November 28, 2018

Challenge prejudice, change minds

Photo of an angry man“These women are hurting my soldiers’ careers. You’re wasting OUR time.” A major lambasted me during a training’s break. He continued: “My soldiers would never do that. Can we get back to our real work.” Although worded like a question, his last sentence spewed at me with such authoritative, deep guttural tones, that I clearly knew he meant it as a command.

Here I was, my very first training working with military victim advocates. Green as can be and the highest-ranking figure in the course commanding me to release the class. Of course, I couldn’t dismiss the class; and he technically didn’t have any authority over the matter.

We were all there for the required 16-hour military victim advocate refresher course. Two eight-hour days of getting lectured – or in my case, lecturing – about rape in the military. It’s easy to understand how we could all be on edge after such a lengthy time. Except, I was only two hours in and had barely covered 30 minutes of material.

“This isn’t real, it was a bad decision that she regretted, my soldiers won’t do that, why are we only talking about men – women do this too, what about college let’s talk about that, I don’t have any crazies under my command…”

Some of his comments, although not necessarily constructive in that moment, were valid. Women can do this too; college is terrible; a majority of people don’t assault anyone. But he was also off on a few points, too.

I eventually realized that part of his plan was to derail the training and slow everything up as much as he could. During lectures, he interrupted to steer the conversation another way. During breaks he came up to me to argue for as long as I would let him, sometimes ten minutes longer than the allotted break time.

Finally, I was able to pull him aside and get him to level with me. “I know you have to be here and don’t want to be, but what can we do to get you to shut up?”

He looked right into my eyes, paused, and then started crying. I was brand new to these trainings, and I suddenly had a major crying in front of me at my first huge training.

In between sobs, he disclosed that he was currently being investigated by the police for abusing his wife, he swore up and down to me that he didn’t do anything; she made it up.

So, what I learned is that we’re all coming to the table with lots of baggage, lots of perspectives, and we have to exercise LOTS of patience when having very difficult, painful, and challenging conversations.

We must have these conversations and we must talk about rape in all institutions – military, corporate, family, entertainment, academia, sports. Those conversations are going to come up with our colleagues, our friends, and our family.

Many people balk at the idea of talking about such a topic with individuals they know, mistakenly thinking that “sexual assault prevention is a topic for rallies, policy level stuff.”

Those people are wrong.

We stop rape by talking about it with those in our immediate sphere of influence, with those in the room with us.

This holiday season, you are going to have many opportunities to interject and stop sexist comments. When stale Uncle Joe tells you how much he loves big boobs, you need to say “Joe, don’t say that to me; that objectifies women and I don’t appreciate it.” For further support: check out Jackson Katz’s interview about how talking about rape stops rape.

See more posts on veterans issues

Keep up with the latest from Smart Policy Works
Explore 25 years of change that mattered
Take a look at what we're up to now