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Alcohol and rape

Alcohol and rape are closely interconnected. In at least half of sexual assaults between acquaintances, alcohol was used by the abuser, the survivor, or both. Heavy alcohol use is also a major predictor of future rape. People who have a history of being sexually assaulted who are also heavy drinkers are 700% more likely to experience another assault than light drinkers who haven’t been previously assaulted.

We will use gendered language throughout this article, and that is not by mistake or omission. Alcohol and rape is a particularly gendered issue. Most of the literature cited on the topic in this article explores how alcohol puts men more at risk of being perpetrators. Moreover, one study found that nearly all types of substance use put women at more risk of being sexually assaulted. The same was not found for men. 

Men can be survivors of sexual assault, women can be perpetrators, and all genders can be involved in any role. However, when it comes to alcohol and rape, men are more likely to be the perpetrators. Moreover, the literature examined for this article also shows women more likely to be survivors of sexual assault due to drinking. 

When all of this is taken together, it paints a grim picture of the role alcohol plays in sexual assaults against women. But what is the connection between alcohol and rape?

The role of alcohol on women

Alcohol has an inhibitory effect on the brain. This essentially means that it shuts down certain parts of our functioning as people drink more. This often starts with what is called higher order thinking, which includes complex, rational thought. As someone drinks more, alcohol starts to impair the person’s ability to control their motor functions. This means that they might be less able to fight off an abuser if in a state of heavy intoxication.

It is through this method that many abusers try to use alcohol to facilitate their assaults. In other words, alcohol and rape go together partially because an abuser can use the fact that someone is inebriated to commit their act of sexual violence. This is what is known as incapacitated/drug-alcohol facilitated rape, or AIR.

Link between alcohol and rape

One thing to keep in mind is that some studies found that any alcohol use is associated with higher chances of being assaulted. This may be because, especially if somebody isn’t regularly a heavy drinker, abusers might take advantage of their lower tolerance for alcohol consumption. A common tactic that abusers use is giving a woman strong drinks (i.e., high alcohol by volume content). Abusers may use the advanced state of impairment to commit AIR.

There is a complex relationship between alcohol and rape. Some studies have found that people who were victimized in the past may use alcohol to cope with those emotions. This, unfortunately, leaves them at a higher chance of being assaulted in the future. And, when a woman is drinking, she may suffer from something academics call “alcohol myopia”. This means that alcohol limits the amount of information a survivor can process, which might make them miss risk factors from their abusers.

It is important to remember that it is not the woman’s fault for being abused. This is the case regardless of whether or not they have been drinking. Oftentimes, women who were drinking at the time of an assault can blame themselves. For others, they might fear negative reactions from those they tell. Sometimes, they don’t feel like they will be believed at all. However, we’ve talked about consent in the past, and a perpetrator who commits AIR is guilty of rape. Full stop.

Men’s use of alcohol and rape

80% of sexual assaults occur between people who know each other. But, when alcohol is involved, sexual assault usually happens between people who are less familiar with one-another. These could be strangers, acquaintances, or casual dates. They are also more likely to take place at parties or bars while, when alcohol is not used, sexual assaults more commonly occur in the survivor or perpetrator’s home.

Men in particular tend to associate alcohol with sexuality. They see women who are drinking as more “available” for their sexual advances. Alcohol use in men is also linked to increased aggression and misreading social cues. This can mean that they might interpret a woman’s actions as being “flirty” when they do not. And, when coupled with the aggression, they use alcohol to feel more justified in sexually assaulting a woman if they feel like they have been “led on”. This is backed up by studies showing men are more likely to endorse acting like a man who commits a sexual assault after they themselves have drank alcohol.

This isn’t to say that all men who drink, or all men who drink alongside women, will commit sexual assault. There are certain factors that are linked to a man being more likely to commit an assault. These are:

Actions that are required

For women

Sexual assault prevention programs need to emphasize the relationship between alcohol and rape. Creating awareness around things like alcohol myopia can help women to be mindful of the risks that may be around them. Creating an awareness about the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and how it might make it harder for women to fight off an abuser, will be helpful to integrate as well.

Being able to target excessive drinking can also be helpful in preventing sexual assaults. One study found that women who were given a resistance training program that included information on alcohol were nearly half as likely to have experienced a completed rape than a control group. The control group was also nearly 300% more likely to have faced an attempted rape than those who got the intervention.

Additionally, being able to get treatment for binge drinking and substance abuse can be helpful for lowering the risk of future sexual assaults. Everyone should keep the substance use spectrum in mind while exploring their relationship to alcohol.

For men

We’ve talked about how hegemonic masculinity and gender role stress can play roles in sexual assault. Specifically with alcohol, men need to understand that because a woman drinks does not mean she is looking for sex. Men who hold traditional gender role beliefs need to understand how to communicate more clearly and understand that no does in fact mean no. Men need to let go of the rape myths and rape culture that indoctrinates them into becoming abusers.

As a man, I know that social drinking can be a fun way to let off steam. But, being aware of how much someone is drinking can be a helpful way to avoid the negative effects of alcohol. Keeping in mind that alcohol is never an excuse for rape, men who drink heavily are more likely to perpetrate sexual assaults. Also, men in general tend to misinterpret women’s actions as sexual interest when intoxicated. One study has shown this affects about 2 out of 3 women in post-secondary settings, so a man who moderates his drinking can make a big difference in the lives of the women around him.

Lastly, for men, there are some basic pieces of understanding that need to be laid out. Now, many men may know this already, but some definitely need to hear it:

  1. Forced or coerced sex is rape.
  2. If someone resists a sexual advance, then continuing is sexual assault.
  3. If someone cannot consent to sex, then “sex” with them is actually rape.
  4. Drinking alcohol does not legally or morally absolve you from your actions while drunk.
  5. Nobody is entitled to sex, period.
  6. Women are equals, not rivals.

YES, ALL MEN! – Podcast page

About the "YES, ALL MEN!" Podcast

Welcome to the “YES, ALL MEN!” podcast brought to you by VESTA.


Since starting work in the sexual violence prevention field, Ilyas has embarked on a journey of learning about hegemonic masculinity and examining what it truly means to be a man. Through his perspective as a straight, mixed race man, he will be exploring why all men need to be a part of sexual violence prevention. Through his conversations with other men, women, and relevant scholars, Ilyas also hopes to find a more positive version of masculinity that can help men and women alike to escape from the ills of gender based violence.


Episode 1: Masculinity as a Fire & the Duty to Warm

Guest: Strength of Two Buffalo Dale

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Podcast – Strength

Podcast guest:

Strength of Two Buffalo Dale

Listen to episode 01:

Masculinity as a Fire & the Duty to Warm


This conversation between Ilyas and Strength of Two Buffalo examines masculinity as a fire that can either warm or harm those around it. Strength of Two Buffalo talks about the teachings he has had about being a man, and how he has challenged some of the social scripts that can lead to expressing manhood problematically. Strength of Two Buffalo ends by encouraging those who are interested in talking about masculinity with those around them to ask two questions: What does being a man mean to you and how has that changed over time?

About the guest

Strength Of Two Buffalo Dale

Strength Of Two Buffalo is White Ribbon’s  Workplace Engagement Manager. He is Kanien:keha’ka (Mohawk) from Six Nations of the Grand River. For the past 37 years Strength Of Two Buffalo has had the opportunity to learn from an extremely diverse community of Elders such as the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabeg, Cree, Lakota and Inuit spanning across both Canada and the United States. 


He has a formal education in the field of Social Services, graduated from the Bachelor of Ed. in Aboriginal Adult Education at Brock University, completed the Men’s Indigenous Social Work Program from Muncey Healing Lodge and Addictions Counselling Certification through Polytechnic Institute Six Nations.

Strength received certification in Kanawayhitowin, a campaign created to address intimate partner violence within Indigenous communities. Strength has co-led MMIWG2S front-line protections advocating for federal bodies to prioritize the well being of Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people. He worked alongside Indigenous women and allies to advance the implementation of “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” recommendations. 


Strength Of Two Buffalo has been honoured by a Woman’s Domestic Assault survivors’ group and named an honorary woman which gave him the privilege of entering into safe spaces. A title Strength values and holds very close to his heart. 


Strength has focused his efforts in supporting community by engaging (w)holistic and balanced living by using traditional Indigenous knowledge to reinforce critical thinking practices addressing Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Strength has worked over thirty years doing his best to role model the actions of Respect, Reciprocity and Relationship applying the teachings of interconnectedness and Skennen (peace). We would like to welcome Strength Of Two Buffalo to the White Ribbon team.



Perfect. Well, welcome back to Yes All men. Our next guest is strength of two Buffalo Dale. Strength. You mind introducing yourself?



Absolutely. [Mohawk]. I am Strength of Two Buffalo, Mohawk from Six Nations territory. Along with all of the Mohawk territories, because we’re Mohawk nonetheless. So thank you. And today I’m working with White Ribbon and the idea of stopping gender violence. That’s our goal.



Yeah, and it it seems like a very kind of like natural tie in to be able to to work with you for this episode because we’re really hoping to explore a lot about masculinity and how intersects with gender based violence. So I’m I’m really grateful that you, you and your organization are able to take the time to to talk today. And to to start us off, let’s kind of go with a big question. So like, what does it mean to be a man like in today’s society or in the context we’re living in now?


