Men Stopping Violence Holds Men Accountable
Atlanta Group Celebrates 35 Yearsby Noah Chen
Community influences behavior. This is the guiding principle behind the work of Men Stopping Violence (MSV), an Atlanta-based organization that has been working for more than three decades to end misogyny.
MSV is defined as a “family violence intervention program.” Functionally, that means 99 percent of its job is pushing back against a culture of abuse, both physical and emotional, against women.
“What makes Men Stopping Violence stand out from the rest is that we are saying when men abuse women, we do not see that problem as a problem of that individual man alone,” MSV Executive Director Ulester Douglas says. “From a philosophical framework, the problem is the environment.”
Douglas has worked with the organization for 23 of its 35 years, and has made a living as a counselor and group facilitator for even longer. He is a licensed psychotherapist and has been awarded many honors for his efforts to end domestic violence and violence against women.
“Fix the environment, nurture a different kind of masculinity, a different type of fatherhood that is not so patriarchal,” Douglas says. “When you really break it down, that is the problem. We are nurturing abusive, violent, aggressive, patriarchal men.”
The message of personal accountability and community unity has reached folks from all walks of life. Men and women of varying age, race and economic background work at MSV. Douglas says the only common thread he can think of connecting the employees is “a passion for social justice.”
A large part of MSV’s work is educational, with one of the more prominent and intensive programs being a 24-week course covering MSV’s curriculum. While the classes do accept men ordered by the courts to attend classes as a result of criminal activity, about 50 percent of the students find their way to MSV for reasons unconnected to the criminal justice system.
Matthew Evans, a onetime intern with MSV, says he got involved with the organization because his formative years had been colored by an unsafe domestic environment. Following his personal experiences, Evans decided he could be more proactive in stopping violence against women, so he enrolled in their classes.
“The classes really delve deep into belief systems,” Evans says. “As men, we are socialized to be dominant and ‘wear the pants’ in a relationship with a woman.”
MSV’s philosophy is, in part, that it’s only after understanding these internal systems and comprehending the motivation behind their actions are men able to start to remedy themselves. To this end, one exercise done by men in the class is to recount instances in which they have been abusive towards women while their peers make sure they are not deferring blame to the woman or any external force and are instead taking accountability for their actions. This exercise reinforces the idea that even those in the room who did not commit the abuse still have an important role in ending it.
“The message is that the issue of domestic violence is a community issue, that all men can be a part of [the solution]” Evans says.
Following the course, Evans began to volunteer as a member of MSV’s Community Restoration Program, a program that focuses on, among other things, advocating for legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act.
Influencing legislation is not the only way MSV has impacted social systems. Douglas recalled an experience he had with a member of The Open Word Ministries, a local Georgia church, who was enrolled in WSV’s 24-week program.
“A guy did an internship with us, went back to his community, shared what he learned, organized a group for men. Pastor became interested, pastor learned more about domestic violence, pastor started to make that part of his ministry, there was a support group for women… we just impacted a major system within the community,” Douglas says. “That is success. We are changing the environment.”
MSV just celebrated its 35th anniversary in September, and though recent changes in America’s political climate have been frustrating for both Evans and Douglas, it’s members nonetheless continue to passionately fight for social justice.
“Don’t wait until it gets too close,” Douglas says. “This is everyone’s problem.”
Men Stopping Violence can be reached at 404-270-9894, or MenStoppingViolence.org.
Writer Noah Chen can be reached at [email protected].