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State Dept. Program Focused on Ensuring Men and Boys Break Cycle of Domestic Violence

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan meets with the staff of U.S. Embassy Khartoum in Sudan on Nov. 16, 2017. (State Department Photo/ Public Domain)

WASHINGTON — The deputy secretary of State said today that “male champions are imperative to breaking the cycle of violence” as the State Department focuses on bringing men and boys into the fight versus violence against women.

“From sexual assault, early or forced marriage and rape, to dating violence and so-called honor killings, women and girls disproportionately face violence around the world. The statistics, unfortunately, are both shocking and saddening,” John J. Sullivan said at a department event. “An estimated one out of every three women worldwide has been subject to violence, rape, or other abuse in her lifetime.”

He cited grim World Health Organization statistics that at least 30 percent of women worldwide have experienced violence at the hands of a partner, and UN statistics that violence against women causes “more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 than cancer, traffic accidents, malaria, and war combined.”

In the United States, he added, nearly one out of every three women and one out of every six men has experienced some form of sexual violence.

“Beyond the obvious and direct harm to the individual, violence against women damages society as a whole and stifles or reverses progress made in economic development, health, and security,” Sullivan said, citing as example Boko Haram’s attacks on schoolgirls in Nigeria to “prevent them from receiving an education by keeping them out of the classroom and alienate them from reaching their full potential as citizens, entrepreneurs, leaders, or just as human beings.”

“And this violence doesn’t merely impact a victim; it causes a chain reaction, further contributing to the cycles of poverty and instability we witness in so many countries, impacting not only individuals, but entire societies,” he continued. “Whether it occurs inside or outside of the workplace, violence against women can limit women’s ability to fully participate in the economy. It’s not an easy topic to talk about – it’s often painful, it’s emotionally draining to be with the survivors – but we must face it head-on if we’re going to make any progress.”

The State Department announced at today’s event on engaging men and boys to break the cycle of violence against women and children a new “Voices Against Violence” initiative in partnership with the Avon Foundation with an eye to crafting “a new approach to combating gender-based violence, especially in areas of conflict.” Avon’s Justice Institute on Gender-Based Violence has pulled together forums with judicial, law enforcement and government officials in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, India, Nepal, Mexico, Philippines, Romania, and South Africa.

Sullivan noted that violence against women “negatively affects men and boys in two ways: directly, as survivors of violence, and indirectly, through their exposure to it.”

“Study after study has shown that when violence is witnessed or experienced, it’s likely to be repeated. Gender-based violence is cyclical. Men who witness violence at an early age are twice as likely to be perpetrators of violence in the future,” he said. “Similarly, girls who experience abusive relationships early in their lives are at an increased risk of being victimized by others later in life. Engaging men and boys as loving, supportive, and involved husbands and fathers is critical to achieving sustained transformational change.”

Of the new Voices Against Violence program, Sullivan said the goal is “ensuring men and boys are involved in training to prevent violence,” as “it helps other men recognize that this is not just a women’s issue and that we need everyone’s help to make a change.”

“VAV will serve as an effective new tool for embassies and our bureaus here at State to not only assist survivors of gender-based violence but also to break the cycle of violence by working directly with men and boys on this issue,” the deputy secretary of State continued. “Additionally, VAV will help the State Department undertake important initiatives like responding to acid attacks, preventing female genital mutilation, and putting an end to honor killings so that we can protect women across the globe who have nowhere else to turn.”

“Incorporating men and boys to become stout agents of change and advocates to end violence against women and children is an essential element to solving a global problem. We are making progress, but it’s just the beginning. There is still much more to be done,” Sullivan said. “And by continuing to work together to promote gender equality and eliminate gender bias, I’m confident that we can make great strides in breaking this cycle of violence.”