VOICES OF MEN: AMERICAN ACTIVIST CHALLENGES REACTIONS TO ABUSE IN INDIA

Ben Zeman at a gender sensitisation workshop in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh held last week

When Ben Zeman was in college, his girlfriend told him that she was once raped. Other women he met told him that they had been harassed on the street, harassed at work, listened to less than their male counterparts.

Learning about this, Ben took it upon himself to be the change he wanted to see. Over the past 30 years, Ben has worked with domestic violence programs and rape crisis centres as a prevention educator. His play, Voice of Men has been performed in the US and 10 other countries and it addresses sexual and domestic violence using humour to reduce audience defensiveness.

Ben identifies himself as a "recovering sexist" and believes every man must challenge violence and sexism in the world and in themselves.

He is now on a tour of India appointed by the Consulate of India and the US Government to raise awareness about crimes against women.

Jaago Re spoke to Ben Zeman on important facets of women's issues. Here's what he said:

Most common myths/knee-jerk reactions to violence against women

"Violence/abuse is physical"

Abuse is not just physical. Telling a woman what she should be wearing is abuse. When she says 'No'; trying to change her mind is abuse. Calling someone fat or ugly is abuse.

"Rapists are two-dimensional and inhuman"
The reality is that these men are friends, brothers, fathers. Some of them are respected and powerful men in society.

"Alcohol/dressing causes rape"
Blaming alcohol is the same as blaming the victim. It's another excuse; the same as, "I raped her because I lost my job, I raped her because of the way she walked." There's never really an excuse for sexual violence or domestic violence. Stop avoiding responsibility.

Being violent is a choice. If we're held accountable, we won't do it. It's time we held each other accountable.

"Only women are victims"
Men are also victims of sexual violence, and I am concerned about them. Very often, the culprits are heterosexual men. This is because sex crimes are not about sex, but about power.

"Women are framing men in false cases"
A vast majority of victims are not lying. Most victims of violence are women and children, and they are telling the truth. Women don’t lie about rape and violence.

"Not all men are the same"
A lot of men feel defensive when such discussions take place. Men don’t have to claim that we are all horrible people. Yes not all men are the same, but majority of men are silent on these issues. Men need to stop being silent. By telling a woman "not all men are the same" when she speaks of violence, it's like telling her to shut up. Instead of being defensive, we need to listen.

In Nepal, I met girls as young as 10 years old trafficked to Mumbai. Most never returned. The ones that did manage to escape and come back had HIV. Men need to hear these stories! People should get busy supporting women's groups.

What I want to tell the criminals who indulge in such acts
I want to tell the culprits they think they have the right to control women: their days are numbered. Women and their male allies are changing the world. If they resist, they will face prison, and if they come along with us they get a chance to lead respectful and happy lives with the women in their lives.

What I want to tell the victims

It's not your fault
Many times victims blame themselves or get blamed by others.

You're not alone
Sometimes the victims don’t tell anyone about the abuse. I would advise them to tell someone safe – someone close to them. All the NGOs and support systems are built for them.

Help is available
There are plenty of helplines which are trained to deal with these issues. Make use of them.

That I believe them
There's an incorrect notion that women and girls are lying about sexual abuse or violence, and that they "asked for it". Women and girls are not liars. They lie by omission, based on how they are treated. I believe in her.

Robbing our societies of women

He also spoke on the recent Baduan rape in UP where two minor girls were gangraped and hung on a tree. “It’s heartbreaking. These two girls could have been the next Einstein or Marie Curie. The intelligence, creativity, beauty of these two souls is just gone. Criminals are robbing our families and societies of women everyday.

We cannot survive as a human race if crimes against women continue

Each act of violence is not just a crime against woman, but a crime against all of us. We cannot survive as a human race if crimes against women continue.

I want to encourage Indian men to work together to stop crimes against women. I want to urge men to listen to women and learn from them. I want to invite everyone to join hands for this important cause.

Schedule for India tour

Do make sure to catch him live in action. Here's his full schedule in India.

August 19-23 Kolkata
August 24-25 Chennai
August 26-27 Coimbatore
August 28-31 Delhi

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