Rus Ervin Funk is a long-time activist and community organizer focusing on promoting healthy masculinities; preventing violence; promoting equity, diversity and justice. He has more than 30 years’ experience in mobilizing men to help end violence against women, and working with communities, campuses and organizations.
In 2019, Rus held the keynote speech at the WWP EN Annual Conference "Let's talk about it - Advancing interventions on sexual violence in perpetrator work" in Heraklion, as well as presenting a webinar on screening for men's use of sexualised violence.
What made you want to engage directly with men who perpetrate violence? Why did you stop doing the work?
I don’t know if I’d say that I ever “wanted” to work with men who perpetrate. I got started in this work as an undergraduate student in Texas, working at a rape crisis/domestic violence crisis agency with women and men who had been victimized. After a couple of years in these roles, I had the opportunity to begin working with men who perpetrated domestic violence. This was in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. After graduate school (1994) I had the opportunity to help create a community-based comprehensive sexual abuse agency, and my primary position was to work with adolescents and adults who had perpetrated sexual violence.
I stopped focusing on direct work with men who perpetrate as a result of my growing understanding of the broader social factors that contribute to, support and encourage men to perpetrate all forms of gender-based violence; coupled with my awareness of the lack of attention (at least in the US) of practitioners and efforts to focus on these factors. The vast majority of effort to stop men from perpetrating violence is focused on the individual intervention – the level that appears to be less effective in actually combatting and preventing men’s violence.
I currently focus my efforts on more systemic and community-based effort to counter and prevent men’s perpetration of violence and abuse.
What advice do you have for anybody feeling intimidated by the idea of working on sexualised violence with perpetrators?
I want to begin by acknowledging that addressing men’s sexualized violence is intimidating for a host of reasons. Exploring what it is about doing this work that feels intimidating will likely provide some insights and thoughts about how to address and counter what’s intimidating.
Some of why it’s intimidating:
- Our own experiences of sexualized violence is likely to be triggered by working with men on theirs. Many of us have been victimized, many of us may have engaged in tactics or behaviors that are scarily similar to the kinds of violence and abuse that men who perpetrate use, and some of us are in both. Most of us are in varying degrees of awareness and acceptance of our own experiences, and regardless, talking with men about their perpetrating will likely trigger our own memories and experiences.
- The more we understand about how men perpetrate sexualized violence, the better we understand the host of social norms that support and encourage men’s perpetration. We further better understand the myriad of ways that we support these same social norms. It can be intimidating to work with men who perpetrate sexualized violence as we counter the ways we have (and perhaps continue to) support and reinforce the norms that they use to justify/explain their perpetration
- Working with men who perpetrate sexualized violence means, often, working with them through a process of them normalizing their own behaviors and minimizing/denying the impact. In regards to sexualized violence in particular, challenging this normalizing, minimizing and denial in ways that are not shaming can feel intimidating
- Men who perpetrate sexualized violence are aroused by their perpetration. Often, men sharing their experiences of perpetrating sexualized violence results in them being aroused in the process of their sharing how they perpetrated the violence – especially in the early stages while they’re also in the midst of normalizing, minimizing and denying. Witnessing them getting aroused by engaging in behaviors that we define as harmful and abusive, and may find atrocious, can be intimidating (to say the least)
- There are likely many more reasons why doing this is intimidating for practitioners.
I would say in response to your question that knowing yourself, as practitioners – a part of which includes what it is that you find as intimidating about opening up this topic area with the men you work with. The better you understand this, the better you’ll likely be able to understand and identify how to counter those feelings of being intimidated.
Having good support (both in terms of supervision and in terms of colleagues and peer support is critical.
What is the most common misconception that you have encountered in your work on ending sexualised violence and how do you work to counter it?
I think the most common and pervasive misconception is that this is the kind of behaviour that is perpetrated by “sick” men and (related) that the solution is within them. While it is critical that we continue to do the work of supporting individual men who perpetrate violence to account for the harm they caused, the problem of men’s sexualized violence against women, children and other men is not located in the individual men who perpetrate. The problem is the social environment that creates men who engage in these kinds of behaviors, and which creates the myriad of factors that support and encourage, tolerate and allow, men to first envision, and then perpetrate sexualized violence – and to get away with it.
Men’s perpetration of sexualized violence is a social problem not an individual one!
How do you see pornography use as related to sexualised violence in intimate relationships?
Men’s pornography use seems central to their perpetration of sexualized violence in intimate relationships. Men use pornography to create the visions of sexual assault, as well as to groom their partners for what it is that they want to do with them. Pornography becomes a part of the “normalizing” of men’s sexualized violence, and a way to intimidate and force their partners.
In multiple studies, anywhere from a significant minority (40%) to a majority (58 – 65%) of women who had experienced domestic violence were aware of their partners pornography use, and a majority of them reported that it impacted on their husband’s/boyfriends abuse toward them (either by increasing the level of violence, increasing the frequency of abuse, or sexualizing the abuse that he perpetrated)
Women also report that their abusive husbands had who used pornography had used the women displayed in pornography to put down their sexual “performance” and their appearance.
For a more full examination of this, see “the role of adult pornography in intimate partner sexual violence perpetrators’ offending” (Walter DeKeseredy and Rus Funk) in Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A MultiDisciplinary Approach to Prevention, Recognition and Intervention (Louise McOrmond-Plummer et al, editors, Routledge Press, 2017)
Bergen and Bogle (2000) “Exploring the connection between pornography and sexual violence” Violence and Victims, 15. 227-234
Shope, (2004) “when words are not enough: the search for the effect of pornography on abused women” Violence against women. 10, 56-72.
DeKeseredy and Joseph (2006) “Separation/divorce sexual assault in rural Ohio: preliminary results from an exploratory study.” Violence against women 12, 301-311
DeKeresedy and Schwartz (2009) Dangerous exist: escaping abusive relationship in rural America. Rugters University Press: New Brunswick NJ.