That is such a loaded question, right? Because there’s there’s many different ways that that we can define what it is to be a man. There is the sometimes cultural aspect of what it is to be a man within culture. And there’s so many different cultures in this world that, you know the definition of what a man is or what a man is supposed to do or be, can alter. So, and that’s I can walk through that the. The growth or the way that has it has evolved. I know that from earlier years being a man was being in charge, being control have no emotions. You know, you know, don’t cry. Just make sure that you’re tough enough and, you know, make people respect you and make them respect you if necessary to be tough, to be strong and to be the provider, to be the king of the house. And you know, all of these things were very important and what it meant to be a man. In early 1900s. And and you know and and in culture sometimes still today in some cultures is still the same way that it has to be a certain way within the culture. So being a man and the understanding from what I have grown up with being a haudenosaunee of the the Confederacy of Six Nations and. It it speaks more to our responsibilities and and the responsibilities of a man in our communities is to be kind, compassionate, approachable. Strong enough to get work done. You know we we’re still expected to do some out outside work. That’s what we’re supposed to do. But coming from a matriarchal society, I don’t have to be the boss. I’m just a part of the wheel. A part of the community that has a voice that has a say and to not overstep that boundary and trying to take over somebody else’s space. So being a man can have many different things, but what we’re hoping for with White Ribbon and doing the work to end gender violence and end the patriarchal demands upon men is to have us understand our gentler side, our side of being approachable. In the traditional understanding, we have a position in our communities which is called a fire keeper. We keep. We tend to the fire of the community. If there’s a ceremony, we have a big fire there, you know. And when I say a big fire that’s part of the the the contradiction there because a big fire can harm people. And men in general have that fire within us. Like  we’re just. Ah, let’s get this done. Let’s go. You know, we hear a power tool. We all turn our heads, you know, we hear engines running and, you know, just those natural parts of being a man being male is what we have. So when we have a fire and we tend to that fire. In doing so, we make sure the fire is approachable. We make sure the fire is warm and comforting, but not dangerous enough to harm people even just by standing around it. And that’s what I have learned as being a man is to be that very comforting fire, so that. Those around me can stay warm. They can be comforted, they can have circle. They can, you know, have space that’s safe. And I think that’s why we as men are supposed to be doing is creating that space just within ourselves so that when we go to a space, the energy that we exude. Also speaks to that the idea of peace.




Thank you. And there’s so many pieces of that that I really want to touch on, but I want to start with the idea of that, that imagery that you used of the fire of fire being manhood. And if it gets too big, it can become harmful. And so can you talk a little bit about what those harms are? So like when that kind of fire starts to burn people, essentially.




Absolutely. And you know, I I knew this would come up when I have a story that. Touches personally for me because we live in a colonial society. Colonization is taking over. It’s doing what it’s doing, but we’re trying to get back to being who we are as as just people as human beings and losing the the cultural demands or the colonial demands. I should say I have a story. Which I call colonial dad. Because I have 5 girls, I have a wife, I have community of women around me, but when I spoke with my little girls one day I was in Colonial died mode. I am working. I have to get his done. I have to get that done. I have to get this done and you little girl need to get your shoes on. So we can go, we have appointments to get to, and I totally negated and didn’t pay any attention to my child because I was stuck in the idea of being the man, getting everything going. And let’s just get this done. And again I got stuck in that mode and when I stopped for this the third time to mention to my child. You know, get your shoes. Come on, let’s go. Let’s go. We gotta get this done, babe. And I turned around and she was crying. And she’s sitting on the floor. And I was like, what is? Why are you crying? What’s going on? And I realized at that moment that I was being colonial dad. I was not being comforting. I was not being, you know. I wasn’t being anything towards kind to my own child. And you know how it hurts the other gender genders is we become forceful. We we become that fire. That’s really way too hot now. My hot fire trying to get in line with what I needed to do harmed my child because they were in a panic. Because they didn’t want to see me upset. When I stopped and I said OK, let’s get back to this and I apologized right away and like, oh, my gosh, I’m sorry, little one. How can I make this right? Because we don’t have. I’m sorry in our in our language, there’s no such thing as. I’m sorry. And then we move on. And The thing is done. It’s how can I make this right? We have to make this right. This has to be made right. So I spoke with my little one. And her problem was she couldn’t find her shoes. And there I am being colonial dad, demanding that she gets them on and she can’t even find them. So we took the moment and we we walked around and found her shoes, you know? And that goes a big story. A big part of that story is that we, as men do that a lot outside of. You know, outside of our homes, at work, at the grocery store at, you know, wherever we are, we can have that. That gowl to us or that fire that gets too hot because we’re stuck in an idea of what we need to do, rather than reminding ourselves that we need to remain being human beings and a part of a bigger circle than the one that’s raging within us. You know, so how it harms everybody is there’s fear, there’s intimidation, and it for the first little while when I started getting these teachings, I had to go into the mirror and start looking at my face because. I needed to know how to make a smile. I needed to know how to carry a face that represented and exuded kindness and peace because my eyebrows were always curled in my, you know, and it wasn’t because I was angry. It was because it was focused, but focused and angry kind of looked the same when I was in the mirror. You know, so I had to really pay attention to how how the energy of who I am exuded outward and to be very mindful of how I’m positioning myself physically. Within the expressions upon my face, how my body actually is and the language that I used was very important and that’s how we can harm those around us, is by not being aware of ourselves.




Yeah, the thing that resonated with me a lot there is like the the idea that you wanted to warm your your child in this instance, like you wanted to be that fire with warmth and that got so concentrated and you got so caught up in the moment that, like, it turned into, like, the hurt. And I know that something that resonates with me too is like when I get focused on something and I want to get something done. And you I’m trying and trying and trying and then like I kind of reach a point where I become. Fiery and or too fiery. And yeah, that that I think speaks a lot to the idea of, like, how masculinity can kind of go to this extreme, but at its core, it’s it can be something that’s nurturing and warm and and positive, and hopefully we can explore that a little bit more in in this situation. But you touched on a couple terms there that I wanna talk about or kind of go a bit further into mainly the intersection of kind of patriarchy and colonialism, because I think those are words that people hear or have heard but don’t necessarily understand the full context of or in. Even the context in this situation or this, uh, this conversation.




Well, colonialism has spoke of is its root word is colon. And colon is something that digests. So colonialism is to digest other societies and to create one society which would. You know, some would say comes out as poop. Because that’s what the colon does. It creates one mass from whatever is being digested. And that’s where colonialism and patriarchal societies have a top down approach. So there has to be somebody in power in their patriarchal society. And normally it’s a man because that man has the power they have, the strong enough to intimidate. They have the strong enough to harm. And they’ve been taught not to have emotions, so harming someone is less likely to attach to the person because, well, they shouldn’t have been there anyway. So they should have just done as they were told, or they should have. It’s always an outward projection, you know, it was went 1919, 16 when women were able to. Vote in Manitoba. I believe it was or one of the planes here in Canada. And then 1918, they were given the right to be themselves to sort of say the. Is it? The right to vote across Canada was in 1918 and in 1929 they were actually considered persons. Within the structure of there. The Canadian law, you know, so when you think about how much time it was before that, where men had rule. You know, and that’s what it it boils down to patriarchal society and patriarchal understanding is male run with the idea of control power and you know absolute dominance because that’s what was necessary. And that’s what was created as being a man. And when men run this is how they do it. You know, and coming from a matriarchal society, it’s more a rounded understanding of everybody’s role and responsibility, the women because they give life because they’re the only ones able to give life. Are held in a higher esteem, not in a higher level because we’re all even in community, but they’re held in a higher esteem because. Without them, we can’t create life and with them being in a bad way the life that’s being created will have an after taste of harm and after taste of hurt and when they’re making their choices and their decisions for our communities, for our children’s, for ourselves as men. It’s probably not best to have that in their decision making, you know? So that’s how we work towards getting rid of that patriarchal standpoint and really evaluating where these laws rules policies are coming from. And how we can adjust that.




Yeah. And I think it wasn’t until decades after women were granted personhood. I mean, I said granted personhood, but that seems kind of a weird thing to say about, like, an actual living human being, it wasn’t until decades after that that it was actually put into law that a husband could sexually assault his wife. Cause it before that it was just like it was taken for granted that the that it couldn’t happen, which kind of brings us to the the topic of like sexual violence and gender based violence. And so as we’re talking about these types of masculinities, that kind of get too hot and kind of burn the people around them. What is that intersection with gender based violence or sexual violence?




And you’re talking from a masculinity standpoint.




Yeah. So essentially like what, what are the pieces of masculinity that kind of feed into these sorts of social harms and individual harms?




There’s there’s two things that I I go back to in this and one of them is the biggest, of course, is control. Once we lose control and it doesn’t necessarily just have to be in that relationship, but anywhere in our lives, when we lose control, we panic or we create something that brings that control back her. So I think it gives me that control. If as a child I lost control of what I’m allowed to eat, if I if I was starved, if my diet wasn’t enough for us. As I grow older, I have control over what I eat and I will eat whatever I want whenever I want, until I’m obese and sick because I have the control. I have that power. That’s mine, and that’s where the harm can come from. When it and that intersectionality in relationship. Is to have control rather than relationship. Because relationship is sometimes confused with ownership or the power to the power over. And it’s not in the idea of respect in those relationships. Respect and my understanding that was given to me by my elders is [Mohawk], which is I have the responsibility to help any and everything reach its fullest potential. The colonial aspect and patriarchal aspect of respect as you do as you’re damn well told. And you will respect me because I’m older than you. You will respect me because I have worked this position a lot longer than you have. You know, and maybe you didn’t do a great job at it, but you did have this position longer than me, you know? So it’s about respect and it’s about trying to reach that in relationship and how to have that respect is to have both sides equally engaged and safely engaged. So having loss of that control. And knowing that somebody else can control their own space sometimes creates that the harm that comes from from the men because it’s an in-bred thing that we’re supposed to have control. My dad’s talked about it, you know. Don’t cry. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Be a man. Man up. You know all of those comments that come to us that we’re supposed to have and take control. You know? And then the next part of it becomes purpose. What is my purpose as a man and if we don’t understand that, then it goes right back to control. My purpose is to have control and be in control and and doing that it can create very dangerous space because they end that fire within us becomes too big. It comes too hot. It exudes itself forward and harm. And shoots from us as men towards the opposite gender, or any gender that is out there today.




Yeah. So I can definitely see how those two can really feed into this idea of, like, power over instead of power with because what I’m hearing about the the circle or the community or that kind of like duty to the community is like a power with. So you have like power with your community. Members, you have their responsibilities to them and together you can create something bigger than any one of you individually ever could, right? Yeah, and. I think that. With that in mind, men who have this power over mentality are actually missing out on a lot like they’re missing out on, like, not just like the genuine human relationships that are out there, but like the actual ability to create something kind of lasting and meaningful. So can you. Can you talk a little bit about the effects that this sort of masculinity? So this like purpose of having control over others kind of what are the negative effects on the man himself who holds that?




