“Men can stop rape.”

I do a lot of ranting about the ways in which our culture, down to and including the words we use in daily discourse, supports and perpetuates the reality and fear of rape for 50% of the human race.

But today I saw this, and I think it’s pretty damn wonderful, so I thought I would share:


These are images from the My Strength Campaign, a joint project of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) and California’s Department of Health Services, and among the many things that I find wonderful here (starting with the fact that it actually turns the focus on changing men’s behavior, rather than women’s) is that third image, the one with the two men. Men can be and often are victims, too, and we have to start recognizing that reality, as well.

These images are just that — images. Part of a larger campaign, conducted by a coalition of organizations working together on the issue of sexual violence since 1980, each of which had already been working on the issue for some time. Which is to say: These posters cannot possibly address everything that needs addressing, or change the reality by themselves.

But I think they are part of an important larger trend, one that can be seen in a broad array of efforts to get men involved in fighting the scourge of sexual violence, and can be heard in the voices of individual men who are standing up and speaking out. And I think that good, powerful images are one of the most powerful weapons we have in any advocacy campaign. I wish these posters were being put up all over the country.

Women can fight rape — but only men can actually stop rape. Efforts like this give me hope.

h/t Colorlines



  1. Darth Thulhu

     /  January 4, 2012

    Can’t remember if I first saw these discussed on the OTAN or another site, but I’d only ever seen the second image. Agreed that the third one is bold for its very nonchalance about the depiction.

    A great and heartening find.

  2. I love this!!!! Thank you for sharing

  3. Very nice, I hadn’t seen these. They are an excellent effort that I hope is well accepted.

  4. Tord Steiro

     /  January 4, 2012

    Thank you so much for the pointer! I usually follow your blog for your intelligent ME commentary, however, this is actually my work 🙂

    More here:

    And a link to one of our fabolous partners in this work:

    If you are interested in the topic, you could also check out the Brazilian NGO Promundo, Gary Barker, Jackson Katz, and Satish Kumar Singh.

    All the best for the New Year!

  5. Those are beautiful, and also quite wonderful. (And I’m glad to see that one of them features an m/m couple, too.)

    This post resonates for me in interesting ways — I’ve been thinking about the minor fast day of 10 Tevet, and how the historical event it commemorates may not resonate with contemporary liberal Jews but it might offer a powerful framework in which to make ourselves more aware of rape. (Recent post: http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2012/01/preparing-for-10-tevet.html)

  6. I’ve known of these for some time. The fact that they are so little known is a testament to an American society that lauds the “boys-will-be-boys” mentality that allows grown men to claim they are for family values when they are busy cheating on their wives, that slathers violent images of men all over our TV and movie screens, and fosters riots over the firing of beloved head coaches because they could not be bothered to report the violation of children. Rape is never about the victim, but about the perpetrator, and the perpetrator is often someone who has grown up being told they are entitled to use others sexually, either directly or indirectly. THIS message needs to be chanted, needs to be plastered in high school halls, bolted to the sides of buses, played during college bowl games and the Super Bowl. THIS message needs to start to gain ascendancy in our culture, if I am ever to have any peace-of-mind as the father of a daughter.

  7. SWNC

     /  January 4, 2012

    I love these posters. I know a guy who works professionally on issues of relationship abuse and sexual violence. He does a lot of workshops for fraternities and college men. He says that one approach that works for a lot of these young men, most of whom do not identify as feminist, is to begin by talking about what they like about being men. And then lead into how they can use these attributes of manhood in a positive way: “My strength is not for hurting” fits right in with that.

    He was also talking about how a lot of college guys see rape as an abstract issue, but that a a few men always know that they know at least one woman–a sister, a friend, a girlfriend–who has experienced abuse or rape. For those guys (who are often the ones who have invited him to do the workshop), it’s a very personal issue, and they are often able to get that through to the other men.

    • dmf

       /  January 4, 2012

      hard to know what works in these areas as there is limited capacity for followup studies but my educated guess is that college age education is a bit too late for the usual kinds of public “health” initiatives (which work via self-interest), we need to teach habits of respect to very young children and then reinforce them along the way.

  8. This is an important and mature campaign that treats men like adults and projects a positive and non-accusatory message. I’ve seen these posters for a while now and liked the message. That said, I do have a quibble with your posting. Women can do more than fight rape (which they have been doing quite strongly for a while now), they can also stop rape as some of them ARE rapists too.

