What Pittsburgh men think about #MeToo and sexual and domestic violence prevention

Southwest PA Says No More surveyed more than 600 local men.

Kristy Trautmann of the FISA Foundation

Kristy Trautmann of the FISA Foundation

MJ Slaby / the incline
MJ Slaby

Men in southwestern Pennsylvania largely agree that more needs to be done to prevent domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault. But they’re split on when to believe allegations, and even fewer are having conversations about it or are speaking up.

More than 600 local men responded to a poll commissioned by Southwest PA Says No More between Sept. 24 and 29.

On Sept. 27, now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford testified at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation that he sexually assaulted her.

“It was an interesting time to be asking men about their experiences,” said Kristy Trautmann, executive director of the FISA Foundation, one of the organizations that leads Southwest PA Says No More.

The biggest takeaway is men have “impressive awareness” of these issues. “It is what we wished for 50 years ago,” Trautmann said, adding there are still some gaps and inconsistencies in how men responded.

For many men, some habits and ideas are like hand-me-downs, even unintentionally, said Paul Mulbah, a violence prevention specialist at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and a Who’s Next: Education honoree. Mulbah was one of three male speakers at the report’s release today at Point Park University.

“Most men would admit to protecting their daughters more than their sons. ‘Why? … What is wrong with men that I have to protect her?'” he said, adding that men need to have conversations and reflect on relationships.

Per the report, 86 percent of local men said this violence is preventable. Yet, just 25 percent said they’ve reflected on their own actions, and 18 percent said they’ve changed their behaviors around women.

The survey was designed to gauge men’s opinions a year after #MeToo, a movement started by Tarana Burke, was pushed into the spotlight following allegations about Harvey Weinstein published in the New York Times in October 2017. The poll was in the works for six months, so it could be released during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Trautmann said, noting that it wasn’t timed to be around the Kavanaugh hearing. While she’s not sure if the hearing impacted the results, Trautmann added that she “would have been hard-pressed” to find a time when sexual assault and harassment or domestic violence wasn’t in the news.

The poll also included answers from men across the country, but the report — “Men and #MeToo” — focused on the answers from local men the 10-county southwest Pa region. Trautmann said local and national results were similar.

The hope is that partners of Southwest PA Says No More — which is a group of more than 25 organizations, as well as individuals, who are working to end domestic and sexual violence in the area — take the report into the community and continue conversations in small groups about what men think and bystander intervention. Here’s a breakdown of the results.

Experience, allegations, and fairness

According to the poll, 71 percent of men said they know sexual harassment, assault and domestic violence are common experiences for women, and 74 percent said they or someone they know has been a victim.

Even more men — 81 percent — said it’s important to believe women who speak up publicly about their experiences. On the specifics of allegations, the men polled were split:

  • 47 percent said allegations should be believed unless there is hard evidence that it didn’t happen.
  • 54 said allegations should be treated with skepticism until there is hard evidence.

But only 59 percent said it’s a good thing that more women are speaking up, and 51 percent said they are concerned that #MeToo has gone — or will go — overboard.

When it comes to how both sides are treated:

  • 59 percent said victims are generally treated fairly.
  • 42 percent said people who are accused are treated fairly.

Trautmann said those who work in prevention know this type of violence often doesn’t have a witness and can be hard to prove. She said these statistics show that more work needs to be done to help people understand the experience of victims who come forward.

Prevention

The men polled were clear that they oppose this violence — 86 percent — and 89 percent said they can help prevent it.

“I don’t think we would have got here even five years ago,” Trautmann said of the percentages. “This is a central community issue that affects everybody.” While these are “highly gendered crimes,” where most victims are women, she said men can be victims, too, and women can perpetuate abuse.

When it comes to standing up and taking action, many men said they support action being taken:

  • 90 percent said they want schools, law enforcement, and business leaders to do more preventative work.
  • 84 percent are in favor of action at the local or community level.
  • 82 percent support action at the state level.
  • More than 80 percent said faith-based groups, elected officials, healthcare providers, and nonprofits should do more prevention.
  • 76 percent want change at the federal level.

At work, men also said they want to know more about how to report abusive behavior and for workplaces to have strong and consistent policies, as well as managers and company leaders who speak out about having harassment-free jobs.

But when men when answered questions about the conversations they’ve had, the numbers dropped.

While 38 percent said they’ve talked to women about this issue and 22 percent said they’ve talked to other men, the percent decreases to the single digits for men who have talked to employers, religious leaders or staff at their child’s school.

Nearly 60 percent said no one talked to them about the warning signs of abuse. However, there was an age gap in this response — 81 percent of men over 65 said they didn’t have the conversation growing up. That percentage dropped to 41 percent for ages 18 to 35

Yet some men showed a willingness to have conversations. Men said they are most willing to talk to women about it (46 percent), followed by children and teens (36 percent), and other men (32 percent.) 15 percent of men or fewer would be willing to talk to their employers, the staff at their child’s school, or religious leaders.

38 percent said they are willing to intervene if they find out about or see abuse or harassment happening, and 20 percent said that this year, they did by telling someone that a comment or joke was inappropriate. A quarter of the men also said they offered support to a victim this year.

Trautmann said those answers show that respondents don’t always know what intervening is and that it doesn’t have to be swooping into a dangerous situation.

“We know that bystander intervention is hard. What do you do in that moment?” she said.

Bystander tips

The report outlined suggested steps for men to take. Here are a few examples:

  1. Ask your mom, partner, or another close woman in your life about her experiences. Many don’t share unless they are asked and feel they’ll be listened to and taken seriously.
  2. Reach out to HR or senior leadership to find out how they would take action.
  3. Talk to young people about healthy relationships.
  4. Avoid, listen for, and interrupt when men joke and put each other down using comparisons to women, such as “you throw like a girl.”
  5. Call attention to or shut down disrespectful talk or jokes with responses like “I don’t get. What’s funny about that?” or “I don’t support this.”

Read the report: