Memo to all men: the sexual assault epidemic needs you to speak up

Actor-activist Justin Baldoni and leading expert on men and masculinities Michael Kimmel deliver a strong message to men about their role in ending sexual assault and moving the women's movement forward in this exclusive op-ed for MAKERS.

Many of us men see Sexual Assault Awareness Month as a month to think about women, perhaps even the women in our lives. Some of us may see ourselves as heroic knights in armor, as if awareness of sexual assault invites us to rescue damsels in distress.

But sexual assault is not a women's issue: it's just as much a men's issue. Although the overwhelming majority of men do not commit sexual assault, the fact remains that the majority of sexual assaults are still committed by men. And a percentage of victims of sexual assault are also men.

Guys, it's time we really start to talk about this. We know it can be uncomfortable. In fact, it's one of the scarier things for most men to speak up about right now. But that fear doesn't give us a free pass to pretend this issue doesn't exist, or to not take an active role in ending it. We know that the majority of us would never dream of committing sexual assault and, yet, pretty much every woman we know has had to deal with the possibility of such a violation. We have to talk about this because, quite simply, no one should have to experience sexual assault.

How can it be that most men don't commit these acts—and would never even consider it—and yet sexual assault remains such a pervasive issue? Here's at least one reason: Men's silence. Many men believe that not doing it somehow lets us off the hook. "I never raped anybody," we might say, "so this isn't really about me." This sets the bar a bit too low, don't you think? The individual opt-out option is available only to men; women are unable to opt-out of the possibility of sexual assault no matter how much they might like to.

For years, many women remained silent as well, choosing to live in the pain and shame of surviving an assault, hoping they could get on with their lives. But not any longer. Women have made clear that sexual assault is intolerable.

Now it's our turn to speak up. A culture of men's silence still surrounds sexual assault. So when we say we "have to talk," what we mean is that we have to talk to each other. And maybe that starts with a conversation about how we got here in the first place; how our society socializes young men and women to interact with one another. The boys club we're seeing emerge in Hollywood and corporate America didn't start there. Young boys adopt this idea of "no girls allowed." "Girls have cooties" evolves into "bros before hoes" and, eventually, sometimes into more than just harmful and hurtful words.

Fortunately, there are organizations and projects around the country - indeed around the world - engaging men in this conversation. Groups like It's on Us, A Call to Men, Mentors in Violence Prevention, Men Can Stop Rape, and The Biden Foundation have all made engaging men as allies to women's efforts a centerpiece of their work. Not to rescue women, but to stand in solidarity with women as they work to make sexual assault a thing of the past.

Ending sexual assault is not a hashtag, not an emoji, not a tweet, and not a simple nod of the head in agreement. It needs to be a part of every conversation, every organizational mandate, and every policy initiative. Men's voices are vital in this effort; we must break the silence that surrounds men's violence.

Yes, April is ending, and the official Sexual Assault Awareness Month is ending, too. On May 1 the work begins anew as we look forward to the 11 Ending Sexual Assault Action Months ahead of us.



Justin Baldoni is an actor, director, and entrepreneur whose efforts are focused on creating impactful media. Baldoni plays Rafael on CW's Jane the Virgin. Justin is also the co-founder and CEO of Wayfarer Entertainment, a digital media studio that recently launched Man Enough, which explores what it means to be a man today.

Michael Kimmel is the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University and one of the world's leading experts on men and masculinities. Among his many books is the best seller Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, he founded the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook in 2013.