For the past 10 months (give or take), I've been working on a new research study that has been exploring the experiences of men who survived sexual violence during college. The work has been challenging, difficult (at times), and also extremely rewarding. This evening, I had my first focus group with some of the participants to share initial findings from the data analysis.
Bringing participants together and having them interact with one another in shared space feels sacred to me. It's a time that truly is emergent. I have my completed work to share with them, but I never am sure whether my analysis is "right" or "correct." I just try my best to honor what they've shared with me and be thoughtful in looking across their many stories.
But tonight, I continue to reflect on a portion of our conversation together. In our discussion together, we were talking about sexual violence, an experience and identity (of survivor) that connects them. And that violence is very real for each of the participants. Yet, as we continued our conversations, I was struck by how much violence has been incurred in addition to the sexual violence they have survived.
When a gay man is out at a club and is groped without his consent, that is violence. When the aforementioned behaviors become such a normalized part of "going out" within the LGBTQ community and affirmed by others within the community, that is violence. When someone who is a survivor of sexual violence is a man of color and then faces racism from potential partners, that is violence. When trans or cisgender men feel as though their identity of survivors emasculates them, that is violence. When sexual minority men see "no fats, no femmes" on dating and phone apps, that is violence. When individuals who have power and authority in higher education institutions misuse that power and become manipulative, that is violence. When institutions do not have policies that are inclusive of men being survivors or create sexual violence prevention programs that only emphasize heterosexual cisgender women as victims and heterosexual cisgender men as perpetrators, that is violence.
And so I write all of this and sit with the concept of violence this evening because I continue to grapple with what each of us can do to change this. How can we turn to finding solutions and helping end violence instead of encouraging it or denying its existence? In what ways can we each help eliminate the violence(s) that many of our students face daily?
Lots more to come on this, but I would welcome your thoughts.