Joyce McCauley Benner recently presented “Victory Over Violence” at the University of Northern Iowa. As Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes to a close, I know you’ll appreciate reading compelling insights from someone with Joyce’s expertise as an advocate against sex trafficking and as a survivor of sexual assault. She shares her story with courage so that others may be better protected and served.
Because women deserve better,
Serrin M. Foster
I scan the audience of a few hundred people just before I begin to speak. At least a third of the eyes watching me are men. I tremble slightly; it’s never easy to speak about this horrific rape I endured. But in the end, I know that it is worth it.
The talk is over, and men are lined up to talk to me. It doesn’t matter where I am; men are always hungry for discussion and asking what can they do.
The first few times left me awestruck. Initially I asked myself, “Haven’t rape, sexual assault, exploitation, and abortion been women’s issues? Do men even care? Is this their issue to care about?”
When you have endured violence at the hands of a man, it is easy to place your fear and anger on men in general — especially if you have been hurt multiple times. There is great power when other men decide to stand up and organize against violence towards women and children, challenging their brothers to do the same.
And then I realized, of course, these issues must be men’s issues in order to see them fully put to an end.
Yet how many men have the tools to do this? Those men that stood in line to speak with me were full of questions: questions about how to support a significant other who had been raped, what steps to take next, even questions about the nature of sexual assault — questions they were always afraid to ask.
And some pro-life men said they were really challenged during my talk. In the past, they had only responded to the abortion issue through the lens of violence done against the unborn. They had never considered that violence can be done to the mother as well, and that is another way of looking at the issue.
One young man said he appreciated feeling empowered on this issue and that it’s not just a woman’s issue. He now felt he is not helpless!
Feminists for Life knows how important it is to have men in our movement.
Men can speak out against the objectification and commoditization of women in pornography and other media. Men can speak up when they hear other men making crude jokes or flippant comments that are derisive and insulting to women and victims of violence. Men can stand up and volunteer at victim hotlines, crisis pregnancy centers, and shelters for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. Men can stand out as examples in their communities modeling respect for women in their homes, schools, and workplaces.
Rape doesn’t affect just the victim — it has a ripple effect on the victim’s family and friends, including the other men in her life. In my situation, not only did I have to grieve the rape itself, but all that I lost with it — my relationship with my boyfriend, the path I was taking towards my dreams, and the pain it caused my family. Recovery from violence is not just the healing journey of the survivor. Her pain becomes a community’s pain, and its most effective solutions are community-based.
These days, the issue of trafficking often comes up as well, so I spend a few minutes sharing my expertise in this area. I am proud to represent Feminists for Life. I know personally that the real solutions being created for women on campuses across the country are being advocated by an organization that has helped not only to facilitate my own healing journey, but has fought for countless numbers of women — including the most marginalized. To me, the number one organization fighting for women today, following in the steps of our feminist foremothers, is Feminists For Life!
As feminists who believe in true equality, FFL believes men are not our enemies, but part of the solution in the fight to end violence against women and children. We welcome every man who joins us in our efforts. We want to equip all college students and each FFL member with the tools to provide real solutions for women. And it is affirming for me to learn that so many men agree: Women deserve better.