playing on a well-known MasterCard commercial it listed the cost of buying a young woman a variety of alcoholic drinks and called the result — getting her drunk enough so that she doesn’t protest when he takes her home — “priceless.”
“You see that, and you think, ‘We haven’t progressed at all,’” D’Anniballe says. “Someone could wear that and think it’s funny and appropriate? If that were a racial slur, there’s no way that would be on display. So I’m left thinking that we haven’t done anything.”
D’Anniballe says she finds these things discouraging. But even so, she says she sees signs of progress, as well.
Over the past decade, D’Anniballe has worked at MESA, making her well acquainted with the sexual assaults that have happened in the Boulder community. She also serves as an expert witness in rape trials, so she is able to see how these cases are handled. She says she is seeing more convictions.
“When I started 10 years ago, we were not getting convictions. The rapists were walking,” she says. “So that to me says a couple things. Maybe the prosecution is getting better. The police response is getting better. But I’d also like to think that juries and our fellow citizens are getting smarter, that they’re not as biased or victim blaming. So then I’m encouraged. I think we’re moving forward on some levels, and yet those underlying attitudes still surface all too frequently.”
Not only is the DA’s office getting better at handling these cases, prosecutors are becoming more aggressive in terms of the kind of cases they’re willing to take into the court room. Even in the 1990s, victims who weren’t seen as sympathetic might watch as their attackers were allowed to plea bargain the charges away, getting off with probation and community service.
“The cases they are willing to take to court — they’re harder cases. They’re edgy. They’re on that line of, ‘Well, this is going to be difficult to prove, but we think we can do it.’ And they’re taking them. Not only are they taking them, they’re winning. And that’s where my optimism is.”
A men’s issue
There was a time when talking about sexual assault was edgy by itself. The victims of this crime were often shamed or silenced. Though that has not changed as much as victim advocates would like, the dialogue over sexual assault has moved forward from simply raising awareness to seeking out effective ways to stop rape from occurring.
It’s a fact that men are the perpetrators in the vast majority of sexual assaults, whether those assaults victimize women, children or men. That’s not surprising, given that men commit by far the majority of violent crimes. And that’s what rape is — a crime of violence, driven by the need to hurt and dominate.
The crime of sexual assault has largely been viewed as a women’s issue, as women, angered and distressed by the impact of rape, have become active in trying to help victims and change the attitudes toward women that enable violence against women. But, although women have made great strides in helping victims and building awareness about the issue, it is increasingly the view of experts that men need to get involved if we are to stop rape before it happens. In other words, rape is a men’s issue, not a woman’s issue.
It seems obvious once you think about it: Rape is a hate crime against women. Men who prey on women aren’t likely to listen to women telling them that hurting women is wrong. They’re more likely to respond to other men.
Marti Hopper, prevention education director at MESA, oversees two programs that involve males speaking to other males.
The first is Men Standing Up: Taking Action Against Sexual Assault. The program currently includes 10 adult male volunteers from the community who go through 40 hours of training and then speak to groups of boys and men about violence, boundaries and safe ways to intervene when they see other males mistreating women. Rather than working on the problem on the back end, after a rape has occurred, men work on primary prevention, stopping men from behaving violently before rape or domestic violence occurs.
“The program is mostly presentation based, but we’re wanting to broaden it because we want more than 10 men,” Hopper says. “We want hundreds, thousands of men. But most can’t make this kind of commitment. The way we structure the program eliminates a lot of men who might otherwise get involved because they can’t spend that many hours in training or they can’t leave work to go do presentations.”
The second program is Peers Building Justice (PBJ), which trains both boys and girls to go into schools and speak to their peers about sexual assault and dating violence. Typically the program has many more female volunteers than males. Currently out of 15 PBJ volunteers, only two are male.
Though most people think that rapists are mentally ill, most don’t have diagnosable mental disorders, Hopper says. The key, then, is changing attitudes that foster violence in males and encourage them to disregard women.
“Our approach is more societal based, looking at the socio-cultural basis,” Hopper says. “What are we teaching our boys? We look at how we are teaching them about masculinity, how that equates with violent masculinity, how violence and sex are linked, how the media perpetuates these.”
