When I was hired by a military contractor to teach harassment and rape prevention to the US Army and Navy, the company gave me my first directive before the team ever taught our first training: “calibrate” the teaching team to show them their confirmation bias.

Calibrate a room full of former snipers, career SWAT and a Green Beret all experts in Human Behavior Pattern Recognition and Analysis? “No problem.” I said, with an almost inadvisable degree of confidence.

Then the panic bells rang. I had never been asked to do anything like this before, didn’t have the slightest idea how to proceed and felt pretty sure no matter what I came up with, it would make me pariah-adjacent with my new team. Despite my concerns and lack of experience, I created a very loose plan and hoped my instincts would kick in as I taught, revealing what would appear to be an intentionally paced “calibration” program. Here’s what happened:

I gave them details about two real scenarios that I sourced from news stories. After giving them as much detail as possible, I asked how each scenario could have been prevented or avoided.

Scenario 1 – “A female bartender closes the bar at 2am, ignoring several clear intuitive signals about a creepy guy at the bar, who eventually wound up following her as she walked home and attacked her.” The whole team jumped in at once, practically exploding with dozens of excellent situational awareness red flags and other expert level observations about what the bartender could have done to have avoided the attack. A lengthy list of behavioral changes was assembled.

Scenario 2: “A female cyclist was on a solo training ride without a helmet, hit a patch of gravel and crashed, which rendered her unconscious. She regained consciousness momentarily to discover she was being raped by a passer-by, then faded into unconsciousness again. She was later discovered by a [male] good Samaritan and eventually transported to the hospital.” There was a brief but distinct pause, then team offered up a few suggestions as to how the survivor could have avoided her circumstances, which I made into a short list.

Thankfully, as I plodded through the scenarios, the way to make my point came to me. Once the team had completed their analysis for scenario 2, I drew male and female stick figures. The female stick figures went above the lists of prevention and avoidance strategies and the male stick figures next to those lists. Under the male I wrote, “don’t rape.”

Sufficed to say, they weren’t too happy about the primrose path I had led them down to show them their collective blind spot. Because men changing their behavior has never been part of the violence prevention equation, men default to what they’ve always been taught is the problem. Even good men who have put their lives on the line for their principles struggle with the notion that to move the needle on violence prevention, it is the men who will need to change.

I find that many men get very prickly about this issue. They choose to put their energy and focus into being defensive, instead of helping to build a culture that is safe for their sisters, mothers, aunties, nieces and daughters. A strange choice for the gender that prides itself on being solutions oriented.

Women can change a thousand things about themselves, but ultimately they aren’t the source of the problem–women are not the source of violence. That’s like saying child abuse is a kid’s problem.

When we create a culture where violence toward women is no longer nurtured, normalized nor tolerated, violence toward women will abate.

Luckily, my team forgave me. I think it helped that I pointed out that I dedicated seven years of my life to writing a book that is explicitly about teaching women how to change to avoid and prevent violence. In the reality of violence against women and girls, my book is the result of triage. First, stop the hemorrhaging by helping women be more world wise through compassionate empowerment. Second, spend our energy on a more productive narrative: help men teach boys and men to understand what “right” looks like. In the meantime, here’s a graphic to quickly create your own calibration program:

Luckily, there are more and more boys and men who have the courage to bring their strong, good hearts to the cause. To these wonderful boys and men I say THANK YOU for showing us what genuine strength looks like: compassion and support for survivors.Â

Once the blinders of conformation bias have been removed, you can’t un-ring that bell; you can only decide if you want to hear it or turn a deaf ear. If you know a man who wants to help but doesn’t know how to make a difference, here’s a great place to start: http://www.mencanstoprape.org/

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