Why Preventing Violence Against Women Requires Men and Boys

To end violence in society, we must address the drivers: the perpetrators of violence, who are most often men and boys. 

Why Preventing Violence Against Women Requires Men and Boys
Ukraine Women’s March 2019. (Volodymyr Shuvayev / UN Women)

Nov. 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Like nearly every other day in 2020, the day falls in the midst of a global pandemic; while much has changed in the past year, one thing has not: the routine occurrence of violence against women. 

In truth, COVID-19 is only one of the pandemics ravaging society.  The shadow pandemic of gender-based violence—including femicide, the killing of women and girls because of their gender—is the other. 

Stay-at-home orders—justifiably designed to protect the public from COVID-19—have led to frightening increases in gender-based violence across the globe. Following movement restrictions, France saw a 36 percent increase in intimate partner violence; one city in China saw its rates of violence double in the month following restrictions.  

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Under usual circumstances, risk factors for violence perpetration include job loss, economic stress, substance abuse, depression and feelings of isolation; all of these issues have worsened as the pandemic has continued.  As a result, intimate partner violence and femicide have increased dramatically.  Between March and May of 2020, an average of 10 women were killed each day in Mexico City, a 44 percent increase from the same time in 2019. Such effects have led to a global outcry.

As the pandemic continues unabated social distancing and a potential vaccine offer us hope in the fight against COVID; meanwhile, the solutions to ending violence against women rely on an unlikely source: perpetrators. 

Why Preventing Violence Against Women Requires Men and Boys
Women’s march in London, January 2017. (Kathryn Alkins / Flickr)

Traditionally, research and interventions to prevent and respond to violence have focused on victims.  Most violence prevention programs focus on survivors identifying danger and removing themselves from the situation. Yet, the requirement for survivors to leave an abusive partner often puts people in more—and potentially fatal—danger.  This is demonstrated by the necessary existence of social service agencies such as safe houses and domestic violence shelters. Centering survivors is an absolute key to rebuilding safety and health on the individual level.  

At the same time, to end violence in society, we must address the drivers:  the perpetrators of violence who are most often men and boys.  

More often than not, perpetrators of violence don’t see themselves as part of the problem.  Since domestic violence is often wrongly viewed as a private rather than public issue, violent behaviors are normalized and enabled by social systems and structures. Perpetrators of violence are rarely held accountable enabling the continuation of harmful behaviors.

Despite these challenges, promising new studies have demonstrated that gender-based violence can be prevented—and that men and boys play a key role. Shifting gender norms and the examination of power are key components of successful programs. Since most perpetrators of violence have themselves been victimized, intervening with those who have experienced trauma is key to stopping the cycle of abuse. 

While the glamorization of perpetrators is never acceptable, we must find ways to address trauma and prevent violence perpetration—including by working with those at risk of perpetration and those who have already caused harm. 

Violence prevention programs for survivors are crucial in interrupting cycles of abuse and have been proven to reduce rates of violence. Now we need to complement those programs with efforts aimed at potential perpetrators—the men and boys all around us.

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About and

Dabney P. Evans is an Associate Professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University.
Ellie Fahs is a Master of Public Health candidate in the Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences Department at Emory University.