What About The Boys?
Why should ESD be accessible not only to girls and women, but also to boys and men and people of all genders?
According to the research, the ratio for sexual assault for women is approaching is 1:1. In other words, almost every woman will suffer from some form of sexual assault or harassment in her life.
Until now, statistics had predicted that 1 in every 10 men will suffer from gender-based violence. However, recent, more in-depth research has shown that the numbers may be drastically higher-- possibly even reaching 1 in 6 or 1 in 5. Some studies would go so far as to imply 1 in 4.
Read that again. 1 in 4 men may experience some form of sexual attack in their life-time?
Why the confusion? Why don't we know exactly what the statistics are for boys and men?
Because men are afraid to talk.
Really? Men afraid to talk?
If it's about sexual assault - certainly.
We know that it is often difficult to convince women to report gender-based violence because they’re frightened they won’t be believed, or they are intimidated by repeated police interrogation, because of public discussion of their sexual habits, or having to meet the attacker face to face in court, because of public exposure... The list goes on and on.
It is not surprising to discover that it is equally, or possibly more, difficult for men to report sexual abuse or assault. The shame factor and believability issue can be even greater. While women are usually perceived in the public consciousness as "weak" and therefore always vulnerable to being hurt, men are perceived as having the power to prevent such harm from coming their way.
The reality is probably even harsher than this new research would suggest. If, with the reticence men have for admitting they have experienced gender-based violence, research could uncover that one in five or six men has been harmed by gender violence, imagine how many more men and boys remain silent. They don’t dare talk about what happens to them for exactly the same reasons that women are afraid.
Given this information, the question arises - who is helping boys and men who have been sexually assaulted? For abused girls and women, tens and perhaps hundreds of organizations have been set up around the world to provide support, shelter, emotional support and financial assistance.
But what about the men and boys?
As an organization, ESD Global understands that gender-based violence is a danger to women and men alike. It is one of the only women's organizations that set out, from the start, to provide violence prevention education to children and adults of all genders.
ESD Global instructors are experts in self-defense and various martial arts. They have worked diligently to develop an effective set of safety tools that don’t require twenty-five years of self-defense or martial arts experience to acquire. They have been teaching these techniques to women to girls.
ESD is a curriculum that provides physical skills that are adapted specifically to harness the strengths of women and girls’ bodies and psyches and set them against the weaknesses of the bodies and minds of assailants. However, what makes the ESD method unique is its ability to be adjusted to all populations.
But the curriculum for boys and men had yet to be created. ESD Global personnel until now have been women. Theoretically, they could have speculated and tried to guess how someone of a different gender experiences violence, and they could probably have created a violence prevention protocol that would help men and boys too.
But at ESD Global, it is believed that everyone deserves a voice in their own empowerment. Just as ESD has an effective curriculum to prevent sexual assault against women that can be taught throughout the world, it was decided to allocate budget, time, and place for men to accommodate ESD skills to male bodies and perspectives.
The ESD Men’s Incubator was born.
There were many hurdles to jump, just to create our group. For two years, ESD Global’s leadership searched for men to create an ESD curriculum for boys by taking part in the ESD Men’s Incubator. It became very clear that not only were men silent about gender violence, but that it was very difficult to find men who would acknowledge the issue let alone help find a solution.
The organization issued an international call to action for men and invited them to take part in the program. Only a small number wrote back and offered to participate. Eventually, twenty or so men from around the world were accepted into the incubator.
Thirteen actually came.
In August of this year, under the auspices of ESD Global, we, thirteen men, met in Huguenot, New York. Each of us was from a different country and region of the world, each with expertise in self-defense, martial arts, or working with boys and men surrounding issues of gender and sexual assault.
The purpose of the incubator was to sit together for six days, and come out on the other side with a curriculum accessible enough to be taught anywhere in the world and provide men and boys with the tools they need to prevent and deal with gender-based violence.
Our challenges were numerous. First, it was clear that in most clubs where martial arts such as judo, karate, aikido, jiujitsu, etc, are taught, there is almost no discourse on gender-based violence and the possibility of facing a sexual assault.
Martial arts techniques are not designed to be used in such sensitive situations. But a sensei or a martial arts master who wants to address issues of sexual and gender-based violence can and should get to know the topic closely and be prepared to speak about it with his or her students, know how to support those who may come to seek help and offer a set of coping tools, such as an ESD curriculum provides.
In order to solve these issues and to produce the specific ESD protocols that would be required, we, as men, through the incubator process, needed to test our attitudes on basic concepts including gender, equality, sexual violence, sexism, homophobia, and of course questions of race, class, origin and more.
What helped us through was the fact that there was an International Judo camp in the same facility where our incubator was being held. We trained alongside dozens of judo teachers, many who were masters and who have their own big clubs. We spent a lot of time speaking with them, and they became an important resource for us.
We interviewed them and asked if they ever tried to include education about gender-based violence in their classes. We asked them if they would be willing to take part in violence prevention education if given a curriculum. If they said no, we asked why or why not, and about what would prevent them from collaborating with us on this problem.
The answers we received made it clear that we have a great deal of work ahead of us. Attitudes on the subject were ambivalent and most of the instructors we interviewed preferred to simply shy away from the topic.
By the end our second full day, we all came to the realization that even with an excellent curriculum, at least at the beginning, not every martial arts instructor will be qualified or willing to teach ESD to boys.
The next phase of the incubator involved sharing knowledge with each other, from theoretical information about gender and masculinity to practical knowledge about education and how to work with youth and men. We also shared self defense techniques with a particular emphasis on avoiding all forms of sexual assault.
We quickly realized that we must take advantage of every possible tool so that we can give professionals from many backgrounds, not just martial arts, the opportunity to train to teach ESD to boys in the future. We assembled all of these materials into an initial curriculum and began to try it out on everyone we could find: the judo masters at their conference, the women and men training at the same facility, and of course, the female ESD instructors and the leaders of ESD Global.
By the end of the week, we had a draft of a super intense training program that would be usable by instructors from all walks of life and all parts of the world.
The curriculum includes lesson plans for 25 full sessions designed to be given over the course of a year, along with shorter programs of 12 sessions, 3 sessions, or even one session.
We also prepared:
1. Alternative programs for populations with specific needs.
2. A plan to take ESD techniques designed for boys and adapt them for other groups of men, including senior citizens and men with disabilities.
3. A plan for further research.
4. A marketing plan.
Now, after our six days together, each of us, back in his own country, is starting the process of looking for potential ESD instructors. Soon, we will begin giving trainings in order to create an international staff who will start giving boys the “first-aid” they need. Even if they still dare not speak up for themselves, they will know exactly what to do when faced with any type of gender-based violence.
The healing has begun.
For the last 15 years, Dr. Yaron Schwartz has been an activist in the field of preventing gender-based violence against all genders. His Ph.D. in Gender Studies focused on dilemmas faced by male moderators in teaching gender and masculinity to boys in high schools.
Today, Schwartz specializes in creating educational curricula for teaching safe and healthy gender and sexual practices. As part of his research, Schwartz developed a gender-responsive pedagogy paradigm designed primarily for boy’s education. Using this paradigm, Schwartz created gender intervention programs for all grade levels in Israel, from kindergarten to high-school, for co-ed secular schools as well as all boys’ religious education.
For the last six years, Schwartz has served as the gender studies coordinator in the Hartman religious boys high-school in Jerusalem, where he developed a gender education curriculum containing more than 100 learning units, currently taught weekly in all grade levels from 7th to 12th.