On March 2, Sadleir House hosted a Levy Groups’ Workshop Day, where levy groups offered free workshops to all community members for a day of skill sharing and building. One of the workshops offered was “Disclosures & MENding: Working with Survivors and Allies.” This workshop was run by Ted Lohrenz, MENding Program Coordinator at the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, and Alisha Fisher, Community Engagement Facilitator at the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre.
MENding focusses on men’s role in ending gender-based violence. The first thing Alisha and Ted did was inform everyone that the workshop was “a safe space, a space for learning, a space to feel comfortable.” The discussion was kickstarted by a question from a group member, asking how to proceed when “you want to offer your help but you don’t really know how.” This is what this workshop aimed to answer. Indeed, this session taught us that providing support for survivors and listening to disclosures should be handled in a specific manner.
The proper way to respond is called a Trauma-Informed Approach. The first step is to remember that people generally feel more comfortable disclosing trauma in a private room than in public. When a survivor confides in you, they can feel vulnerable and nervous, so ensure that they feel safe before you begin listening. After listening to them and reassuring them that you believe them and after asking what you can do to help them in the moment, let them know about the various choices that they can take to deal with this issue. Yes, you can report this to the police, but singling this option out without entertaining any other path only reinforces the idea that the survivor does not have control of the situation. It is important to support them in taking back control, as sexual violence takes away their control. Therefore, let them consciously choose what course of action to take that suits their needs best.
Keep in mind that you should not behave like an attorney or press for any details. Disclosure is an immense act of trust, and this can be reciprocated by actively listening to them. This disclosure can be upsetting for the survivor, so responses like “I believe in you” and “you are not alone” and “we can connect you with people who can help” are vital. It was pointed out that statements such as “I am sorry this has happened to you” can be interpreted differently, so be mindful of that.
Body language is key during this time. Therefore, ensure that you do not stand over the survivor if they are sitting. Keep a comfortable distance and maintain eye contact if possible. Get rid of potential distractions, mirror the victim’s emotions while still remaining calm, and reaffirm their statements. This should be obvious, but under no circumstances should you respond to a disclosure with “Oh, that’s terrible! At least it wasn’t…”
The second half of the workshop dealt with toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity refers to the harmful form of masculinity that perpetuates a violent and limiting narrative that affects genders across the spectrum. Our society has taught young boys to despise things that are “girly” and that terms like “pussy” and “sissy” are degrading insults. This use of language is only one of the many noticeable examples of toxic masculinity that men witness and experience. By implying that “growing a pair” means to take matters into one’s own hands, to stand up for themselves, to “man up”, we are inherently saying that women are less strong, and that the simple presence of testicles is equal to invincibility. This is harmful as it manifests itself in gender-based violence and sexist behaviour.
Many men are criticized for not possessing the stereotypical male traits that they are expected to have. As a result, men are deprived of emotional vulnerability, artistic and emotional expression, platonic friendships, platonic touch, and many more traits or behaviours that are stereotypically associated with women.
Since toxic masculinity is a learned behaviour, it can be unlearned. These so-called ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ qualities are not innate, they are learned. Therefore, if we collectively discourage these gender-based expectations, as well as disapprove of harmful sexist comments or behaviour, we can reduce toxic masculinity and hopefully end gender-based violence, misogyny, and sexism. To quote Lohrenz, “I can’t create a culture of change, we can create a culture of change.”