The elevation of negative action definitely comes from that, because if I’m allowed to get away with this one action, then the next action or the elevation of that action, I should be able to get away with that as well and continue and continue and continue until the courts are involved. The police are involved or none of them get involved and I just lose who I am because now I’m stuck in this whirlwind of what I have created because of my manliness. They can create that space and you know, we lose who we are. We lose our ability to go back to being kind, to being genuine, to being approachable, because now everybody sees me as this, and I better stay this or else I’m going to get chastised by the other guys. I’m not going to be able to sit with the men anymore, and they’ll think less of me so. And now we have to continue that cycle. And I have found us a lot of times that when we sit in that circle with those men and we share these stories, they they tend to throw their heads back and go. Ohh. Me too. I I wanted to get back, I wanted to be kind. I I how do we stop this? That’s, you know, because it’s a cycle that was created outside of who we are. We’ve only adopted it because it’s what we were told. That’s what we were taught. You know, so critically thinking, having our mind controlled by us rather than those around us is very important to get away from that harming behavior. But it can go into a lot of things. You can go into divorce and go into no relationship with your children, your your daughters. Might lose that relationship with you. You can go to jail. There’s also, you know, other harm from other men because you may have crossed the line. You know, just by having that extended masculinity, which has become harmful.




Yeah. I think when when there’s conversations like these, I I don’t often hear about the harms to the men themselves, because I think that’s something that if people were to realize that holding these ideals actually, like hurts them, that they’re actually, like holding themselves back from having, like, a. A more meaningful existence or a more connected existence, or a sense of purpose that isn’t derived from, like just tyrannical control like that’s that’s really freeing in a way. And you mentioned that you have these conversations with men and that they they talk a little bit about. Being stuck in this sort of I know the. That white Ribbon talks about the man box a lot. So can you talk about those sorts of conversations that you’ve had with men and and the idea of the man box.




Yes, the man box it was. It’s designed to bring out all of those activities. The mindset of what it means to be a man and and in everybody’s different perception. And there’s so many different levels inside og that. You know all of the things we’ve mentioned so far, the harm anger in control. I need to be the boss. I’m not allowed to cry. I’m not allowed to have emotions. All of those things are in that man box. And when we go through that, we try to see how many men can actually live up to that. You know, where do you see this going? If this is who you are and this is who you’re choosing to be, where do you see this going and when do you think this should stop. And it’s really awesome to hear the answers when they when they come forward with their answers, it’s like, well, no, I don’t really like that. When I’m hearing it like it when it’s in your head, it sounds like one thing or when you say it out loud, it’s something completely different. And you’re like, well, OK, now that I’ve said it, you know, now what do I do? And that’s where we have to make that choice as men to  one to hold ourselves accountable and. And my culture, the the warrior is not the one that knows how to fight the best. The Warrior is the one that’s able to challenge himself. And to create a better person and a more confident person rather than what it was before. So to. To get right down to it, to be in that healthy space is where we want to be. You know, it’s just hard now to challenge ourselves because what if I do this? What happens if I go home? What is my dad going to say? What are my uncle’s going to do? And you’re really ridiculed. By those around us, and how do we stand true to who we want to be? It’s a it’s a very hard, hard place sometimes because we are sometimes born into a very masculine, patriarchal lifestyle.




And I feel like. For some people, they feel like they may lose their status as being masculine if they do some of the things that are outside of that man box and so. Like what? What is like manhood? So like it? We’ve talked about masculinity. We’ve talked about, like, this idea of being a man. But like is, is there you you kind of said that it’s culturally bound that there’s like these ideas of kindness and that there’s these ideas of like being able to like have a positive responsibility towards your community. But when we’re talking about different kinds of of manhood, like is. Is a man just like anyone who feels like they’re a man? Like, is that is that all it takes? Do is there? Do they have to kind of ascribe to a certain type of masculinity is masculinity and manhood the same like these are? Yeah.




It’s a. It’s a very interesting question because, you know, when I I mentioned earlier, you know, we hear the power tool or an engine roaring. And that, you know, we are we we just heard because we’re men. But when I’ve said that in the company of women, they’re like what? I don’t like power tools. You know, I don’t like the sound of a good revving engine. I like the 420. I like the 350 and 305, you know? And I’m like, oh, OK. Then I have just been. Put in my place. Right. But you know, in that idea of manhood. Nowadays, with the openness to gender and the gender fluidity that we’re we’re now seeing more relevant and more in in your in your face. It’s out there now, whereas before it was hidden. It’s it’s a beautiful and freeing idea that’s come forward. To know that masculinity doesn’t just sit within men but masculinity. It is always that fire. It is always about, you know, how do I jump? How does that reach in within me? And how do I exude my strength? I got the strength that within us and that is what I feel is masculinity is not necessarily only our man trait. It’s a human trait because women have that as well. The non binary have that as well you know. So when we think of the male masculinity though. That’s where it turns into that big extreme fire, and to really be mindful of that and how it harms our not only ourselves but those around us.




Yeah. And I think, yeah, no, I I think that’s that’s an amazing way to capture it cause it’s a, it’s an incredibly complicated subject, right? Like it’s it’s hard to define or put any one definition. On like masculinity or manhood, cause like there’s so many different types of men and men themselves can change over time, right? Like a man can still be a man and express more traditionally like feminine traits at one point and then express more traditionally masculine traits at another point and like. He can still be himself in different situations, but not necessarily kind of with the same. Expression, if that makes sense, yeah.




Absolutely. There’s a it’s a very sliding scale when it comes to how we present and who we are as men or as male, because there’s different genetically speaking, I am male. Spiritually speaking, I am both. Because I have the balance, from what we understand, as our women traits, and we have what are considered to be man traits. You know, and to be fully, completely balanced, I need to be in touch with bot. We have because the woman has the the ability to give life, it said and and culture that they are within love and empathy and compassion. The men, because we have that fire. We are in strength. We are in assertiveness and those are our natural abilities. Just naturally given to us. When we combine both, that’s when we have our good mind. And a good mind was told to me by one of my elders that actually they asked the question, what is a good mind? And everybody came up these really great answers and he went how come nobody said it’s one that works. And a mind is definitely best when it works.





And when it works and when we choose to exercise what we choose and what we think to choose. It’s best to do it from the idea of being balanced between both the natural inherited gender traits of love, compassion, empathy, strength, assertiveness. And even sometimes you know that the brutality that’s needed when you’re out and you’re getting ready to fight a bear because he’s chewing on your leg. You know, you need to get real tough at that. Point no matter who you.




Mm-hmm. Yeah.




Are, but if we have both sides of who we are. Intact. Then we become very balanced. I can be assertive in my in my decision to say no, but I can also be compassionate at the same time as saying no. You know, so to have both of those together is what creates the fully rounded man or woman to be able to do both, and that’s why we have our good minded.




Yeah, in, in counseling, we talk a little bit about the wise mind. So when you bridge kind of like the analytic side with the emotional side and it sounds a little similar, although I understand there’s differences. When when you’re talking about the the kind of masculine and feminine energies like and these these traits and you saying that you have the the balance of both. I know in in some Indigenous communities there’s this idea of two spirited people. Is that is that similar? Is that different?




2 Spirit has really gone through a lot of controversy in the last couple of years in the idea that we don’t have two spirits.








We only have one, but we have a balance of both within that one. And if you’re if the two spirited thing were to be considered in that aspect, that is what I speak of. Was  I have only one spirit. This is only me here. But within my spirit and within the energy of who I am. I also have male. And feminine traits that are that are combined so that I can be approachable. I can be kind. I can give that the tender heart to my little one and not. Of the male side interact at that time because I can be just kind and loving and you know then when it’s bedtime, time for bed. I can still be kind, compassionate, and take my child to bed. Say no, it’s bedtime. It’s time for bed. Let’s go. We get there and I sing a song to them. To comfort that, you know, so to have both sides interact at the same time and to be fully rounded within both of those I think is one of the best ways for the male masculinity to be softened and to be brought to a better place.




I think that’s an amazing way to look at it because I think that’s something that, like everyone, can kind of resonate with, like regardless of kind of background or. Kind of belief systems. The idea that, like you can have this compassionate side to you and also have this kind of fierce side, the courageous side, and not to say that they’re kind of dichotomous because it takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes courage to be compassionate. But to be able to have that balance of like being able to to show like ferocity in the face of like danger and also show compassion in the face of like hurt and harm. And so as we’re talking about kind of gender based violence and harms, like how can men kind of face the harms that that masculinity has created with that compassion cause I know some people feel. Feel like they’re losing out, or they feel like othered or targeted. When when these conversations are happening and I don’t think that’s anyone’s intention, I think. Like I think from what I’ve gathered from this conversation, there’s a real need to like turn towards that with compassion and kind of engage with that more kind of feminine ideal. And so can you. Can you talk about how how men can kind of face these harms with, like, with their masculinity, but also with that, that sense of, like, understanding and compassion?




Again, I think it just comes right back to being self aware. The hardest part for myself and from my teen years, where being masculine and tough and everything was the way it was supposed to be to being a father, totally shocked me from, you know, how am I supposed to be all tough and everything with with such a beautiful little child? They’re crying, you know. And and then the control comes in and we start raising our voices at a baby. And I say, you know what? How how do we work this out? And the best way to work this out is to be able to be mindful of what we’re doing, what we’ve done. And not seeing it from my own eyes, but seeing it from the eyes that have seen it. When I when I’m in a  mood and I’m walking through the house, I’m making a coffee. There’s something simple, but I’m in a mood because I’m not trying to fix my truck or the car and it’s not working. I’m I’m pissed. I come in the House and I and I closed the cupboard and my wife said, whoa, what’s wrong? I’m like nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong because, well, why you slamming cupboards? I can then go into the confrontation being a man like you’re not taking this from me. I’m. I’m just doing what I’m doing. Or I go back and I reevaluate what I did. I really take a look at, you know, how did I close that door? Did I slam it? No, I didn’t slam it in the idea that I wanted to break the door off the hinges. But that’s not normally how I close the covering door. Normally I would take the handle and I would push the door closed, end of story. There’s no Big Bang, dishes aren’t rattling on the inside, but today. Yeah, I just kind of slapped the door and moved on to the next task, which was getting the spoon and I, you know, pushed the drawer closed a little bit harder than normally. Is that gender violence? Is that violence? I would have to say it is because I’ve made somebody around me uncomfortable and at any point when I make someone uncomfortable because of my action, then I have to be evaluative and what just happened and where is my part in this? How do I make this one moment in time right, because I can’t apologize for it. It’s already. Over has happened, but I can acknowledge it and then go back to the person who brings this forward and say I’m sorry. Did that bring something up? You know, how can I make this right with you? Are you OK? And listen, take the time. Be empathetic, be compassionate. Listen with curiosity. Because once I believe, I know because I’m a man. I know this stuff. I’m I’m not listening anymore. I’m just waiting for it to end. But if I can go into a better place of listening with curiosity to hear what it is that happened to them and their perception, and in their emotional space and their spiritual space and their physical space. If I can truly listen to that, that is what creates a better space. So for men to change that is to be very aware of what they’re doing and being able to hear sometimes criticism. To who we are or to our action, and to hear from their standpoint rather than in a standpoint of accusations or threatens. You know, sometimes I hear it as well, I thought you were threatening me. I thought you were, you know, coming at me because you wanted an argument. When I really sit down and think. They were just telling me because it made them uncomfortable. And they don’t. They don’t need to be uncomfortable, and they they pay their rent or they pay their mortgage the same as I do. They have a right to be safe. And if that means a right to be safe from me or from any male in the world. We as men have to start taking accountability for for who we are and what we have become because of those stereotypes or those projected expectations of what being a man really is and decide for ourselves what we are going to be as men.




