ESPAÑOLA — There are the obvious signs of sexual assault: violet-hued hickeys covering the spine of a 6-year-old girl; handprints on the buttocks of a teenage boy; charcoal bruises crawling from the thigh to stomach of a middle-aged mom; diary entries blurred with tears.
And then there are the intangible but long-lasting traumas: gaping emptiness, distrust and fear, haunting memories, a fog of shame and defeat.
As more victims of rape and sexual assault come forward, men like activist Scott Davis are getting involved in preventive work in hopes of reducing sexual violence in Northern New Mexico and nationwide. Davis leads a program for men and boys through Tewa Women United and is a trainer for an the activist group A Call To Men.
“Since we’re the ones doing this, we’re the ones who need to stop,” Davis said. “And we’ve got to hold our brothers accountable so they stop, too.”
He pointed to the harrowing national statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center: More than 90 percent of perpetrators of are male; half of offenders are white and over the age of 30; and more than 70 percent personally know their victim.
“By distancing ourselves from the problem, we are just encouraging it to continue,” Davis said.
Davis, who is 49, white and stands over 6 feet, wants to play a role in ending the cycle. And he believes change starts with men like him.
Earlier this month, Davis played host to a breakfast at the San Ildefonso El Rancho Property, across from the El Rancho Community Center. Men and women, some accompanied by their children, gathered over pancakes and bacon to discuss the meaning of “healthy manhood” in the context of societal norms.
The idea was to engage in conversation revolving around subconscious ideas of “manliness” — a topic Davis thinks is more crucial than simply teaching about consent.
“Gender is infused with violence in some overt and some very covert ways that we don’t always think about,” said Davis, adding that teaching boys to “be tough,” and telling girls that what happens to them is their fault, has grave consequences that begin in early childhood.
“This is how we socialize boys: ‘Man up,’ ‘be a man,’ ‘grin and bear it,’ ‘you gotta push through,’ ‘don’t play like a girl. …’ Young boys think they have to be a man right now — but what does that even mean?” he said.
“When you tell a 3-year-old boy not to feel pain, all he’s getting is ‘don’t feel.’ He can’t separate which feelings are allowed and which aren’t.”
Davis, who said he was sexually assaulted at 15, said this confusion generally results in suppressed emotions — excluding anger — and that the pent-up aggression can be directly linked to rape and abuse.
Jessie Whittaker — a New Mexico State Police agent who said he has handled about 70 rape cases in the past few years — is trying to teach his two sons to fully express themselves and to embrace women as equals.
“If you want your kid to be an NFL star, you put a football in their hand as a kid. If you want them to grow up to be a good man who respects and protects women, you start young. You take them to something like this,” said Whittaker, who attended the pancake breakfast with his sons, Aayden Martinez, 4, and Damian Whittaker, 6.
To Davis, adult leadership is key.
“The children are the next generation — that’s the preventative piece. But it’s our generation that needs to bring the preventative piece to make it stick,” he said, adding coaches, teachers and youth leaders must get on board with his message.
Davis, who lives in Española, travels the country to speak at community gatherings, visit schools and sports teams, and host diverse groups at community centers — all to discuss male emotions and the modern definition of masculinity. The gatherings vary from 30-minute talks to hourlong meetings that are held up to eight weeks.
The goal: Kick-start large-scale change for the way boys are taught and how they think.
“I think there’s a lot of value in conversation, and in smaller groups there’s opportunity to go deeper,” said Davis, adding that big change almost always starts small. “If I’m speaking to a smaller group, I think the chance of actual transformation goes up. They’re more likely to go out there and spread the word.”
But before speaking to individuals of various ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences, Davis said he must first break through the perceptions people have about him.
“Oftentimes I’ll get a pushback because I’m white and don’t know their culture,” Davis said of the minority groups that he’s mentored over the past five years — especially in New Mexico, where he is part of largely Hispanic and Native communities. “That’s a true statement and I can’t deny that. At the same time, there (are) things that we as men have in common that cross cultural boundaries.”
One of Davis’ primary goals is to encourage men to simply acknowledge the issues and speak up.
“Most of us have heard those jokes and been in those conversations,” he said, referring to “locker room talk” that pervades some male conversations. “If we haven’t perpetrated or told the joke, we’ve heard it and not said anything. None of us are clean.”
Demeatrio Wade, an academic advisor at Northern New Mexico College’s Upward Bound program and a former basketball player at the school, said he’s well-versed in those kinds of conversations, used in many male-dominated settings.
“It’s very inappropriate,” said Wade, adding that harsh language about women is, unfortunately, “very normal” for both athletes and coaches. “When you’re with elite individuals on a team, there’s only one form of masculinity. It’s very competitive and macho — chauvinistic.”
Back at the breakfast, as syrup hardened atop pancake leftovers and coffee went cold, several men spoke about concerns for their daughters’ safety. Women discussed current Hollywood culture and the normalization of high-powered men abusing their power. Then the women cheered the men around them who vowed to be more aware of the things they do and say that perpetuate sexism.
“We have to understand how even well-meaning men are contributing,” said Davis. “For men, it’s really vital that we all recognize that we have a role in creating the solution. It’s not about if we’re good or bad men. It’s about how can we all be better men.”