Media Contact
Rich Batten
Colorado Department of Human Services
303.866.3808
Maggie Spain
The Bawmann Group
303.320.7790

March 24, 2010

Raising Respectful Sons: How Dads Can Talk To Their Boys About Gender-Based Violence

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time to increase public understanding of sexual violence and education and prevention activities. This month is also an ideal opportunity for Colorado fathers to talk with their children, especially their sons, about domestic violence and sexual assault. Fathers can significantly decrease the number of violent incidents by demonstrating healthy, respectful relationships to their sons on an everyday basis.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are critical issues in our society,” said Rich Batten, fatherhood and family specialist with the Colorado Department of Human Services. “In 2009, at least 40 Coloradans died following incidents related to domestic violence. Dads play a crucial role in educating their sons about healthy and safe relationships with women and men.”

Because boys typically look to their dads for social cues on male roles, it is especially important that fathers be well informed and invested in discussing issues relating to domestic violence and sexual assault. According to the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women, dads can use the following strategies to keep these interactions positive while also strengthening family bonds.

Educate your son about healthy equal relationships. Your son’s well being includes the ability to develop healthy relationships with women and other men. As such, sharing your values regarding gender equality is just as important as teaching him about safety, hard work, independence and respect toward others.

Accept
your role as a man promoting gender equality. Recognize that you have a role to play in educating your son about gender equality and healthy relationships. These are not only “women’s issues” but issues that affect us all, including men and boys. The vast majority of violence against women and men is committed by men, therefore it is important for you to educate your son about this issue and model positive and healthy examples of male behavior.

Listen to women...learn from women. Learn about violence and gender inequality by asking a woman who trusts you how violence has affected her life. Then, if she feels comfortable to talk, sit back and listen. Turn to your local women’s organizations for more information. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge. Talk to them. Read their publications. Contribute financially.

Be a good role model. Your language, behavior and interactions with the women and men in your life will have a significant impact on your son’s values and attitudes toward women and girls. Sharing equally in family responsibilities and chores at home with your spouse or girlfriend, being open about your feelings with the women in your life or publicly questioning negative depictions of women, are ways to demonstrate to them that you value women as equals and believe in healthy relationships. On the flip side, laughing at sexist jokes, sharing magazines that objectify women or remaining silent about violence or injustices against women are behaviors and values that may end up being adopted by your son.

Speak of the men and women who made a difference in your life. Just like you have the capacity to be a positive role model in your son’s life, you can probably identify men and women who had an impact on your values regarding gender equality. Share what these people represent to you, the reasons why they are important and the values that you admire in them. Point out to your son that he too has the potential to be a good role model for others.

Speak out about violence against women and other injustices. A father who criticizes a violent act or sexist comment witnessed by his son can share with him the confidence, language and skills he’ll need to be able to do the same later on. Share your thoughts and feelings regarding what happened and talk about how that action was unhealthy or demeaning to women. Remaining silent or making excuses helps to normalize sexist behavior and violence against women.

You may not have all of the answers. It’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know all the answers, that you are not an expert on this topic and freely admit when you make a mistake. Let your son know that you will look for the right information and will get back to him later on. Acknowledging your feelings and weaknesses will reduce the pressure on your son to be “perfect” all the time.

Another way for Colorado men to become involved in the fight against sexual assault and domestic violence locally is by joining the Colorado Men Against Domestic Violence (CMADV) campaign. Launched in 2008, this campaign asks men to join others from across the state to sign a pledge of commitment against domestic violence. The CMADV pledge is a promise to speak out against violence and a challenge to encourage other men to participate in the campaign. Visit coloradomenagainstdv.com to learn more.

In October 2006, the Colorado Department of Human Services, Colorado Works Division was awarded a $10 million federal grant over five years to strengthen father/child relationships and improve parenting. Colorado is one of two locations nationwide, including Washington, D.C., to receive this federal community access grant. The Responsible Fatherhood Initiative distributes more than $1.1 million in community awards to State, community and faith based organizations to assist in providing direct services to fathers and families. Awards of up to $50,000 are distributed per program per fiscal year. For more information on a fatherhood program in your community, please visit www.coloradodads.com.