Men Stopping Rape was founded in 1983 by several men in the Madison community who were interested in finding answers to the question, “how do we create a world without rape?” Historically, MSR began the process of finding answers by creating spaces where men can speak to men about male socialization. Though our overall mission is to provide information and outreach to the entire community, much of the work we do occurs in the context of “safe spaces” for smaller groups of men to talk about their issues. We talk about masculinity, homophobia, male socialization, racism, and violence. We take responsibility for our own behavior and model the process of unlearning sexism with other men. Sexual violence exists on a continuum. Both women and men are profoundly affected by the spectrum of violence and sexual assault, which is unavoidable in a culture which, in many overt and subtle ways, supports sexism, harassment, violence and sexual assault. Many men, perhaps even a majority, have done something that could qualify as a sexual assault, though most wouldn’t identify their behavior as such. Statistically, we all know alarming numbers of both women and men who are survivors of incest and other sexual assaults. In identifying how rape also effects and hurts men, we validate men’s pain, reaching out to male survivors, and men who are “significant others” of sexual assault survivors who are present in every group we talk with. Beginning the process of understanding and changing our behavior, unlearning rape and rape-supportive behaviors is the most powerful work we do.
MSR is a member of the Dane County Coordinated Community Response Task Force for Sexual Assault. We have networked with the Dane County Rape Crisis Center (RCC), UW Campus Women’s Center, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), Protective Behaviors, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), and other local organizations that provide services to women and men. When a client’s request for information and/or services fall outside of our capacity, we refer them to one of these organizations; conversely, we encourage these organizations to refer to us clients that could most benefit from our services. When appropriate, we co-facilitate workshops for women and men to try to establish a physically and emotionally safe space for all clients.
MSR has provided workshops for dormitories, fraternities, academic departments, high schools, group homes, church groups, prisons and service providers for “at risk” youth, to name but a few. Workshop presenters are volunteers who have completed MSR’s 30 hour workshop training program, gaining facility to discuss such topics as sexuality, masculinity, enculturation, homophobia, racism, violence/abuse, male survivors and personal safety. Our training reader and other materials provide a baseline for this training, which is led by experienced members of the organization. We produce and market a brochure entitled ”What One Man Can Do to Help Stop Rape” [an updated link to the text-only version will be available soon - ed.], a poster series describing the myths surrounding sexual assault, and a 30 minute video and study guide which have been distributed to campus and community organizations throughout the US, Canada and Australia.
More recently, MSR has undertaken the development and facilitation of support groups by and for adult men, in part as a contradiction to the distorted and dangerous models for communication we have learned as men. In general, males have been socialized to expect to get most or all of our emotional needs met by women and to seek emotional sustenance and validation from women. Rather than isolating ourselves, competing with other men, or vying to seduce or elicit the affection of women, these support groups provide a venue for men to begin to talk honestly with other men, modeling the willingness to take responsibility for their own behavior and demanding the same of other men. For many men this has been the first opportunity in their lives to communicate in such a setting, and perhaps has allowed for more open and honest exchanges with the women in their lives, a little less mired in emotionally bereft need.
Based on a peer support model and often drawing from material provided in the MSR workshop training, groups are led by one or two trained facilitators from MSR as closed-session groups for a period ranging from 8 to 20 weeks, depending on the group. During the intake process it is made clear to prospective participants that the groups are voluntary, and are not and should not become a substitute for psychotherapy or other counseling therapy. Groups are offered on a sliding-scale fee basis, though no one deemed appropriate for the group is denied for lack of ability to pay. Groups offered to date include general men’s emotional support groups, one for male survivors of sexual assault/incest, pro-feminist gay men, partners of survivors of sexual assault, and ex-perpetrators of sexual assault. To date we have not provided peer-support services for men in abusive relationships, though some men in groups have examined their accountability for past violence. Group process varies by topic, but tends to be both challenging and supportive of individual men’s struggles to change their thinking and behavior. For example, the ex-perpetrator group provides focused meetings that emphasize social skills training, relapse prevention, and addresses offender cognitive distortions. The goals are to increase offender ability to establish and maintain age-appropriate, non-abusive relationships, identify risk factors for relapse, and continue re-evaluating plans for coping with high risk situations. Support group evaluations received from participants have been very positive overall; many of the men have felt comfortable disclosing personal issues in the support groups, often as a support structure for work they are doing/have done in therapy.