-By TK Pritchard, Male Allies Program Educator
Since joining the Male Allies team, one of the aspects of the program that I have appreciated so deeply is that we are embedded in the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region. Aside from being able to connect interpersonally with such wonderful staff members, this setup means that the work that we do to engage boys and men is directed by women, non-binary and trans folks, as well as survivors. Additionally, it ensures that we do not pursue funding and resources that could be put towards front line services for survivors. This means that we can start our allyship work from a place of systemically believing in the need to prioritize and not detract from direct services and supports for survivors of sexual violence.
One way to exemplify why I feel that our organizational structure is so important is demonstrated in a common conversation that I have with workshop participants. It is not unusual to have participants share that someone close to them has experienced sexual violence and then to proceed to share how they themselves reacted. They will often express that they were angry and wanted to hurt or seek out the person who caused harm. Or they wanted to solve the situation and chose to take action in another way. While we all need to process our feelings, the issue with suggesting to the survivor that you are going to go hurt their offender or take action on their behalf is that you are only furthering disempowerment and removing choice. When we think about survivor centered approaches, it is imperative that they have the choice of what happens next, and that their voice is listened to and respected. Sometimes our gut reaction is to seek retribution but in reality we are putting our feelings first and not the survivor’s. I use this example as a way to think about how we may have “the best of intentions” and truly feel that we are doing the “right or just thing,” but what we are really doing is further silencing survivors. We must ask survivors what they need/want and follow their lead.
It is our belief that men need to be actively involved in the work to end sexual and gender-based violence. But we need to follow the lead of women, trans and non-binary folks, and survivors who have lived experience to create intersectional, survivor centered programming. If we just charge forward, we may get off track and continue down a path that we feel is correct but in reality, is harmful, not intersectional and/or not survivor centered. Being part of a sexual assault support centre means that we can incorporate the voices and input of our team, which includes counsellors, and individuals who connect with community members regularly. While it is incredibly important that we also reach beyond those connected to us as a centre, I’m grateful to be starting in an environment where I can seek advice, ideas and leadership from women, trans and non-binary folks on a regular basis.
If we want to make real, inclusive change, we must first listen to and honour the voices of those who have come before us.