Hopper says both Men Standing Up and PBJ try to speak to males and females separately because both groups are more comfortable addressing the issue in a single-gender environment — and because the messages each group needs to receive are different. A speaker addressing an all-male group might discuss what constitutes consent, how we talk about women and sex and bystander intervention, whereas the message to females might be about ways to protect themselves.
Lalo Rivera, youth education coordinator with PJB, says she believes the volunteers are having an impact. She spent last week visiting three high schools with a male volunteer to discuss sexual assault, including the recent gang rape. She read quotes from the public forum and found many of the attitudes expressed there alive in the classroom.
She says she was struck by how many students had made up stories in their own minds about the facts of the case, while admitting that they knew little about it. Everyone knew the victim had been intoxicated. But one young man said that the attackers were gang members. A young woman said that the attackers were Latino. And one young woman said that the victim had probably been dressed inappropriately.
“I was just astonished that she read that into the story,” Rivera says.
Rivera went over the facts of the case with the class, showing them where they’d made assumptions.
But although adults can address some of the biases young people have with regard to sexual violence, peer volunteers often do a better job of reaching them. And boys often do a better job of reaching other boys.
Rivera says one of PBJ’s male volunteers recently told her that he remembers when PBJ came into his classroom.
“He said he listened more to the male speakers than the females,” she says.
D’Anniballe recently experienced the impact a man can have on other males. MESA received a call from a local therapist who had been seeing a male client who’d been ordered into therapy for sexual-harassment issues. She told MESA she hadn’t been making progress with him and asked whether MESA had a man who could talk with him.
“We arranged for one of our men in the men’s program to speak with this man,” D’Anniballe says. “They had one meeting, and the therapist called back and said, ‘This guy has completely changed.’ There was just something about sitting with a peer and having a layperson saying, ‘You know what? This is what your behavior is doing, and this is how you’re making women feel.’ I’m sure he said it much better than that, but it had massive impact. We need to get men’s attention in a different way, and unfortunately in our sexist society we need men to do it. We need men to call it out.”
A chance to be a hero
John Puterbaugh is one of the men in Boulder County who has volunteered to take up this issue with other men.
“We tend to think of this as a woman’s issue, but it’s really a men’s issue that becomes a big problem for women,” he says. “Men have to stand up and be vocal on this.”
When he originally heard about Men Standing Up, he didn’t know a lot about sexual assault. He was looking for a opportunity to volunteer doing something that might have a positive impact on the lives of his two children, a 16-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy.
“I wanted something that combined my professional interests as well as something that I could feel like I was helping their world,” says Puterbaugh, who works as an executive in human resources.
He met with Hopper at MESA and learned that volunteering for Men Standing Up required 40 hours of training. At the time, he couldn’t work it in to his schedule. But he stayed in touch with Hopper and found time about a year later to undergo the training program.
That was three years ago.
“We’re just trying to help [men] hear the message from someone other than a woman standing up and saying, ‘You men need to stop raping,’” he says. “We’re trying to give examples and help young men understand. Most men are not rapists, but if we stand passively when our friends are doing things that are not appropriate, then we’re just as complicit. We have to be involved in ending the problem.”
Puterbaugh says it is very difficult growing up as a male in today’s society. Conflicting messages about masculinity, images of violence in the media and the way some parents neglect their son’s emotional needs combine to leave many young men feeling lost, he says.
“When I got involved, my focus was on my daughter,” he says. “As I’ve learned more about the subject, I worry more about the world my son is growing up in — the messages he gets and how difficult it is for men to understand their roles with regard to this.”
It isn’t about feeling guilt, he says. Too many men hear what he says and react by saying, “I haven’t raped anyone,” dismissing the call to action as a guilt trip.
Instead of thinking of it that way, men need to think of the opportunity to help as their chance to be a hero.
“Every man looks at those stories and thinks ‘Oh, that’s horrific. Those four men assaulted that young woman in the middle of the night.’ But we don’t associate our own ability to do anything about it with the story. It’s just a news story.”
Part of the problem is that sexual violence doesn’t receive much real thought from boys and men.
