The Guardian

Building better men: how we can begin to redefine masculinity

My friend’s story proves men can change. Now educators are working with young boys to help them escape gender roles at an early age
‘We have to get a lot more deliberate if we want to transform masculinity into a healthy identity.’ Illustration: Nathalie Lees

I have a friend – let’s call him Dave, though that’s not his name – who is active in his church, a loving and supportive husband, and a hilarious dinner companion. He’s also a former rapist.

He confessed this to me in fits and starts, over dinners and phone calls and late-night drinks, after we’d known each other a couple of years.

His story matches much of the research my work relies on, but it still forced me to re-evaluate some of my core assumptions about rapists and about the role of men in ending rape.

Dave’s former MO is familiar to anyone who thinks about sexual violence for a living. He picked victims he knew. He got them alone, encouraged them to have conversations that made them feel vulnerable, and pressed a lot of alcohol on them. And then, when they were too drunk to consent, he “had sex” with them. (That’s how he thought about it at the time, though today he will tell you straight up it was rape.)

The research is very clear: most rapists know they don’t have consent, and they rape an average of six times each. Before Dave told me his story, I thought that meant that most rapists were essentially

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