Broadening the Reach of Abuse Prevention: Why Recruiting Men is Key to Creating a Safe Community

When Scott Eastman—Executive Director of the Siskiyou Family YMCA—was invited to engage with the Protect Our Children initiative, he was initially reluctant to get involved. It wasn’t that he disagreed with its goals, of course, but there was nothing in his background or lived experience that would allow him to understand the magnitude of the issue.

Yet that changed fairly quickly. As Scott trained to be a facilitator for the Darkness To Light Stewards of Children training, he began to connect the dots with experiences he had had during his career in youth development:

“I have been a coach, working with female athletes, for 25 years. During that time, I‘ve seen many instances of behavioral issues with kids that just couldn’t be explained through what they were going through ‘on the surface’. What the Darkness To Light training did was it encouraged me to get to the bottom of what is going on by giving me a new lens to view behaviors as potential signs of abuse.”

As Scott began to lead events and trainings, he realized that there was something missing from the traditional approach to prevention:

“I would be in a room with fifty people, and I would look around and see there were only five men present. This happened more than once. And yet given what we know about the prevalence of abuse—and the typical profile of an abuser being male—it seemed obvious to me that we needed men to step off the sidelines and get involved.”

Having observed this dynamic on several occasions, Scott decided that there was an imperative to do something about it. So he began to think about what a meaningful, concerted outreach effort in his community might look like:

“I started writing down every man I could think of in the community, and I began having conversations with them about how we could bring men along. How could I get them to step up to take shared responsibility for this problem that is, after all, disproportionately caused by men? We started working in small circle groups—and just asked folks, simply, ‘would you come, and let’s have a conversation about this?'”

This low-pressure approach, focused on leveraging existing social connections, soon began to pay dividends. In fact, the Siskiyou Family YMCA—a relatively small Y with just under 2000 members—has achieved ratios of 25-30% male trainees, as opposed to the national average of 19-20%. While impressive, Scott notes that these numbers still suggest an imbalance in terms of who is attending formal education on the topic.

Scott is adamant that this isn’t simply about representation for its own sake. For many men, he suspects it’s easier to talk to other men about issues like abuse. That’s why, alongside boosting participation rates, the Y is also looking at ways to increase the number of male facilitators in the Stewards of Children program. One surefire sign that this is important, says Scott, is the number of  people who have disclosed abuse to him over his years as a male facilitator:

“I’ve had something like 150 people disclose to me over the six plus years that I’ve been a facilitator, and a little over 40% of those disclosures came from men. We know that this is much higher than the national average—but psychologists I have spoken to in this field suggest there is likely chronic underreporting by male victims.”

In an effort to further broaden their reach, the Y is now branching out to develop strategic, community partnerships to help maintain momentum:

“We’re currently in conversations with our local community college about getting police, firefighters, nurses and EMTs trained in abuse prevention through their academy and programs. Once these initiatives are in full swing, it should shoot our rates to 50-60% male participation—while also ensuring that strategically important groups have the skills they need to respond to abuse.”

Under Scott’s leadership, the Y has worked hard to incorporate abuse prevention throughout its own programming and culture too. Abuse prevention through Darkness To Light’s Stewards of Children training is a condition of employment, as well as of board membership. And Scott has also pushed to make sure the impact is felt beyond the walls of the Y. In fact, the Y—together with its coalition of community groups—has trained some 6.5-7% of the local population in Siskiyou County, exceeding the identified 5% ‘tipping point’ threshold that The Ford Family Foundation has been aiming for as part of the Protect Our Children initiative. (This pace has slowed somewhat since training went online during the pandemic, and Scott is eager to get back to in-person sessions.)

One of the big goals now is to track the impact of all this progress. Funded by the Ford Family Foundation and working through CPAN in conjunction with the University of Oregon, the Y has been helping in the effort to track knowledge and engagement of participants at 3, 6, 12 and 18 months after the initial training. After over five years of collecting data, the study has found that a remarkable 98% of participants found value in the training. Perhaps even more importantly, however, a majority of participants had actually increased their knowledge of the topic 18 months after their initial training. Scott says this is testament to the importance of this topic:

“There is something intensely personal about this topic, and there is a healing component that touches many people on a deep and lasting level. It’s messy, and it’s tough, but it really does change people. And if we can change enough people, we can start to change communities too.”