May 11, 2007

Frat co-hosts discussion on sexual violence

The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention hosted a discussion entitled “Men Stand Up: Men’s Role in Ending Violence against Women” Monday night. The discussion, led by Ross Wantland, coordinator of Sexual Assault Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explored the role of language and social structures in perpetuating “rape culture.”

Wantland described the world today as an unfair one in which “structures of injustice are invisible.” Because of this, Wantland said that rape culture “is difficult to uncover because structures exist to keep it in its place.” Wantland listed different behavioral patterns, social phenomena, and individual actions on a “continuum of sexual violence.”

When Wantland defined “sweet-talking” as an act of manipulation of the other person for sexual ends, the audience delivered varied responses. Some members of the audience agreed that “sweet-talking” involves manipulation of information about oneself but argued that misrepresenting oneself occurs in résumés, as well. Other audience members stressed the need to change the dating scene, which “perpetuates sexual violence.”

Wantland stressed the role of male support groups, saying that being part of a male group that does not engage in serious discussions about sexual violence makes it more likely that a man will commit sexual assault. Emphasizing that “violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” he did not hesitate to directly address the members of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, telling them that their decision to “live under a shared moral code” makes it “even more of an obligation” on their part to act responsibly as men.

With regard to stereotypes and expectations that society holds for men, Wantland used the term “triad of violence,” which he defined as violence against “the self, other men, and women.” The audience agreed, bringing up specific examples of such behavior, most notably hazing and homophobia. The discussion then covered how society defines the act of sex, concluding that the words used to describe women frequently connote the idea that they are the objects of sex, as opposed to man and woman as equal partners.

Wantland stressed the proper way for men to combat sexual violence. Men, he said, should ask themselves, “What does she need from me right now?” Moreover, this should be based on a fundamental attitude of “listening, believing, and trusting” women when they find the courage to talk about sexual violence. This is absolutely crucial because, according to Wantland, “Ultimately, our society is unsustainable if sexual violence continues. It hurts men and women.”