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Men, sexual assault is our problem

I wish I’d spoken up more often.

Growing up, at school and at parties and at small gatherings, I heard young men say things about women. About how the women looked or what they’d like to do to them.

I spoke up to the worst, walked away from some. But I said nothing to too many of those young men, chuckled along to avoid conflict with a few. I wish I’d spoken up to everyone.

Men, we need to be better.

See, while I’ve outgrown most of that crowd, and those I haven’t outgrown have outgrown those distasteful comments, one person from those long-ago parties now sits in prison for sexual assault. I don’t know if it would have made a difference if I and others had called him out for the most obscene comments we heard, but it couldn’t have hurt.

By saying nothing, we enabled a mindset among us young men — a culture, even — that women were conquests, contests, trophies to celebrate when they’d been won.

Men, sexual assault is our problem.

Yes, men are victims, too. But, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, women are twice as likely as men to survive a rape or attempted rape. Women account for 82% of all juvenile victims and 90% of all adult victims, RAINN says.

In a 2010 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all survivors of sexual assault — both men and women — said men assaulted them.

So, for all the power in the #MeToo movement encouraging women to share their stories and stand in solidarity with other survivors, we men can’t put all the burden on women to stop this problem. We have to own up to our own responsibilities, recognize the problems we abet by staying silent, stop trying to find comfort in the notion that, just because we ourselves don’t say or do disrespectful things, we’re blameless.

We have to teach our boys to be good men — directly and explicitly.

My 12-year-old son has already learned that, not only does “no” mean “no,” only a sober “yes” means “yes.” Intoxicated people can’t consent, even if they can say the word “yes.” Just because a person doesn’t say “no” doesn’t mean they’ve consented.

People can say “no” at any time. They can take back a “yes” they gave earlier. Just because they said “yes” yesterday doesn’t mean an automatic “yes” today. It doesn’t matter how a woman dresses.

Our bodies are our bodies, I’ve told my son, and other people’s bodies are theirs, and each person has the right to control access to their bodies. That goes for sex, for kisses, for any kind of touching, for looking.

If your friends don’t act that way, I’ve told my son, or if they say things that belittle or demean women, it’s your job to stand up to them. It’s your job to call them out, to tell them that’s not OK. Never chuckle along to avoid conflict. Calling out a friend can be uncomfortable, but that discomfort pales in comparison to the lifelong pain of assault and harassment.

We have to teach our boys, and we have to show our boys, walk our talk.

So, I’ll say here to my thousands of readers: If you’ve ever failed to follow the lessons I’ve taught my son, you were wrong, and you have to do better. If you meet me, don’t expect me to laugh with you at a sexist joke or agree with you in some demeaning comment about a woman.

I’m not perfect. I believe sex is Satan’s most powerful tool, and I sometimes fail to capture my thoughts.

But I promise to work deliberately to teach better, speak better, exemplify better.

Men, we all have to be better.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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