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Men need to step up to thwart violence against women, coalition says | TribLIVE.com
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Men need to step up to thwart violence against women, coalition says

Natasha Lindstrom
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“It’s none of my business.”

“But he seems like a nice guy.”

“Well, what was she wearing?”

Those statements — referencing all-too-common reactions to reports of sexual abuse — are splashed across posters distributed around Western Pennsylvania alongside two words in large, bold lettering: “NO MORE.”

Beneath the words appear photos of men in leadership roles throughout the region who are championing efforts to end sexual harassment and violence — including the heads of property development companies, universities and restaurants such as Sushi Fuku and Primanti Bros.

“We need the male voices, too,” said Georgia Petropoulos, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District, which represents businesses and universities. “It’s not a women’s problem, it’s a humanity problem, and women alone aren’t going to solve this.”

The marketing campaign is a piece to the broader initiative known as Southwest PA Says No More, a coalition of hundreds of nonprofits, businesses, public officials and higher education leaders.

“There are so many people who are working very hard to break cycles of violence and make sure that the world that we’re handing off to our kids is safer,” said Kristy Trautmann, executive director of FISA Foundation, a nonprofit based in Downtown Pittsburgh whose mission is to improve the lives of girls, women and people with disabilities. “We see that this movement is really translating into action, which is making a difference.”

On Wednesday afternoon, about 80 representatives of nonprofits, businesses, government and higher education institutions convened at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood to reflect on what the coalition has achieved in the past year, identify challenges and brainstorm next steps.

“This is an important conversation, and my business community wanted to rally around that,” Petropoulos said. “They have enormous influence — from the executives, to their employees, to the community.”

The coalition aims to cultivate a climate of safety, equality and respect. It encourages everything from establishing workplace domestic violence policies, to improving access to resources for sex abuse victims, to the simple act of calling someone out when they’re acting inappropriately.

“If I can cat-call or treat you like a piece of property, then I’ve already started the process of abusing you. Small things matter,” said Charles Stroud, lead group facilitator at Renewal Inc., which helps people in the criminal justice system transition back into communities. “For some people, for some men, it’s just like racism: They’re stuck in their old ways.”

In October, the coalition released the results of a poll of nearly 700 men in a 10-county area of southwestern Pennsylvania. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they believe men have an important role to play in preventing violence and harassment against women, and three-quarters said that someone close to them has experienced it.

But just 38 percent of the men polled said they have had conversations with women about the issue, and less than 10 percent have talked about it to employers, elected officials, religious leaders or officials at their children’s schools.

The report concluded “there is a gap in putting these beliefs in action.”

More than 80 percent of attendees at the PA Southwest Says No More meeting on Wednesday were women.

“As a man, it’s not enough to not be abusive,” Trautmann said. She said it’s important for more men to have conversations about preventing harassment and violence, especially with young people.

Among such efforts underway is a program funded by The Heinz Endowments called Coaching Boys Into Men. The program trains athletic coaches how to talk to their players about safe, healthy relationships and modeling respectful behaviors for their peers. Last year, 283 coaches and 1,832 athletes from 63 teams across 31 schools participated.

Among other 2018 achievements cited by the coalition:

– The Women’s Law Project launched a new legal helpline for low-income people and students who have been victims of sexual harassment or assault.

– Last summer, 3,500 people in the region signed the Father’s Day Pledge, which called on men to use their roles as fathers, uncles, brothers, colleagues and mentors to help end violence against women. It urged men to talk to children about healthy relationships, confront other men about disrespectful jokes or actions and support victims to get help.

– More than 400 employers have signed up to develop workplace policies and responses to domestic violence with assistance from Standing Firm. It explains to employers how doing so can not only protect employees but also improve the employer’s bottom line, such as by reducing employee health problems, tardiness and turnover.

Partner violence “underlies a lot of work performance issues that result in discipline,” Trautmann said.

– Last year, the city of Pittsburgh adopted a “safe leave” policy for city employees that allows those who experience domestic violence to take time off work to deal with related challenges such as obtaining a protection from abuse order or going to court for child custody hearings.

– At the college level, efforts include extra training for faculty and staff, as well cooperation with campus and local law enforcement, to ensure that victims of sexual violence feel safe coming forward.

One in five female undergraduate students and one in 14 male undergraduate students nationwide have reported experiencing sexual assault, U.S. Department of Justice data show.

The Southwest PA Says No More coalition began as a collaboration among FISA Foundation, The Heinz Endowments and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania in fall 2017. It’s about the same time the national “#Me Too” movement gained viral momentum prompted by a slew of high-profile women and celebrities speaking out on issues of sexual abuse and the cultures and mindsets that allow it to happen.

Trautmann said there’s plenty of work to do, but she sees signs of progress, particularly among younger men.

In the coalition’s poll this past fall, of men who were 65 or older, 81 percent said they never had a conversation growing up about how to prevent and recognize the signs of abusive behavior.

A majority of men ages 18 to 35 — 59 percent — said they have had such conversations.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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