Boys in baseball caps tossed mini-footballs and cheered when their classmates urged them to join in an effort to prevent rape that was the focus of a lunchtime rally Thursday at Marshall High School in Los Feliz.
“Men can stop rape,” said Carlos Morales, coordinator of the Men of Strength Club at Marshall. “Guys, this is not about accusing you, it’s about getting you involved in the solution.”
Marshall is one of six high schools statewide to launch a pilot program aimed at building young men’s strength and character while teaching them to treat women with respect. The campaign, called “My Strength Is Not for Hurting,” includes multimedia outreach targeting 14- to 18-year-old males to encourage them to build their masculinity without intimidation or violence.
“Sexual violence has very often, if not always, been referred to as a women problem,” said Robert Coombs of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which is sponsoring the campaign along with the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women. Focusing on young men is “a radical shift in how to prevent rape.”
Someone is raped every 54 minutes in California, and one in six women nationwide has experienced an attempted or actual rape, according to the coalition.
Although coordinators said no particular events led to the choice of Marshall High, many at the school rallied two years ago for an increase in safety measures around campus after a Marshall student was sexually assaulted on her way home. She was one of eight Marshall students out of 19 young victims who had been raped, fondled, groped or assaulted by a sexual predator in a string of attacks that started in 1995.
Seventy-seven percent of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, according to the coalition. In addition, 16- to 19-year-olds are 3 1/2 times more likely to be victims than the general population.
The campaign, funded by a grant from the state Department of Health Services, aims to prevent boys’ aggressive behavior and attitudes that can lead to rape. The other pilot programs were launched in San Luis Obispo, Petaluma, Weaverville and west Fresno County schools, as well as at North High School in Riverside.
“We want these young men to be leaders on this campus in the fight against sexual assault,” said Frank Blaney, program coordinator for the Men of Strength Club at Marshall.
On Thursday, one student spoke into a microphone, saying: “Guys, you’ve got to step up,” as students collected handouts on “12 Ways You Can Stop Rape Today.” One boy wearing a Detroit Piston T-shirt, another holding a skateboard and one donning a do-rag signed up to join the new campus club, which has 30 members.
One 15-year-old member named Jess wore a plastic bracelet that read, “My Strength,” as he passed out violence prevention fliers to classmates. His older sister was raped by her boyfriend in a bathroom at another school, he said. He joined the club to help protect her and other girls from such violence.
“Some guys don’t have any respect,” he said. “They grab girls wherever they want, control her like a piece of meat. It’s disrespectful.”
At the meetings, boys discuss fathers who disrespect mothers and boys who hit girlfriends or call them derogatory names. They talk about how to react if a girl says “no.” They meet twice a week and earn school credit for attending.
Another student, Dylan Blackburn, 17, recalled when a close friend was sexually assaulted.
“She bottled up for three months; she didn’t want to talk to anybody,” he said. “I wanted to beat this guy down, but that would put me at the level he was at.”
Instead, Blackburn, a Marshall football player, joined the Men of Strength this year.
“If I can teach 10 guys on this campus,” he said, “that’s 10 guys who won’t be out there sexually harassing women.”