    I was raped by a woman who drugged me. I’m sorry, but she NEEDS to stop rape too as she is a disgusting, dirty and sick rapist who used a fetus as a human shield to keep me compliant after the drugs wore off.

    Since getting involved in sexual violence advocacy work as a speaker and trainer (and survivor), I’ve heard from many male and female survivors of female predators. Women who commit sexual violence fly gracefully under the radar partially based on gender norms that view women as incapable of being monsters and men as less masculine if they admit they can be vulnerable. While empowering campaigns like this one do us no harm, claims that only men can stop rape serve to further erase and minimize our own personal experiences which don’t fit neatly into the predominant narrative on sexual violence. Yes, I understand the stats and I can also pick many of the methodologies apart without trying – including the recent CDC study which claims that a woman forcing a male (adult or child) to penetrate her is not rape. How exactly can anyone justify using alternative language to downgrade such an action based solely on the gender of the perpetrator?

    I do understand your point, but my own experience differs with that perspective. As much as I’d love to pretend that female rapists don’t exist or matter, I have to deal with the consequences of her actions every day – and the general mockery and denial of men and women alike. Thank you for listening and I hope you can understand how the view is different from this angle.

    • Absolutely, and I’m glad that you came to talk about it.

      If I am being strictly honest, I don’t think that rape, or any form of sexual assault, can be truly “stopped.” I believe that the ways in which human beings hurt each other have not much changed since the beginning of time and will not much change in the future. What I believe can happen is two things: 1) The number of incidences of sexual assault (of anyone, by anyone) can drop dramatically and b) those that remain will be seen as the acts of the depraved and the monstrous, rather than a nearly unavoidable part of life.

      It is absolutely, unavoidably true that women can and are monsters, as your own story shows, as do the stories of other survivors (male and female). I think that the major difference is that, as a rule, women are raised to be fearful of assault and men are not, and on the other hand, as a rule, men are raised to believe, on some level, that being a sexual predator is part of being a man. Which is why the statistics are so different, and why for the fact of rape shapes the lives of all women in a way that (as a rule) it doesn’t for men.

      Having said that, when women are assaulted, we now have 40 or so years of experience talking about it and providing a network of support for each other, a thing that men most certainly do not have, in no small part for the very same reasons. We are raised to believe that women are vulnerable and on some level even should be vulnerable, so we are also raised to support each other. Men, on the other hand, are raised to believe they may not be vulnerable, and so are raised to fear vulnerability not only in themselves but in each other.

      The closest analogy I can find is that of the experiences of different minorities: African-Americans and Latinos share many similar experiences, but at a certain point, those experiences diverge, and all individuals of good will can do is acknowledge and respect the differences. Likewise, I think, with male and female survivors of assault, as well as with survivors of assault by men, vs. assault by women. The experiences are parallel to a point, and after that point, they are very different. The best we can do is acknowledge and respect that.

      • “The experiences are parallel to a point, and after that point, they are very different. The best we can do is acknowledge and respect that.”

        Of course there are differences – not only between groups, but within groups even more.

        Every individual’s personal experience with violence is different when you take the time to get into the details, aftermath and recovery. I’ve seldom spoke online about how my grandfather’s murder changed my family out of respect for those who’d rather it not be broadcast. While families who have experienced the murder of a loved one can relate to each other on a certain level, some aspects are so personal they defy comparison. That said, where we do overlap – it is a source of strength and validation.

        By way of comparison, I have found far more in common with female survivors than in contrast. The more that we talk – together – the easier it will be to see that lessening any form of violence will require an inclusive and empowering approach that includes all affected parties. Victim-blaming, self-doubt, minimization and denial are fairly universal for both male and female survivors – even if the surface veneer creates a false image that some exploit to make a case that one party has it easier than another. Peel it back a little and you’ll see the same scars and the same ugly people responsible for the secondary wounding.

  9. What about women who commit rape?

    • James and I discussed just this issue in the comments a bit – it’s absolutely true that women are also capable of raping and some people have been raped by women. In terms of this ad campaign and my post, however, I would only argue that that kind of rape is not a society-wide issue – see my exchange with James for more.

      Having said that, of course, the more we teach our children (of all genders and sexualities) and each other to respect the human dignity and bodily autonomy of each other, the better off we will all be, and the less rape will occur. I don’t believe we will ever truly do away with any human evil, but we can certainly decrease its potency.