Yeah, I think it brings it back to that idea of responsibility. Right. Like what I’ve really learned from this conversation so far is the idea that men have a responsibility to community, to themselves, to like the people around them. Because, like, with using our masculine traits or even like getting in touch with the more feminine traits. We can connect with the world in a way that makes things better. And when we’re talking about, like a healthy masculinity, I think it’s easy to get caught in the weeds. But to me, it just is talking about making things better. Like it’s can you make it better for the person you love. Can you make it better for? Like the the person who depends on you? Can it make you? Can you make it better for the person on the street who’s walking by and like maybe doesn’t feel threatened? And yeah, I think. That is a big piece of learning for me so far. And so as we’re talking about this responsibility and making things better, can you can you talk a little bit about that because I’m I’m really interested when you said. That there wasn’t a word for I’m sorry. It’s there was like it was. How do I fix this or how? Do I make this right? And that that is a very action oriented thing. That’s a very like, it’s not just like a dismissive like, I’m sorry, can we move on? It’s a like I recognize something happened and I want to make this better. Can you talk a little bit about that in this context?




Absolutely. And I’m going to use your your your statement that you just made and how can I fix this? Very male dominated sentence. Because we need to fix, we need to. I need to fix it when really we might just need to listen. We just might need to hear what what has happened and then to make it right. How how do I make this right? And and again, it’s not about how I do this. It’s a it’s a community. It’s a community, even if it’s only two people in relationship. It’s that relationship. How do we make this friend, you know, I’m willing to do what’s necessary. To make this right, but I don’t know where to walk. Can you help me? Can we have conversation, dialogue about what can happen to make this right, you know? And it’s a very simple thing. Sometimes when you think about the language that we use, like, it’s either to fix it or how are we going to make this right? You know, I I can fix it. I can just put a band-aid on it now. It’s done now go. Because I’m a guy and that’s what I do. Or we could be fully rounded in that idea of who we are and have some compassion. Have some. If you take the time to really hear and listen rather than just to say I know. And have no curiosity in what they’ve gone through. You know, I I go to work and one of the things that I’ve noticed and I’ve seen. Is there’s a woman outside at her truck or at the the at the company Van who’s got a whole bunch of boxes in the van. And I was going to go out one day and ask if they needed help. And I thought, you know, that’s a very kind thing to do, is to go out and ask if they need some help. And as I was going out there, I had to change my mind. That woman doesn’t need help. She certainly doesn’t need my help to carry a box. She’s strong enough. She’s fully capable of finding a place to put it down. She knows how to open a door. She can walk up and down stairs. You know, there’s there’s nothing that that woman cannot do. So who am I to think that I need to go out there and offer help because she needs it? So instead I changed that one word of need. Would you like some help? Would you like some help with this? I have some time. You know I’m coming here. Would you like some help with these boxes. Oh, absolutely. She. She was more than welcome. But if I had come out and asked her if she needed help. You know, she could. No, I don’t need your help. You know, I can do this just fine. But I asked in a different way and it’s very important when we’re thinking about, like, the lack of an apology rather than the effort to to make it right, we have to make the effort. We can’t just assume that everyone around us knows that I want to be a good man. I have to walk the walk. I have to change. I have to improve. I have to discard some things that I used to have. We have to go through this total inventory of what it means to be a man in my own eyes, as the individual holding that position of being a man, I have to make that choice, and in doing so I’m actually exercising part of that man. I’m. I’m in control. I am in control of who I am. And I will do the best I can to make everyone around me comfortable with me being a man. And hopefully..




And sorry, you know, I think that that to me really speaks of something we were talking about earlier, which is like this idea of acknowledging personhood. It’s like the the simplest thing. But they the the woman you’re trying to help her, you wanted to help was like is a person and she she’s fully capable of doing things. For herself and so like being able to come in and asking if she she wanted help as opposed to needed help. Like you’re acknowledging like she’s. She can carry a box. She can do all those things. And like you’re you’re offering support, but you’re not kind of coming in with the idea that like, I’m a man. You’re a woman. So let me do this for you because. Because you’re a woman. Yeah. Yeah. And you were talking about taking inventory and kind of. For for men to address these sorts of things in themselves, and so if you were to be talking to. To a man who wants to change, or a teenager, or a boy, or if it if there’s a difference between what you would say to each of them, like what would be 1 tip that you would give them to be able to take that sort of inventory and figure out like how they can change their own potentially unhelpful parts of masculine expression into something more, more healthy and more helpful.




I know within our communities we all have resumes. We have a resume. I have a resume, for instance a resume. When I was working with the criminal aspect of our communities and they’re trying to get away from being criminal, I was like write a resume. So like I can’t, but I’ve never worked, you know? Like I’m like, OK, well then let’s use what you have and write that resume. You know, like, if you’re, you’re good at budgeting, you never ran out of your substance. You know, if you’re conflict resolution because people never beat you up and you never got into a lot of fights, you know, there’s different ways of looking at who we are. And if we go through an idea of writing our own resume, writing out who we are. You can really see the essence of who you are to go over that inventory list of what I do, what my actions are and and the biggest part of it. And all of it is about understanding our willingness. What is my willingness to change? What is my reason for changing? You know, having that purpose in the change. Is very important to create a different space for everyone to create a different space for myself. To find a way that I can be at peace with my own actions. Because you know, if I were someone that was always violent or became violent, my spouse, my partner, girlfriend. And I justified it. That doesn’t make me feel good afterwards, and I’ve heard a lot of men say this. I never really felt good after doing it. It was just something. I did in the moment. Is to really be in that space within yourself to know yourself. And that’s not an easy thing. It’s so easy to say, but it’s not an easy thing, because when you’re in that heated moment, it’s not when you want to cool down. It’s when you want to assert assert yourself, and so in a way of going back to this, changing the idea of all of these behaviors and ideologies. One of my best suggestions would be to sit with like minded people. To find like minded people that are holding groups that are having service that are creating community space, you know and to sit with them and to examine how it is they do it, how do they? How do they walk? How do they carry themselves in those situations or in those stories, if you sit around with a bunch of men and we’re all talking about, you know, this is what I used to do to this is what I do now or, you know, I never really understood this behavior and have that dialogue with other men to carry that dialogue forward. I think that’s the one of the. Biggest and best ways to find change is to be able to find where it is. And to bring that home.




Yeah, I think. That that seems like such a fundamental first step. There’s a quote from a TV show that I really like where one of the characters is really like he’s he’s like accommodating and he’s able to do things and like one of the characters asks him like, how can you do this? Like, how can you change so easily? And he says once you know who you are changing for other people isn’t really that big of a deal. And I think that really speaks to what you were talking about, this idea that like if you have this core of like knowledge and understanding and just of believe in yourself then like being able to accommodate other people being able to. Accommodate other persons. Isn’t that big of a deal. It’s it’s not interacting or interfering with who you are as a man. It’s not kind of changing the status of masculinity that you hold. It’s really just like recognizing that there are other people around you who have, like, different experiences and trying not to do. Not to do harm and and I really like what you said about carrying these conversations forward and. In circles where where men are having these conversations, and hopefully this can be the start of someone’s conversation and maybe they can carry this forward to to their their social circle and kind of see if other men are interested in talking, but what what can, what can men do to bring this to their their social circles? Like is there a way that they can find a place that’s having these discussions. Is there like a way that they can bring this to the other men in their life to start having this discussion where they they can feel like they can say these things and like, admit essentially that they have compassion and feeling and all of these things that make life kind of especially meaningful and like really form a connection as opposed to kind of have that sort of harmful masculinity, fire or burn them when they try and do that.




I think we all are pretty good judgement of character when we’re in in certain space. We know the men that we’re not supposed to go and talk to about this because they’re just going to blow up. There’s going to be something that’s going to be a repercussion and at the same time. You have to wonder if that person is still fighting with their idea of being a kind person too. But they’re just not allowed to. You know what flashes into my mind are those that are born into, say, the gang life. You know, if they’re born into it and it runs in their family and they’re they’re forced to be this way. Then are you able? Are you going to be able to change that person? Or is that person able to change? Are they? Are they willing to go through that change? You know. It’s it’s. It’s a very scary conversation in some instances, like you’re leading towards stairs because we don’t want to be burned. We don’t want to be harmed by those men that that don’t believe in being kind or it’s not a part of being a man. So, you know, we don’t have to worry about it. But when you do find that person, that’s when you can have that conversation, you know, and try to formulate a question question that goes across the the realm of you know what does it mean to be a man you know, and to ask that one question alone to to any man out there. What does it mean to be a man to you? And has it changed since you first learned this? You know, those two questions can lead into one heck of a conversation because they’ll always go into the conversation. This is what I grew up as and this is what I’ve decided. You know, this is how I’m going to decide who I am and another hard part of those conversations. One of the things I would ask men to do. Is to evaluate how many times they said yeah, but they made me. You know what made you react to Sir? May be angry. Get frustrated. You know what makes you do that? Is it really them? Is it the people around you? Is it, you know, my girlfriend made me angry so. Or was it the fact that you decided that that was going to make you angry and not involve any other strategies to stay away from being angry at that moment to being into a space of curiosity or a space of kindness. You know, we make the choice regardless of what people do. We make the choice to be angry. We make the choice to react. We make the choice. That’s why the mind is in my head, not yours. You know? And I can’t give that power away to anyone, because nobody in this world can make me be angry. I either choose to be angry because of my ideology, how I was raised, the things I was taught. All of those things can be within myself. And those will make me angry because these people are not agreeing with what I already know is right. What is it? So again, back to the self evaluation. Where did I learn to be a man? How did I learn to be a man? What kind of man have I learned to be? And then evaluate and go forward from there. What parts do you wish to change? What parts do you see immediately that need changing? And again, we can have that conversation with other men.




