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Male role just as critical in activism against sexual violence

I recently asked one of my friends if he'd show up and support Take Back the Night on Saturday. He declined the invitation with the rationale, "If there were no men in the world, we wouldn't need Take Back the Night."

His honest expression of gender guilt regarding sexual assault shows a common male perspective that rape is a women's issue and Take Back the Night is a women's event. According to this view, the best that men can do is stay out of the way. Yet rape is a crime affecting not just individual women — or men — but whole communities. Men who oppose rape should join the campaign to stop sexual violence.

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Obviously guys can passively help the problem by not sexually assaulting others, but our involvement should not stop with simply being non-perpetrators. Instead of standing on the sidelines, we should recognize the problem of rape at Princeton and join in the campaign to prevent it. Through Take Back the Night and the interactions we have with our peers, we have an active role to play in stopping sexual violence on this campus and in its eating clubs and residential spaces.

It is certainly true that stranger rape and acquaintance rape are crimes overwhelmingly committed by men against women. But while a disturbing one out of 12 male students has committed rape or attempted rape, another 11 out of 12 have respected the women they have known and not tried to force sex upon them. That normally silent and invisible majority should transform itself into a vocal and present force in the campaign against relationship violence. Take Back the Night gives us an opportunity to join this effort publicly in both thought and action.

One in four women have experienced rape or an attempted rape. Furthermore, acquaintance rape — committed by someone the victim knows — is more common than left-handedness. Faced with this reality, men shouldn't distance themselves from rape awareness efforts out of discomfort with the subject and shame at what other men have done. Instead of feeling paralyzed that the best contribution is just to do no harm, men can work to prevent rapes by speaking out against the culture that encourages violence against women.

The unwritten social code of America and Princeton supports the myth that men can do whatever we want when it comes to having sex. This mentality tolerates jokes about rape and encourages behavior that leads to date rape, destroying any chances for adult relationships. But date rape is not good sex, and it doesn't count as "a hookup" or "getting play." It violates another person's will and obliterates trust. Real sex comes from listening to the person you are with and deciding together what you are going to do.

Some may claim that knowing about real sex is just common sense. If that is the case, then don't stand on the sidelines and watch as other people's attitudes and behaviors perpetuate myths about sex and machismo. Ask yourself what you can do to build a counterculture at Princeton that says chauvinism is lame and that true manhood means respecting women.

What would you feel comfortable doing to spread those values and prevent sexual violence? Would you interrupt a sexist joke or stop a catcall? Would you talk with a friend at a party before he or she entered a situation where sexual assault might happen? Would you walk with other men and women who share your belief that interpersonal violence should not take place in a University of responsible adults? Would you participate in Take Back the Night and help show that Princeton is facing the issue of rape on campus?

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Men who join in the Take Back the Night event Saturday will be leaving the cage of guilt that inhibits an active outcry. They will express their conviction that the best relationships are those built on consent and respect for the person you are with.

Most importantly, participants who walk in solidarity at Take Back the Night will bear witness to the reality of rape at Princeton and demonstrate that women and men are working together to banish sexual violence from the social circles we move in. Jason Brownlee is a graduate student in the politics department from Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at brownlee@princeton.edu.

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