“We’ll ask groups, whether it’s male only or gender mixed, to write down on a piece of paper all the things they’ve done over the past two weeks to keep themselves safe,” he says. “You’ll see the girls start to write and keep writing, and the boys don’t even know what you’re talking about. We grow up with a very different lens on the world than most women. We don’t think about walking alone at night. We might worry about our safety, but we don’t worry in the same way. We don’t think about where we park. We don’t think about carrying our keys in our hand for safety. There’s stuff that doesn’t even cross our minds that our girlfriends, our sisters, our mothers and our daughters are thinking about every day.”
When men come to understand the impact that the reality of rape has upon the women in their lives, whether they’re one of the estimated 25 percent of women who’ve been raped or not, they often feel motivated to do something about it.
Puterbaugh tries to help men see sexual violence as personal. He’ll ask men to remember those times in college where they used alcohol to try to facilitate sexual contact with a woman, and listens as they snicker at these recollections.
“Then I say, ‘Now how will you feel when your daughter is in that position?’ It’s not something you think about as a man,” he says.
He says he thinks there are a fair number of men who might turn their backs on their buddies and walk away in situations where they’re doing something inappropriate to women. But standing up and telling their friends that what they’re doing is wrong is a completely different level of commitment.
“But it’s a place where we need to move as a society where men confront men and say, ‘No!’” he says. “There’s this real phobia about accepting any responsibility and saying ‘We have to be a part of the solution.’ But rape doesn’t stop until we say, ‘You know, I haven’t done bad things in my life, but I haven’t done anything to stop this, either.’”
Bystander intervention is something he addresses in his talks, sharing safe ways for them to get involved if they witness something inappropriate. He supplies men with “what if” scenarios in hopes that the topic of sexual assault and male intervention become part of the broader societal male dialogue.
“Women can only take a defensive posture,” he says, “ but men can take an active stance.”
Puterbaugh might ask a group of men how they would react if they were sitting at the food court in the mall and witnessed a man yelling at and slapping a woman.
He asks them, “Do you get up out of your seat and do you walk over, and do you get involved. And of course everybody’s response is, ‘No. That’s his business. That’s not my deal.’”
Then Puterbaugh asks them how they would respond if the woman in this scenario were their sister.
“Now do you get up and get involved?” he asks. “‘Well, yeah, I do. It’s my sister.’”
Puterbaugh points out that the woman in the first scenario is someone’s sister. Then he takes the scenario a step further. “‘Now it’s me sitting there and your sister on the other side of the room, and this same scenario happens. Do you want me to get up and get involved? Of course you do.’ We so easily look past this stuff because we think it’s not personal to us. But it is.”
He admits that he worries sometimes that society is making little progress. Still, he tries to focus on what he can do. He knows that some participants “have their ears closed” and don’t pay attention to what he’s saying. Others hear, but don’t really take it in. But some do listen. He sees the light go on and knows they understand.
“I worry that if we’re not out there doing this, they won’t hear this anywhere,” he says. “There’s no place they’re getting this message.”
Ultimately, rape prevention begins with parenting, he says.
“We have responsibilities as parents in the small ways that we can show our sons respect for women and appropriate ways to love and appropriate ways to behave around women,” he says. “It ultimately does come down to a lot of parenting, which is one of the reasons why it’s important to get these messages out in front of parents.”
But it’s not easy to reach parents and not easy to reach adult males.
“The interesting thing about reaching adult males is that the social structures where they gather are not always conducive to this,” Puterbaugh says. “Sometimes it’s in the church, and sometimes our message is welcome in the church and sometimes they look the other way. In sports, there’s not a lot of receptivity. One thing Marti and I have been working on is trying to get high school athletic directors and coaches to let us come in and talk to teens, if for no other reason than that you see so many professional athletes’ careers getting derailed because of sexual misconduct. There are so few opportunities to get this in front of men in a meaningful way.”
He was impressed recently when the owner of a Broomfield tae kwon do club required all boys in his program — together with their fathers — to attend a three-hour session with Puterbaugh to discuss violence against women.
