HTP Editorial

Jackson Katz, Ph.D., is an educator and social activist who has written, spoken and taught extensively about gender violence.  In 1997, he founded Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP Strategies) which offers leadership training services on the prevention of sexual harassment and violence.  MPV Strategies has worked with the U.S. military, sports organizations, schools, businesses, public health and law enforcement.

His work places a “special focus on the role of media, social norms, and institutional and cultural leadership in the shaping of multiracial, multinational masculinities”, and on the imperative of men’s proactive participation in the “promotion of gender equity and the prevention  of gender violence, and the many intersections in this work among gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religion.”

Jackson Katz on the political implications of using the passive voice when discussing sexual violence:

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.

“So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them…Men aren’t even a part of it!”

How language holds victims accountable, rather than their perpetrators, is demonstrated by the way the word “accuser” has supplanted the term “alleged victim.”

“This,” Katz stated, “is a very big shift in the conversation about sexual violence. People who come forward to allege that they have been sexually assaulted are now referred to routinely as ‘accusers.’ There’s a lot going on here with the use of this word. The public is generally positioned to identify sympathetically with the victims of sexual assault or other forms of abuse. So when you hear about a sexual assault you think, ‘That’s horrible. That’s too bad. Or that could have been me or someone I care about.’”

But using the term ‘accuser’ reverses the process, because it turns the victim into an accuser. “So we as a public are now positioned to identify sympathetically with him as the victim of her accusation, rather than with her as the victim of his alleged perpetration. This is subtle but deep, isn’t it? It’s another instance where victims are being told to sit down, shut up, and don’t come forward because if you come forward you are going to be an accuser, and then people are going to be questioning your motives…it’s just another way that we in society keep people from coming forward.”

Click here to learn more about Jackson Katz and his consulting services, books, videos and publications

Click here to watch Katz’s Ted Talk “Violence against Women – It’s a Men’s Issue” on Youtube