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'Voices' events seek to engage men in preventing violence against women

'Voices' events seek to engage men in preventing violence against women

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A vast majority of domestic and sexual violence is carried out by men.

And, according to Tom Berkedal, that makes men the key to stopping it.

“We recognize that approximately 90% of perpetrators are men, and yet, historically, the battle against domestic violence and sexual assault has been (waged) mostly by women,” said Berkedal, founder and executive director of the Coulee Region Voices of Men.

Tom Berkedal of Voices of Men

Berkedal

On Nov. 11-13, the organization will host a series of events meant to engage men and empower women, especially survivors of violence.

“Go to any conference that involves agencies working with domestic violence victims, and it’s pretty much all women,” Berkedal said. “If there’s going to be any chance of reducing or ending the violence, men have got to be more involved.”

The series will include presentations at local middle and high schools, as well as a community “call to action” event that will run from 8 to 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 12 in The Bluffs inside the UW-La Crosse Student Union.

A presentation geared to college students will be held the night of Nov. 12, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in The Bluffs.

Chelsea Bongert and Kyle Tran Myhre will be this year's guest speakers.

Bongert, a middle school math teacher and a survivor of multiple rapes and assaults, has crisscrossed the state in recent years to tell her story.

Myhre, known by his stage name, “Guante,” is a two-time National Slam Poet whose work focuses on the role of men in eradicating domestic and sexual violence. Born in La Crosse, he is a graduate of Onalaska High School.

Berkedal said the pair will be presenting at middle schools -- last year, Voices of Men scheduled events only at high schools -- because the group recognizes the importance of reaching students, both boys and girls, early.

“We believe that it’s important to start at a young age, teaching men that they need to be respectful of women and creating those types of messages,” he said. “Most men aren’t aware of the struggles women go through on a daily basis. Men can go into a dark parking lot and not think twice, but women have to be concerned about what’s behind the next car. A lot of men are uneducated not because they don’t care, but because they just aren’t aware.

“And, sadly, there are people in that younger age group who have been sexually assaulted and maybe haven’t heard someone say, ‘It’s not your fault.’ Hearing that message can be very healing.”

According to Berkedal, the best thing men can do to prevent violence against women, after listening, is shedding a passive bystander mentality.

Men shouldn’t be shy, he said, about calling out other men for poor or sexist behavior, or about intervening in certain situations.

“Most men aren’t aware of what they can do to change something, and I think there are different degrees to that,” Berkedal said. “Some might be willing to intervene whenever they see something inappropriate, or when they see violence, and it’s also not difficult to slip away and call the police.

“Sometimes, if you’re with a guy who says something inappropriate, you can get the message across by just not laughing. Don’t give him the approval he’s looking for.”

Last year, the Voices of Men events drew roughly 700 adults and 2,000 young people. This year, Berkedal is expecting even higher numbers.

The cost to attend the Voices of Men community event is $25. People can register at facebook.com/CouleeRegionVOM.

The organization is also creating a website through which people interested in donating or volunteering can get involved.

More information can be found on the group's Facebook page.

“Go to any conference that involves agencies working with domestic violence victims, and it’s pretty much all women. If there’s going to be any chance of reducing or ending the violence, men have got to be more involved.”

Tom Berkedal, founder and executive director of the Coulee Region Voices of Men

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