“We had very vibrant discussion,” Puterbaugh says. “I think a few people left thinking it was a big waste of time, but I think a lot of them were saying, ‘Wow, where else would my son be getting this message?’”
Puterbaugh says he would love to work on this issue full time, but at the moment that isn’t possible for him.
Still he thinks it’s of utmost importance to get men involved in sexual-assault prevention.
“I like the work we do at Men Standing Up,” he says. “I love the work that MESA does, but as Janine and Marti and I have said in many conversations, they do really great work on the back end. We men need to be out in front.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can get help. Call the 24-hour crisis hotline at
Help catch a rapist
Boulder Weekly is asking the public to donate money to MESA to fund a cash reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the attackers in the Oct. 31 gang rape. Please make checks out to MESA and send donations to MESA at 2885 E. Aurora Ave, Suite 10, Boulder, CO 80303. If you were outraged by recent public comments made about this case, this is your chance to show support for all victims of sexual assault and to help make Boulder a safer community.
MESA to hold march and rally
Moving to End Sexual Assault is holding a march and rally to decry recent sexual assaults and bias-motivated incidents in Boulder and to show support for the victims of these crimes. Everyone is encouraged to attend. Please wear purple!
The march begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 20, at Boulder Public Library’s Canyon Boulevard entrance. The rally will follow at 6:45 p.m.
For more information on Men Standing Up or how you can volunteer for MESA or to make donations, please call MESA at 303-443-0400, or go to www.movingtoendsexualassult.com.
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Who we are
Boulder Weekly moves to 100-percent recycled newsprint
by Dana Logan
In a decision to continue its role as a leader in environmentally sustainable business practices, Boulder Weekly has made a switch to 100-percent recycled paper beginning with this, the Nov. 20 issue of the 15-year-old weekly publication.
The new paper is being purchased from Snowflake, the newest paper mill owned by Catalyst Paper and located in Snowflake, Ariz. Snowflake is the only newsprint mill within an almost 1,000-mile radius and prides itself on meeting the marketplace and sustainability expectations of publishers, advertisers and readers.
According to Cal Winn, Boulder Weekly’s circulation manager, the decision to make the switch was a long time coming, but a variety of factors needed to be considered before doing so.
“Recycled paper doesn’t have the cloth-feel to it. It’s a little more brittle,” says Winn.
He also explains that pages that have a lot of ink, as in pages with dark photographs, may be more prone to ink bleeds, but he says that the printer is working to make adjustments to ensure the highest possible quality.
“If we were a daily, we would have done it long ago,” says Stewart Sallo, publisher of Boulder Weekly. “But as a weekly, our publication needs to stand up for an entire week and recycled newsprint is simply not the same quality, so it doesn’t hold up as well.
“Further, the experience of reading a newspaper printed on recycled stock is not as pleasurable for the reader as the artistic design — the color and quality of the images — is compromised.
“So it has been a dilemma for the Weekly, as we have been faced with the choice between serving the needs of our readers and serving the needs of the environment. Most recently it became clear that environmental concerns need to take a higher priority than aesthetics and that switching to 100-percent recycled paper is, indeed, a step that will best serve our readers and the environment.”
Winn says that being a business in Boulder, a progressive community that is itself a leader in green technology, means that readers expect a certain level of ecological conscientiousness. But he also says that the paper’s publisher and employees expect it, too.
“We decided that the cloth feel was less important than that we be responsible about recycling,” says Winn.
And while Boulder Weekly’s priorities are clearly to protect the environment, the standards of quality are of utmost importance as well.
“Luckily, the quality of 100-percent recycled newsprint, coupled with improved technologies in the printing process, will enable us to deliver an outstanding product with minimal loss of quality. Most readers will probably not be able to tell the difference, and it will be interesting to see what kind of feedback we get,” says Sallo.
But the work doesn’t stop with the use of 100-percent recycled paper on the production end. Once it’s in the hands of readers, what happens next is up to them. And Boulder Weekly encourages its readers to recycle each edition after reading it to ensure that the paper goes full circle and has the least possible impact on the planet.
“That’s who we are,” says Winn. “It’s the definition of the Boulder Weekly that we support environmental issues.”
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