Yeah, and. I think that idea of like they made me do it, this person caused me to feel this way. I feel like that’s a very kind of like rationalization of like something afterwards, like how can I explain my behavior in a way that like keeps me being OK? Or being the good, the good guy and? That that was really kind of touching to me because oftentimes we talk about Stoicism when it’s combined with, like, traditional forms of masculinity, so that that idea of, like, not showing emotions. But, what occurred to me is that, like in Stoicism, the philosophy, that’s exactly what you were saying. It’s our internal processes that make us kind of react to the world in a certain way. And so, like, if we’re if even if we’re trying to be like a a manly man and we’re we’re kind of acting in anger and we’re kind of saying these people have made me do it, we’re not even, we’re not even kind of living up to that expectation and that because this Stoicism is like. Is different than the way it’s being enacted. Yeah, and.




And anger is not an anger is not the first emotional reaction. Anger is a secondary feeling or reaction, because we’re either hurt, confused. For hurt and confused, or one or the other, we can become angry. But we’re not angry at first. We’re either hurt, somebody said something hurt my feeling or challenged my manhood, which is in turn, you know, a little bit of hurt. And then we become angry. And then we do. So to really get into that idea of what’s creating my anger when we have our traditional circles and we have, we pass the feather around one person in that circle. Will talk about their gerbil. Will talk about their cat. Will talk about their bird. Willl talk about, you know, the way the cars honk outside. And some people will get angry. OK. Because this person is taking up so much space that they become angry and what we ask people to do at that moment is to really ask yourself, why am I getting angrier? What is driving my anger, you know? Is it the threat to my manhood? Is it the threat to my masculinity? Is it a threat to me at all? Once you really start to get an understanding of that, you know just on a human being status. Can really evaluate or can really move you to a place of change.




Yeah. And to to bring it back to that idea of responsibility, responsibility for community. We’re responsible for our anger. We’re responsible for our reactions and actions and the effects that we have on the people around us. And so if we’re justifying kind of our anger as like maintaining our masculinity or whatever it may be, and we’re justifying the harmful effects. We’re looking at our our fire in the wrong way. We’re looking at our fire as the thing to burn as opposed to the thing to warm. And I think that’s a message that gets lost and it’s something that I’ve learned. And then I’m actually taking away from this conversation. Is that like? That that fire is there to warm, and if it’s, if it’s causing people to burn. It’s a reflection of me and that I need to kind of accommodate that for people in my life because I have a duty to warm, if that makes sense.




Yeah, absolutely. And if we’re not receptive to those things coming towards us. You know, when we see people’s faces, when we hear their reactions, their comments, when you say, oh, you’re just a or you’re like one of those people and you know, it totally negates the inward reflection that we need when it comes to change. When it comes to moving the idea of healthy masculinity forward. You know, even the the person that that personally annoys me the most I have to show compassion towards and I do that by understanding what it is about them that is annoying me. What is it? Is it really them? Or is it something within myself that says that what they’re doing is wrong or challenging my status as a person or a man?




Yeah, I think that’s an incredibly powerful note to end on. Just the idea that like. Taking that time to self reflect and trying to figure out that effect that you have on the community and realizing that it’s your responsibility to act and react and engage in a way that’s helpful so that you can support the people in your life so that you can show compassion so that you can like be the. Positive influence in your community that pulls everyone together and further up into. Into a better life because that is masculinity as well. And that’s like, yeah.




And you did it fairly well there with the idea of responsibility. Because responsibility as I know it is broken down differently, the colonial way of responsibility is get a job, get your education, and make your bed do your dishes before you go to bed. You know, make sure the floor is swept. You know that’s responsibility. That shows a very responsible person. And the understanding of responsibility that I have, it’s broken down differently. It’s more about our response-ability. How am I able to respond to those things around me so, and the idea of my responsibility, how am I able to respond to to every situation that I come up with? And that truly creates a responsible person, because you’re response able. And with that masculinity it’s it’s driven by that responsibility to have healthy masculinity is to be able to be assertive and to be kind in my response and the ability to respond. To have all of that put together.




And I am 100% certain that there are going to be men who listen to this and have a better ability to respond based off of the the wisdom that you’ve share today’s Strength. So thank you so much for for taking the time to talk with us and we really appreciate the the wisdom and knowledge that you brought to this conversation.




Great. Thank you. [Mohawk]

Show notes

White Ribbon Website  

Men’s Engagement in Gender-Based Violence Preventionview pdf

The Involved Father & Gender Equality Projectview pdf

Preventing violence against women and girls through male engagementview pdf

Allies for Gender Equality Toolkit: Enhancing Intersectionality in Engaging Men and Boysview pdf

Youth Engagement in Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Human Traffickingview pdf

White Ribbon Redefine

Can sexual abuse cause depression?

Sexual abuse is a widespread problem in societies across the world. In Canada, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 11 men will be sexually abused at some point over their lifetime. We’ve talked about many of the common reactions to sexual assaults, but these don’t cover all possible reactions. Moreover, people’s responses to a traumatic event might change over time. So, when it comes to more longstanding challenges, one question remains. Can sexual abuse cause depression?

Some definitions

In the past, we have talked about the different kinds of sexual abuse that can happen to someone. But, here we can work with a broad definition of sexual abuse. According to the American Psychological Association, this encompasses any undesired sexual activity where the perpetrator uses force, threats, or takes advantage of victims unable to give consent. This framework is helpful, but it is important to recognize that there are many ways this can manifest. This includes indecent exposure, unwanted touching, and forced sexual intercourse. Some people may even experience sexual abuse without knowing that it happened.

Depression, on the other hand, is a medical diagnosis. It is more than just feeling sad. In fact, there is a list of symptoms required to meet the criteria for a depressive episode or for a depressive disorder. These mainly come from a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM). On top of a depressed mood, this includes things like:

Not all of these have to be met for someone to be clinically depressed. However, the more that are present, the more severe the depression is. Someone may just have one episode of depression through their whole life, or it may be something that comes back from time to time. Either way, there are ways to cope with depression, including using medications and psychotherapies. There are also ways to help other people who are living with depression.  

So, can sexual abuse cause depression?

The short answer is probably yes. The longer answer is that there is a correlation, but to know whether it is a direct causation is hard because not everyone who gets sexually abused becomes depressed. In mental health, there often is a combination of factors that come together to make someone vulnerable to becoming unwell. This is known as the stress-vulnerability model. Essentially, every person has a mixture of genetic vulnerabilities or strengths that interact with risk or protective factors in their environment. So, the end result is different for each person because of their unique position in life.

It is clear that there is a link between childhood sexual abuse and depression. For adult survivors, the question can sexual assault cause depression is less clearcut. The prevalence rate for depression among adult survivors of sexual abuse is between 13-51%. This varies when looking at specific populations. One meta-analysis (when a bunch a scientific studies are examined together) found that, for an experience of sexual abuse at any point during someone’s lifetime, the prevalence of depression is around 39%.

What are the odds?

One way of measuring the likelihood that something occurs for a reason other than chance is by looking at odds ratios. These are the proportions of people in one group who experience something when compared to another group. An odds ratio of 1.0 is an equal occurrence among the 2 groups. However, odds ratios of 0.5 or 2.0 mean that something was twice as likely to happen in one of the groups than the other.

The same meta-analysis from above looked at lifetime sexual abuse and adolescent/adult sexual abuse compared with populations who hadn’t been sexually abused. The odds ratios for these 2 groups were 3.87 and 3.25 respectively. While they are similar, they show a slightly less likelihood of developing depression among people who aren’t sexually abused as children. Keep in mind that the lifetime group includes sexual abuse from any point in someone’s life, so the odds ratio for childhood sexual abuse is probably even higher. With that said, the connection between sexual assault and depression is considerable regardless of the age the abuse happens.


When we ask “can sexual abuse cause depression,” it raises a complex issue. Many people who experience sexual abuse do also experience depression. Especially in the time right afterwards. But does this mean that they are stuck with these emotions forever? Not necessarily. Post traumatic growth after sexual abuse provides a hopeful outlook for someone who is in the depths of their emotions.

While depression is a completely understandable and normal reaction to being sexually assaulted, asking can sexual assault cause depression misses a big piece of nuance with the topic. Yes, sexual violence is a risk factor in the stress-vulnerability model, but being aware of the protective factors (or buffers) against depression are important parts of healing.

Maintaining hope that help is out there can make a big difference in someone’s healing journey. To use the academic language of the meta-analysis looking at sexual abuse and depression: “trauma help-seeking samples had significantly smaller [odds ratios for depression] than community samples”. This means that, compared to the general population, those who look for support after sexual abuse are much less likely to suffer from depression afterwards. So, if you or someone you know has been sexually abused, please reach out for help. We wrote a whole handbook about your rights after being sexually abused. Additionally, Canada’s Victim’s Services Directory can help find a resource near you.

Redefining Masculinity

Men come in various shapes and forms. One man may look, act, and feel very differently than any other man. However, when it comes to the expectations that are put on men, especially in the West, there are some similarities. Today’s article explores how traditional versions of masculinity, based in power over others, cause problems for everyone involved. This type of manhood is also called “hegemonic masculinity”. Its unhelpful standards of being a man don’t serve anyone well. Whether it is because a man believes he has to “dominate” women, or feels stressed because he doesn’t. So, redefining masculinity may be in order.

