Anyone with a stake in ending violence against women -- and I hope you see yourself here -- has an abundance of opportunities to get the conversation started about how, exactly, we do that together.
Together is key. As I've urged many times, we have to bring men into this discussion if we are ever to break the cycle. Minnesota is a national leader in innovative violence-prevention programs and, now, we have another impressive first to add to the list.
On Monday, I joined domestic-abuse professionals and community funders, including the Greater Twin Cities United Way, to preview a one-hour documentary contending that gender violence is so ingrained in our culture that we no longer recognize it.
"With Impunity: Men and Gender Violence," will be shown to the public Thursday at 7 p.m. at William Mitchell College of Law, before airing on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) several times, beginning Oct. 1. In addition, TPT will broadcast a series of documentaries that address violence and human trafficking on Oct. 1 and 2.
Much of this film's content mines familiar terrain: The damage caused by hyper-sexualized media images of women and girls, the violent nature of video games, the increasingly degrading nature of modern pornography.
But this film isn't anti-sex or anti-men and that's what makes it fresh and worth considering. One featured expert called for lots more sexual images in the media -- of the healthy kind. Others spoke about dangers faced by men throughout history who have defended and respected women and girls as equals.
The film focuses on one young man who witnessed violence in his own home and, not surprisingly, became a physically abusive husband. His dramatic turn-around is heartening, and it's a great launching point for discussions in our homes, houses of worship, businesses and coffee shops.
If he could break the cycle of violence to become a loving family man, how can we help other men get there, too?
The first step is creating awareness, which this documentary's creators hope it does. Senior producer Daniel Bergin interviewed authors, historians, sociologists and field workers who have studied gender violence across centuries and continents. Bergin, the father of two little girls, couldn't help but personalize the subject matter.
"I've thought a lot already about how they're being affected, but, also about the little boys in their classrooms. How are they being shaped?"
The idea for a documentary came from state Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, and the late Ellen Pence, who have worked in the domestic violence arena for decades. (Pence, who co-founded the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, died earlier this year.)
Paymar approached United Way's community impact manager, Dave Ellis, who formerly worked for the state's Department of Corrections. Ellis knows well the devastating trickle-down effects of family violence, from job loss to health issues to children's inability to learn due to traumatic stress.
"I wanted something different," said Ellis, noting that United Way is the largest funder of batterer-intervention programs in the state. (Additional funders include the Minnesota Department of Health, the St. Paul Foundation, the Pohlad Family Fund and The Minneapolis Foundation.)
"No one has addressed the issue of men."
While only a small number of men are violent -- Ellis uses the figure 4 percent; others say it's about 6 percent -- he emphasizes that, for too long, the lion's share of men have felt too comfortable looking the other way.
"Over time, men have been given the opportunity to not participate, when it truly is incumbent on us as men and boys to be part of the solution."
Paymar agrees, noting that study guides for use in discussions are being developed. "So many men and boys remain silent," Paymar said. "It's the responsibility of all men to be willing to have this open dialogue with other men. We need to get out of our comfort zone and speak up."
For more information about the documentary and airing times, go to www.unitedfrontmn.org/family-violence.
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