As a professional wrestler, I may seem like an unlikely candidate to help victims of rape. I'm missing part of my right ear, my front teeth are gone, my sense of style is questionable. But a couple of years ago, I became involved with RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) -- first as a donor, then as a volunteer -- and came to feel that male voices were sorely missing, and very much needed in the fight against sexual violence.
As a weekly volunteer for RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, an anonymous and secure crisis support service for victims of sexual assault, I have learned a number of things that every man should know.
And after 25 years in professional wrestling, I really thought I knew pain. I was wrong. Every week on the hotline, I bear witness to the type of pain I can only guess at.
Crimes of sexual violence profoundly affect men. Every two minutes in this country, someone is sexually assaulted, and the victims have husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, and colleagues ... Moreover, men are victims of sexual assault, too.
For us men to ignore this problem is to lay down our arms in the fight against sexual violence. It means giving up on a battle that can be won with weapons as simple as education, understanding, and a little old-fashioned anger. We should no longer stand idly by, allowing only women and survivors to engage in this most winnable form of combat.
Furthermore, victims of sexual assault -- male and female -- need to hear from male voices. They need men as well as women to take them seriously, to tell them that it isn't their fault and that they are not alone. That's why I am an Online Hotline volunteer, and it is why I hope to persuade more men to become aware and involved.
There are simple things that any man can do to prevent sexual violence as well as help victims of this serious crime: if you see someone who might need help, don't simply walk away and assume everything will be okay. Intervene! Speak up. Help the potential victim get to a safer place.
If you see a buddy or a guy doing something that he shouldn't -- stand up for what you know is right. Tell him that you don't agree with what he's doing and ask him to leave the potential victim alone. I know it can be uncomfortable, even painful to do. Many men (including me) may have found themselves witnesses to situations that seemed wrong -- situations that had the potential to escalate into something truly bad or criminal -- and simply lacked the courage to speak up or step forward.
Let's get the courage. It's a courage that might stop a friend from committing a crime, and stop someone -- a sister, a mother, a wife, a friend, a human being -- from being a victim.
And if one of your friends or family members has been assaulted, don't be judgmental. Let your friend know about the help that is available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline and the Online Hotline (1.800.656.HOPE and www.rainn.org). Encourage her to get help, but remember that it's ultimately her decision. Don't pressure her, no matter how angry you may be about the situation and at the rapist.
Perhaps most importantly, don't believe the myths. Dispel them. I assure you that a woman who is drinking or wears a short skirt, enters a man's home, or a student's room is not giving anyone permission to rape her. If she is unconscious, or has a diminished capacity to consent, she simply cannot consent to sex.
On the RAINN hotline, I encounter people who feel scared and alone, ashamed and abused - the victims of a crime that so many still want to blame on the victim, and for which so many victims still blame themselves.
Together, this is a fight we can win.
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