When “being a man” isn’t good for you

There is a saying that is so prevalent in society that it has become almost a bad meme. Telling someone to “be a man” comes with so much baggage that it can be difficult to unpack it all. But, since this usually refers to the characteristics of a power-based masculinity, we can make some assumptions. Firstly, when someone says this, they might be referring to being more assertive or confident. They could also be saying that the man in question has to hide his emotions or “be fearless” in the face of danger. Maybe it is more openly toxic and refers to turning people into sexual objects to be ‘won’, or into threats to be beaten down.

The second assumption that we can make is that the man who lives up to these expectations of manhood is going to hurt himself, and possibly others. Men who believe in this type of traditional masculinity are more likely to experience poor health outcomes than women or nonconforming men. This can include alcohol abuse, avoiding mental health treatment, or not getting preventative healthcare. They are also more likely to harm others. This can include through bullying, physical violence or sexual violence.

This isn’t exactly new information. We have talked in the past about how toxic masculinity, rape culture, and rape myths have harmful effects. But, what happens when a man feels pressured to conform to these power based versions of manhood but doesn’t feel like he does?

Redefining Masculinity

The stress of being manly

When a man feels stressed about the expectations put on him to be ‘manly’ in the traditional sense, it can be harmful as well. Academics have studied this through the lens of “gender role strain/stress theory”. Essentially, what they look for are the different ways that men feel expectations to act a certain way but don’t feel they live up to it. There are 3 main terms to keep in mind with this topic: discrepancy, dysfunction, and trauma.

Gender role discrepancy is the actual difference between a man’s perception of what is manly versus their own expression of manhood. In this case, a man might not feel man enough. This leads to problems ranging from ridicule and violence to depression and substance abuse. This is called gender role dysfunction. If this becomes too much, especially in fields like professional sports and the military, then it can lead to long lasting problems in the man himself. These are completely separate from the problems he might cause for other people. This is called trauma strain.

The idea in this theory is that the discrepancy is what causes the subsequent dysfunction and trauma. This can come from a man’s own internal feelings of not being enough or from other people enforcing traditional masculinity on him. While gender expectations are hard on everyone, some research has shown that men have worse behavioural and mental health outcomes from their gender role discrepancy than women. Men who believe they are different than what a man should be, and feel stressed out by that, may try to counteract that feeling by doing things they believe a ‘real’ man would do. This can include riskier sex (and the STIs that can come with that), physical assaults, and sexual violence.

Redefining masculinity

Men are necessary in life, beyond their biological contributions to it. And manhood doesn’t have to be bad.  Some aspects of traditional masculinity are required in some settings. This is much like how trauma can teach us lessons that only work within the setting of that trauma. For example, a soldier might need to be stoic in battle. But, it’s also important for him to show feelings once he’s safe at home.

Importantly, some men don’t face the same harmful effects by not conforming. These men are not stressed out about their nonconformity to traditional masculinity. So, in other words, the gender role dysfunction only comes if someone is worried about the initial discrepancy. And that is an incredibly hopeful point.

When talking to (other) men, being able to accept them for their own expression of manhood can be healing for everyone involved. Since men play such a big role in enforcing the roles of manliness onto other men, we have the ability to change what we enforce. A man being able to express his emotions can challenge the script of a man’s need for rigid emotional control. And men who are comfortable with other men doing the same create spaces for healthy masculinity.

A man going into social work or nursing can help to flip the script on what is expected of a man in society. A man in the military or professional sports who is a role model of healthy masculinity can help others become more comfortable doing redefining masculinity for themselves. Women and other allies have roles in reinforcing the value of these other types of masculinities as well. Just remember that a true man is whoever identifies themselves as such.

Redefining Masculinity

Why does Vesta care?

Our goal at Vesta is to eradicate rape culture. Since men are traditionally left out of interventions to prevent sexual violence, we think that they need to be integrated into the discussion. When a man reads a post like this, we hope that he takes his role to heart. Every action that he makes around his peers and all his internal thoughts about what makes a man can help prevent the type of masculinity discussed here that hurts men and women alike. It may feel like a drop in the ocean, but with enough drops we can drown out the myths and harmful expectations that lead to sexual assault. So, whether you are a man reading this or an ally, remember to do your part in the conversation redefining masculinity. Even if it is just one drop in the bucket.

Post traumatic growth after sexual assault

Normally, when people talk about trauma, it is framed through its negative impacts. This is especially true when the trauma comes from sexual assault, where Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is a very real concern for many people. However, a less talked about outcome of trauma is called post traumatic growth. So, how can someone experience post traumatic growth after sexual assault?

First, a definition. Post traumatic growth is the process of making positive changes after a traumatic event. This is usually done through someone’s engagement with a meaning making structure. Post traumatic growth is a tangible outcome, arising through a constantly changing process. Someone can be anywhere on a spectrum of growth after a traumatic event, meaning that there are different levels of improvements. There is no universally accepted definition of post traumatic growth. The general consensus is that it’s based on how well a survivor can cope after a trauma. This includes having a strong sense of self and others. Survivors often create meaning out of their traumas as well. Post traumatic growth is usually measured along 5 domains

  • relationships with others
  • new possibilities
  • personal strength
  • spiritual change
  • and appreciation for life.

In this article, we start by will exploring what trauma is. The, we will look at how it can be mediated by internal and external factors of resilience. Lastly, we examine the ways someone can experience post traumatic growth both generally and specific to sexual assault.

Trauma: What is it?

Trauma has taken on a colloquial life of its own. People talk about being traumatized about how bad a movie was or by how long a specific task took. Trauma in the context of someone’s mental health is very different. It is defined as something that happened or happens that affects someone’s long-term well-being and/or functioning. Defined more broadly, trauma is an event that overwhelms someone’s ability to cope with the event that happens. By every definition, sexual assault in any form can cause trauma to someone. However, different people have different responses to a traumatic event. Some people will rationalize it, like we have talked about before with unacknowledged sexual assaults. For others, traumatic events will cause sudden and long lasting changes in their behaviours. We have also talked more about commonly misunderstood reactions to sexual assault in another article.

Trauma isn’t an abnormal experience. Some sources say that the majority of men and women will experience some sort of trauma throughout their lives. Moreover, in Canada, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 11 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. However, rates of PTSD are much lower than that (approximately 8.6% for women and 4.1% for men). So, what causes some people to experience higher rates of debilitation from trauma? The short and simple answer is communities and individuals working together.

Trauma resistant communities

Many lists talking about resilience will focus on the individual’s sense of self. Do they attribute the negative event to something that they did or something impermanent that was out of their control? Are they critical of themselves or do they show themselves compassion? Do they get caught up in the whirlwind of emotions or can they ground themselves in the current moment? As a piece of education, the second part of all those questions are associated with individual resilience. However, people’s internal resilience and their experience of trauma vary. But, regardless of the person’s individual abilities, being negatively affected by trauma doesn’t mean that they have failed. On the contrary, it might mean the systems they are living in failed them.

Michael Ungar talks about the individual factors of resilience as well. These include things like persistence and adaptation. But one thing that he introduces into the equation is society’s role in creating resilience. A main tenet of his theory of resilience is that resilience only happens in the face of adversity, which makes sense on the face of things. Many parts of life require resilience in order to make it through them, even ones that are not traumatic.

However, Ungar also includes pieces in resilience that go beyond what is typically put on the individual. Things like someone’s relationships (familial, friendly, or otherwise) play a key role in resilience. So do things like social justice. This would mean that the person’s faith in the world around them, and its proven ability to protect them, plays a role in someone’s resilience. We can add this to something like access to basic resources, where it’s a lot harder to be ‘resilient’ when you’re lacking food, water, and/or shelter. Also, a sense of cohesion with your community plays a role in resilience too. This allows you to feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. In other words, you have meaningful connections to the world around you. So, there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to being resilient.

Post traumatic growth

We’ve explored what trauma and resilience are. Now, the main question of our article comes into focus: how can someone experience post traumatic growth after sexual assault? To start, we will look at post traumatic growth in general. Then, we will go deeper specifically into post traumatic growth after sexual assault.

Post traumatic growth in general

There are many factors that go into post traumatic growth. Much like resilience, there are individual and group factors at play.

Post traumatic growth after sexual assault

Individual factors

For an individual, being able to manage the emotions that come up after a trauma is an important part of moving towards post traumatic growth. This process involves interrupting the cycle of automatic and usually negative thoughts that can come up after a trauma. This sort of thinking is usually called rumination. Controlling the rumination to make it a more constructive train of thought can be an important way of coping with the distress after a trauma.

Sometimes, a survivor of a trauma might have to change the way they see the world in order to accommodate the new life experience. This can be integrated into a new worldview that makes sense of the traumatic event. Ideally, the new narrative “recognizes the complexity of the world”. A key individual factor of post traumatic growth is examining one’s core beliefs. This can be distressing in the short term, and reinforces the need for positive coping. 

Social factors

The other side of the coin, so to speak, are the social factors that influence post traumatic growth. Writing, praying, and/or talking about the experience are important parts of this process. They can lead to the creation of positive social networks around the person who has experienced the trauma. Self disclosure can be influenced by the survivor’s connection to their culture in ways that affect their ability to develop post traumatic growth. This is similar to someone’s connection to their community discussed above under the social aspects of resilience.

One direct benefit of self disclosure is having social support and role models for change. These role models can be a huge source of wisdom and inspiration for survivors of trauma. This reinforces the value of talking with people who have gone through similar life experiences. Especially those who have experienced growth from their own trauma. More broadly, connecting to one’s culture or society at large can be a way to continue forming connections. This can help in creating a renewed sense of wisdom that can come along with post traumatic growth.

All in all, these new ideas form a worldview that is rich and complex. They recognize the survivor’s strengths and resources. Moreover, they also highlight the survivor’s possibilities for the future.

Post traumatic growth after sexual assault

Post traumatic growth after sexual assault is very similar to post traumatic growth in general, but with a few nuances. One thing to keep in mind is that post traumatic growth and PTSD are not mutually exclusive. This means someone can experience symptoms of PTSD and post traumatic growth concurrently. The hope for many in this situation is that they can recover from the acuity of the trauma and move further towards post traumatic growth. This can be done by using adequate professional, social, and intrapersonal supports,

Internal factors

For sexual assault survivors, one study found 2 strong internal predictors of post traumatic growth. These were a disruption of core beliefs and perceived control over recovery. A disrupted core belief is when someone questions their core assumptions about the world. These beliefs can be things like “I don’t deserve much attention or respect.” or “Nobody I desire would desire me if they really got to know me.” Perceived control over recovery focuses on someone’s belief that they have control over their own life after a sexual assault.

