MVP: Leaders against sexual assault

Nichole Danyla

Staff Writer

Every 107 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and only 38.4 percent of victims in 2013 reported it, according to federal government statistics.

“We see the headlines, we see how Ray Rice knocked his wife out in the elevator, we hear about athletes getting in trouble with women, like Ben Roethlisberger, and celebrities getting involved with women. So we see the headlines and people are shocked, right, and stunned. They say, ‘That’s horrible, I can’t believe that happened.’ But we all know in this room it happens every day. Yesterday a woman was sexually assaulted or abused. Today a woman was probably sexually assaulted or abused. Tomorrow it will happen again,” Mike Fonda said.

Fonda is from the St. Peter’s Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program for Rensselaer County, and he spoke at the Mar. 2 leadership workshop. He also conducts sessions of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which seeks to create and inspire leaders who are willing to challenge the thinking that promotes violence and sexual assault against women.

“We want to connect leadership to stopping violence against women because we are going to be challenging our peers and colleagues. I can challenge strangers all day, but do I have the courage and leadership skills to turn to my friend and say, ‘I don’t think that rape joke you just told was very funny, I don’t think that sexist remark you just made is very funny,’” Fonda said.

Fonda emphasized the fact that abuse doesn’t just happen. He showed a pyramid of escalation starting with inappropriate jokes, then foul or derogatory language. That leads to objectification, which means you slowly start seeing the victim of joking or name-calling as less than a person, as an object. Next comes verbal assault, followed by physical and sexual abuse that gets worse until it finally escalates to murder.

“Everyone is a bystander,” Fonda said. A bystander is anyone who sees or hears something happen, and they can choose to intervene. That is what the MVP program is all about.

During the presentation, Fonda asked participants to close their eyes and imagine the most important woman in their lives alone in a parking lot, then to imagine a man coming up and yelling at her and knocking her around. Finally, he asked them to imagine there was a bystander who saw the whole thing and did nothing to stop it. After he asked how they felt. They were all upset that the bystander didn’t step in.

Then Fonda asked if people felt it was OK for two drunk people at a party to have sex with each other. By the end of the discussion, everyone decided that if people are drunk, they can’t consent, so they shouldn’t have sex because they may regret it later.

The next scenario Fonda proposed is one that he said happens 89 percent of the time on college campuses. He asked what participants would do if they were at a party and their friend was trying to have sex with an intoxicated girl.

Most of the participants agreed that they would try to stop their friend and get the two separated so nothing happened that they would regret, and no one would get in trouble later.

Like the students in the scenario, MVP aims to stop sexual assault. It was created in Boston in the 1980s by an organization called Sports and Society. It was based on the idea that athletes can be good role models for men, especially young men. The idea was inspired by a highly successful commercial for Miller Lite beer in the 1970s. At the time, light beer was thought of as feminine, so to entice more men to drink it, the company hired two football players to drink it in a commercial.

Today the MVP program is used by the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the NFL, the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, NASCAR, and MLB.

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