Sexual and domestic violence prevention programs that engage men as anti-violence allies are increasingly globally prevalent. Mirroring other “ally”-building efforts, men's anti-violence movements typically aim to educate men about violence, to critically analyze connections between notions of “masculinity” and aggressive behavior, and to build young men's skills related to interrupting disrespectful conduct among peers. Although increasingly popular, little is known about the strategies that best serve to engage and sustain men's participation in anti-violence groups or about the factors that support men in enacting ally behaviors. The purpose of this study was to investigate these gaps through interviews with men who became involved in anti-violence ally groups or organizations within the past two years, and who can therefore speak to the recent factors that prompted their initial involvement and their on-going engagement with the work or mission of a men's anti-violence organization. In particular, aims of this research are to identify processes through which men initially join men's anti-violence groups or events, describe factors associated with longer-term involvement in anti-violence work, to identify factors associated with the sustainability of men's organizing efforts and to describe men's experiences as they attempt to integrate ally behavior into their lives.
Participants were recruited through relevant anti-violence and men's organizing listserves, through flyers posted at anti-violence organizations and groups, and via word of mouth. Interested participants initiated contact with the researchers, resulting in a sample of 27 men. Respondents ranged in age from 20 to 72, and resided across the U.S. Length of involvement in anti-violence work ranged from one week to just over two years; 26 participants were Caucasian and one was Latino. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in person or over the phone. Resulting transcripts were analyzed using grounded theory.
Participants described engagement in anti-violence groups as a process with different and multiple contributing factors over time. Common themes among these factors included personalizing the issue of violence, feeling increasingly personally responsible for or “charged” with addressing violence, and having role models or mentors. Sustainability of anti-violence efforts was supported by meaningful contact with victims of violence or victim-service organizations, by leadership or skill-building opportunities and by significant relationships with mentors. Finally, although men in this sample had significant training and exposure to the issue of violence, they described continued difficulty with and barriers to enacting ally behavior in their daily lives.
Conclusions and Implications:
Processes through which men became involved with and committed to anti-violence efforts mirror theoretical perspectives on stages of change. Viewing ally-building as a process in which individuals occupy unique “statuses” over time suggests that ally engagement strategies need to be tailored to individuals' levels of awareness and skills relative to anti-violence work. Results also highlight the multiple “real-life” barriers to enacting ally behavior, suggesting the need for further theoretical and interventive development of skill-building for allies. These findings will be discussed both in relation to the specific issue of organizing men against violence, and to ally-building efforts more generally.