It may be helpful to show an example of this. One survivor noted that the experience “made me stronger in who I am because I knew it wasn’t my fault”. Notice that the survivor in this situation emphasizes the control over their recovery. They also don’t engage in self-blame for the sexual assault. Self-blame after sexual assault is something that can prevent post traumatic growth. It is important to note that sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault. Often it is rape myths and rape culture that contribute to a survivor’s self blame.

Interpersonal factors

The same study found two other interpersonal predictors of post traumatic growth after sexual assault. These are religious coping and positive social coping. They put into perspective the value of having a supportive community behind a survivor. Religious coping is often associated with a way of making meaning out of the world. The survivor could find solace with a group of people who share and model similar positive core belief structures. Additionally, positive social coping involves both problem-solving and emotional regulation activities. In line with both of these is the role of disclosing the trauma. Survivors are more likely to experience post traumatic growth if they accepted the assault after the fact. A piece of that process can be speaking about it with their community. A further step that many survivors take is to engage in activism or political action after their trauma.

These are some big picture things that can help with moving towards post traumatic growth. But, it is important to keep in mind some of the other aspects of resilience that were talked about before. There are differences between resilience and post traumatic growth. Resilience is usually a shorter-term solution and post traumatic growth is a longer-term change. However, things like a survivor’s access to basic needs and cohesion with their community are important to factor into their capacity to have post traumatic growth. Not having these won’t necessarily stop someone from growing after trauma. But social factors like poverty and the intersections of societal oppressions can make it harder for a survivor to be ‘resilient’. Which makes it harder to move towards post traumatic growth.

Post traumatic growth after sexual assault


Post traumatic growth is the experience of positive changes after a traumatic event. Survivors of sexual assault often will be traumatized by their experience. However, that trauma doesn’t mean that the person will be stuck forever. People can grow after trauma. Being able to connect to a survivor’s community while reframing their own internal ruminations are ways to help make this happen . And, through using the strategies for resilience from this article, the survivor in your life might see some hope at the end of their experience. 

The truth about unacknowledged sexual assault

Rape myths and rape culture can often lead to confusion. Survivors might not even know they were assaulted. This is because of messages from society or friends that counteract the realities of consent. Research has shown that up to 73% of college women who are survivors of rape don’t acknowledge the sexual assault. Moreover, half of the women from one study reported experiences in line with sexual assault but didn’t know they were assaulted. This is what is called unacknowledged sexual assault.

So what is unacknowledged sexual assault? Basically, it is when sexual activities meet the criteria for sexual assault but the survivor doesn’t consider it to be assault. Unacknowledged survivors in general may be more likely to call the assault “miscommunication” or “bad sex”.

We spoke recently about some commonly misunderstood reactions to sexual assault. That will tie into this article through responses like explanation or normalization. Now let’s explore some reasons why someone might not consider themselves to have been sexually assaulted. Even with evidence to the contrary.

Factors leading to an unacknowledged sexual assault

To start, if you haven’t read about the rape myths and rape culture linked above, please go through those as a precursor to the rest of this article. For those who are familiar with them, you may have an idea of why so many sexual assaults go unacknowledged. A major factor to sexual  assault being unacknowledged is when the survivor knows the perpetrator. This is especially true when the survivor has been in a romantic relationship with the perpetrator, and may have consented to sex in the past. Research shows that they might believe that, in those relationships, “sexual activity would be considered appropriate and expected”.

Survivors of unacknowledged sexual assault may also have a different idea of what a sexual assault is. These “scripts” that survivors face may be informed by rape myths and rape culture. For example another factor in unacknowledged sexual assault is if there isn’t physical violence during the assault. Another one is if the survivor doesn’t follow the rape myth of resisting the assault. We have written in the past about different reactions to trauma, including freezing, and how they don’t mean that an assault didn’t happen.

Unacknowledged survivors are more likely to be younger. They are less likely to know a friend who was sexually assaulted. And they are less likely to report receiving information from friends about sexual assault.

What are the effects of unacknowledged sexual assault?

Not acknowledging a sexual assault can be a way a survivor tries to protect themselves. It can lead to feeling less distressed about the event than someone who acknowledges the sexual assault. This might be the first part of a process where the survivor comes to terms with the assault before they are able to label it that way. Unfortunately, there is little evidence in this realm, but oftentimes labelling can be part of the recovery process. But, each survivor will experience their assault differently. And they will have different ways of coping with and/or labelling the experience.

unacknowledged sexual assault

There are a few things that we have good evidence for though. The first being that unacknowledged sexual assault is a risk factor for being victimized again. The survivor may have to go through the same experience with the same partner. Especially if the relationship is maintained and rape myths are not questioned. Also, unacknowledged assault survivors are less likely to reach out for support. This can include medical, mental health, or support services. This may come from fears of sharing the experience or even for blaming themselves for the assault. A study found that only 3% of people who acknowledged being a survivor of a sexual assault didn’t disclose this to anyone. On the other hand, over 1 out of 4 people who didn’t acknowledge an assault happening had never disclosed the incident.

What can be done about unacknowledged sexual assault?

Many of these experiences happen on a university campus. Moreover, one study found that 80.5% of college females didn’t acknowledge a sexual assault as such. Major risk factors are a belief in rape culture and rape myths, a lack of social conversations about sexual assault, and being young. So, campuses can play a major role by opening up these conversations with their students. Offices of the prevention of sexual violence are key players in this space, but everyone plays a role. If you haven’t spoken about sexual assault with the people in your life, read through one of our guides. You can also share this article with those close to you to open up a conversation.

How can Vesta help?

People normally think that there are safe and effective ways to report sexual assault online. However, VESTA stands alone as the first fully online third-party reporting tool for sexual assaults. The VESTA Reporting tools can help in a variety of settings. Campuses, workplaces, or community organizations can get support for those who have been assaulted. They can simply use our tool to document the incidence. They can also either share anonymous statistical data or file a full police report. VESTA can help survivors connect to resources in their community as well, so that nobody has to recover from sexual assault alone. Then, when our communities start to heal, we can move step by step towards eradicating rape culture from the world.

unacknowledged sexual assault

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault

After a sexual assault, there is a social script that dictates what many people think would be “normal” activity. There are usually some variations in this. It can include the survivor fighting back during the assault. It could also say the survivor should cut ties with the perpetrator immediately afterward if they know each other (which they usually do). Or that all survivors get examined at a hospital for their Sexual Assault Evidence Kit as soon as possible. There is also an expectation that all these steps are done logically. The survivor “must” also never doubt that the assault itself occurred. But these are not always examples of common reactions to sexual assault.

reactions to sexual assault

We will look deeper into how unrecognized sexual assaults can lead to cycles of abuse for vulnerable peoples in a later article. However, in today’s post, we will explore how rape myths and rape culture make valid responses by survivors seem unusual.

This article is adapted from the Women’s College Hospital’s online course. For more information, complete Understanding the Commonly Misunderstood Reactions to Sexual Assault.


Normalization happens when a survivor tries to put the assault into the context of what is considered “normal” activities. This idea of “normal” is usually fueled by rape culture, which hides the fact that a sexual assault legitimately happened. This can be made worse when the survivor knows the perpetrator, which they do in the majority of cases. Some research says this is because people in intimate relationships believe sex is “expected“. Plus, social scripts usually tell us that sexual assaults are committed by strangers. So, when the perpetrator is known to the survivor, then it might not fit their idea of what a sexual assault “should” be.

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault: Normalization


Explanation is when a survivor tries to rationalize what happened to them and explain away the assault. This can happen especially when there is an existing relationship between the survivor and the perpetrator. Explanations are usually fueled by rape myths and grounded in rape culture.

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault: Explanation


When a survivor uses minimization, they usually refer to another situation that could have been worse. They recognize that they said no and that they didn’t consent, but think about how they might have “gotten off easy” compared to someone else.

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault: Minimization


When a survivor engages in dramatization, they will openly talk about the assault. This might lead others to feel like the assault didn’t affect them, but in reality it’s a part of processing the assault and healing from it. Dramatization could lead the survivor to think that those around them “must be sick of hearing about it”. This can cause feelings of shame. However, connecting with others and being open to talking with helpful people may allow a survivor to bring in the help they need to recover.

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault: Dramatization


Suppression is the opposite of dramatization. When a survivor suppresses the assault, they try not to think about it. They may do everything they can to keep the memory of the assault out of their mind and disconnect from their supports who might know about the assault. Being able to know how to support and talk with someone who has gone through a sexual assault might be helpful in supporting the survivor in your life.

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault: Suppression


Dissociation is when a survivor becomes disconnected from their body. They may feel empty, numb, or nothing at all. We’ve described this before as being “a dream-like state”. During dissociation, your brain filters some experiences from consciousness to protect you. This can lead to memory loss, feelings of surreality or detachment.

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault: Dissociation/numbing

Changes in Sexual Activity

Survivors may have changes to their consensual sexual activities after a sexual assault. Some people may engage in more, riskier sex. Others may shut down and not be able to have consensual sex. The whole spectrum represents real, valid responses to sexual assault. Being able to recognize changes to someone’s experience might help them process what has happened.

Examples of common reactions to sexual assault: Changes in Sexual Activity

Supporting a survivor with these responses

Recognizing the symptoms of trauma and knowing more about reporting are key pieces to healing after a sexual assault. We’ve recently explored the difficulties a survivor may face in reporting a sexual assault, but there is hope. Traditionally, only approximately 5% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. But now, VESTA Anonymous Reporting and VESTA Online Reporting offer trauma-informed ways for survivors to report their experiences. Survivors can use the tools as a way to document their experience for their own benefit. They can choose to use it to report anonymized statistics to campus or relevant authorities. Or they can submit a full police report.

We hope that one day rape culture will be eradicated. And we are trying to play our role in making that happen. When survivors can be supported to access the resources they need to heal, the system will get more information on how to support them. Since no two survivors are the same, the more information the system has, the better it can support those who come forward. When everyone who is sexually assaulted feels they can come forward, our society can heal itself from the ills of sexual violence. Then, that will be the day where an equal society can emerge and rape culture can be left behind.

reactions to sexual assault

Men’s role in preventing sexual violence

The majority of sexual violence prevention programs are geared towards women. However, since men commit 92% of sexual assaults against women, men’s role in preventing sexual violence is substantial. This article will explore what it means to “be a man”, how those perceptions can alter someone’s chances of committing sexual violence, and some ways that we can minimize those risks.

What makes a man?

To be clear, I know there is no single type of man. Men are varied in their actions, beliefs, and perceptions about themselves and the world. So, you might ask how can we answer what it means to be a man if there is no one type of man? The answer to this is to talk about the perceptions of manhood, which, while not ubiquitous, have some similarities across the world.

James Bond seems like a good man to be a reference for manhood. He has existed in various incarnations for over 60 years. So, what do people, of any gender, think of him? Here are some common answers:

A lot of these are positive traits. Being confident can help to live a worthwhile life and advocate for yourself. Physical fitness can be an important part of someone’s physical and mental health. And being able to solve problems pretty obviously holds value in most areas where there are problems to be solved. On the other hand, some of those characteristics are more problematic.

Hegemonic Masculinity

Aggression, womanizing, and stoicism are characteristics of what academics call “hegemonic masculinity”. In essence, this is the type of masculinity that needs to hold power over others, especially women. And problematic behaviours in the military and in sports can show quite clearly how extremes of masculinity based in dominance over others can go wrong. That being said, a man can believe that James Bond acts like a stereotypical man, but he might not believe that those behaviours are okay. These people offer different versions of being a man, but can sometimes bear the cost of countering the traditional model.

Parents will show more positive behaviours to boys who do stereotypically (within the “hegemonic masculinity” sense) behaviours associated with being a man. Additionally, a boy’s peers and teachers are more likely to criticize boys who do more stereotypically “feminine” behaviours. This starts early in a boys life and doesn’t stop when they become a man. The power-based masculinity hurts men who don’t abide by it at disproportionate rates. Boys who are gay or bisexual have more than twice the risk of being threatened by a weapon during the previous 12 months than heterosexual boys. The risk is even higher for boys who are “not sure” about their sexuality.

A masculinity based on power over others has been described as “hard won and easily lost”, needing to be consistently proven to the man himself and the people around him. While there are many traits that can fall into the power-based model, one of the strongest influences is that it opposes anything stereotypically “feminine”.

How does all this affect sexual violence?

Many studies have linked power-based masculinities to committing sexual violence. Men who believe in having power over women are more likely to commit sexual violence. This isn’t a surprise. Especially because one of the questions used to measure this is: “When it comes to having sex: I never feel bad about my tactics”. This kind of manhood coincide with myths about sexual assault and rape culture values to create a dangerous situation. Especially for BIPOC women.

It is important to acknowledge that violence doesn’t have to be a part of masculinity. However, some of the most ‘manly’ institutions in our society (e.g., professional sports, the military) are also the most violent. Unfortunately, these places also attract men who rank high in traditional masculine gender roles. This creates a place where men who believe they have to prove themselves as men by having power over women are among other men who believe the same. And all their beliefs intensify each others’.

As a note, these social settings also tend to use more alcohol than average. Using alcohol responsibly doesn’t have to be problematic. The problems with sexual violence increase when alcohol is combined with beliefs where men need to drink a lot and then prove how “manly” they are.

How can men lower their risks of committing sexual violence?

There are programs designed to help guys understand and prevent sexual violence. For example, Man Up Against Violence in Regina taught students about healthy manhood. They discussed what it meant to be a man, to stand against violence, and to challenge wrong ideas about masculinity using plays and group discussions. Other programs, like Mobilising Men in Practice, work globally to start conversations and provide tools to men looking to end sexual violence.

These line up with what a lot of other programs are trying to do. Mainly, in conversations about healthy masculinity, there are 2 ways to change the status quo. One is to affirm the positive characteristics of masculinity. The other is to challenge and transform what masculinity means. Normalizing the healthy belief structures that traditional masculinity currently holds can be valuable. As is countering the universality of unhealthy versions of masculinity (including toxic masculinity). On the other hand, changing the concept of ‘masculine’ behaviours is more likely to happen when we challenge the idea of what it means to be masculine. Most men don’t embody the hypermasculine belief systems that cause people to sexually abuse others. Neither do most men commit sexual violence. However, there are many men who do.

Men’s role in preventing sexual violence

Being able to have conversations with your friends and family about what it means to be a man can be an incredible way to start shifting perceptions. You are a model of masculinity, and acting that way can influence those close to you. It can be freeing to reject rape culture and embrace your own qualities that go against traditional masculine beliefs. I have spoken with many of my fellow men who don’t believe in the traditional gender roles. They are also open to sharing their power and space equally with women. Once we can do this with ourselves, then we can start having the ability to affect change in the lives of those we love. Maybe soon we will stop talking about the crisis of men and boys and enter a healthier world for everyone. This is all men’s role in preventing sexual violence.

Why does Vesta care?

We at Vesta are invested in eradicating rape culture. We believe that this can only happen when people know what that is and their role in it continuing. Men play an important role in doing this, as allies, survivors, and perpetrators. Because, without men involved, all the blame will continue to fall onto women.

One of the traditional roles of men is taking responsibility, and I believe this can be a positive one in our lives. So, as a man, take responsibility for your place in re-creating harmful versions of being a man. Stand with women in their fight for equality. Help make this world a safer place for women and men alike. And lastly, don’t be afraid to shed a few tears for the people who have been hurt because of masculinity while you try to make society a better place. Once we are all able to do this, then neither the overwhelming feelings of guilt, nor their harmful counterparts, will be required.

If you know someone who lives in Ontario, Canada, has been assaulted and they are considering documenting or reporting their experience, connect them to the VESTA Community app, found here.

Rubiales: What if the world didn’t see?

Luis Rubiales resigned from his position as head of the Spanish soccer federation on September 10th, 2023. For those who followed Jennifer Hermoso in this ordeal, it’s hard to understand why it took so long. An unwanted kiss broadcast on the international stage. It seemed open and shut. This is assault. Yet, in the face of the Spanish soccer team refusing to work with him and FIFA suspending him, he seemed not to care about the people who denounced his actions. He even had supporters, as famous as Woody Allen, who downplayed his actions.

“It was just a kiss, and she was a friend. What’s wrong with that?”

Woody Allen

So, in a situation like this, where the blatant exploitation of a power imbalance is made worse by toxic masculinity, what would have happened if the world didn’t rally behind Ms. Hermoso? This question is one that many people face. Moreover, while norms have changed and masculinity isn’t the same as it was, the fact that Mr. Rubiales had an outcry of support shows that the toxicity hasn’t completely abated.

Jane Doe

Let’s look at an example of how this might play out in a less public setting. Jane Doe works at a university lab and has a male supervisor, John. John asks Jane to work late nights on an important research project coming up to the ethics board, and Jane obliges. Jane does her research thoroughly. So much so, that when her and John present it to the ethics board, the board agrees without mandating any changes. This is unheard of! What a great accomplishment.

As Jane and John walk out of the meeting and the door closes, John grabs Jane’s face and kisses her on the lips. Jane, stunned, doesn’t react. She didn’t want to be kissed, and felt violated right away, but didn’t think anyone would believe her. Jane doesn’t say anything in the days afterwards, rationalizing that it wasn’t a big deal. “It was just a kiss, and he was a friend, as well as her supervisor. What’s wrong with that?”

It was just a kiss, or was it?

But it wasn’t just a kiss. And there was something wrong with that. When Jane gets the courage to say something to her friends in the following weeks, they question why she didn’t say something earlier. They don’t know that freezing is a common response in those situations. Nor do they understand that women will sometimes resort to the placating behaviours that society has conditioned them into when facing a male abuser.

Jane feels stuck. She wants to share her experience, maybe warn others about John’s behaviour, but she doesn’t know how. How can she feel safe saying it in person considering the reaction from her friends. She has mixed feelings about what to do next? What can she do?

Reporting using VESTA

Reporting sexual assault or abuse can be difficult for anyone in any situation. When there isn’t footage of it happening, people might misunderstand natural reactions to a traumatic event. Trauma is different for everyone and the effects of trauma can be influenced by many different internal and external factors. Up to 80% of the people who have unwanted experiences in the workplace do not report them. What would this mean if it was at your university, with a student and a professor at a lab in your research department?

Reporting options

Having multiple avenues for reporting assaults is necessary. Most people assume that there is a way for survivors to report anonymously online, but, until recently, there wasn’t. VESTA has two online options for people to chose from.

The first, online tool, called VESTA Anonymous Reporting, offers survivors the chance to report assaults and abuse anonymously. It comes from a trauma informed perspective and brings anonymous reports directly to your university’s sexual violence prevention services. However, If the survivor wants to report with their identity, there’s an option for that too. It’s called VESTA Online Reporting. It can connect survivors directly with support services on or off campus. Both these tools, or the full VESTA Campus suite, can also support survivors with reporting the incident to police.

In the case of Jane, she would have several options available to her. She would be able to file an anonymous report, allowing the University Sexual Violence Prevention Office to track trends and statistics. Maybe Jane wasn’t the only person John abused. Afterwards, if Jane wanted, she could follow up with the information she wrote in the reporting tool and submit it to the police.  VESTA would help her document a credible and reliable account of her experience, and our founder has written about the difference that can make in our current justice system. Imagine the difference having these options could make for Jane.  

Protecting survivors

While the cases above reference a male abuser and a female survivor, all genders are at risk of sexual abuse. Moreover, giving survivors a tool to report their experiences that doesn’t re-traumatize them shifts the power imbalance. What’s more, giving the students, of any gender, in your university the chance to disclose and report in ways that suit their needs is giving power to survivors. And, if as in the case of Rubiales, the perpetrator denies doing anything wrong, then that raises big red flags for other behaviours. As the New York Times has previously reported, “experts note one last trait shared by men who have raped: they do not believe they are the problem.”

Written by: Ilyas

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