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Meet the men standing up to end violence against women

It’s a year since Sarah Everard was murdered in London by Wayne Couzens, a male police officer. Ahead of the anniversary, Positive News spoke to five men who are helping dismantle the culture that allows gender-based violence to flourish. First up, former policeman Graham Goulden

It’s a year since Sarah Everard was murdered in London by Wayne Couzens, a male police officer. Ahead of the anniversary, Positive News spoke to five men who are helping dismantle the culture that allows gender-based violence to flourish. First up, former policeman Graham Goulden

Graham Goulden spent 30 years as a police officer, including eight years in the renowned Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow. He now specialises in tackling men’s violence, by delivering leadership and bystander training to men

“Most men are good guys. But a lot of them wrongly think their male friends support sexist views.” 

Retired police officer Graham Goulden is explaining what stops men from challenging misogyny – whether they’re in the workplace or among mates at the pub. Fear of being ostracised by peers is a major stumbling block, he says, while evidence suggests male harm-doers abuse women and girls believing that their views are supported by other men. 

“It’s a perfect storm for good men to do nothing, and the harm-doers to keep doing what they’re doing.” 

What Goulden seeks to do is “bring the healthy norm to the surface”, by training people in sports teams, schools, universities and workplaces to become active bystanders. Much of his approach involves facilitating discussions that give men the confidence to speak up about sexual harassment or misogynistic jokes, for instance. 

“Most men are disgusted by harm-doers, and will respect other men for challenging them. But unless we have these conversations, some men are left thinking: ‘Will I be supported?’” 

When Goulden began his career in 1987, he thought that the only way to deal with violence was to police it: “to attend calls, gather evidence and report people to the courts,” he recalls. “But I became less comfortable with that: it was like playing Whac-A-Mole. We need to reduce the number of moles in the first place.” 

Goulden advocates ‘bringing the healthy norm to the surface’ to help improve attitudes. Image: Sam Bush

Later tasked with finding solutions to violence as a chief inspector for the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, he had a lifechanging encounter with US educator Jackson Katz – a pioneer of bystander intervention training – at a conference in 2010. “In just two minutes, Jackson made me think differently. All the dots joined up in my mind.” 

These dots constellated Goulden’s professional life – preventing largely male violence and domestic abuse – with his personal one: his two daughters “coming across harmful situations” as teenagers, and his own father, who died by suicide in 2008. He began to understand suicide as a form of self-directed violence largely enacted by men, and reflected on his own behaviour as a man. “After losing my dad, I internalised my feelings. That’s what us guys do.” 

Bystander training reduces violence, Goulden explains, by encouraging people to speak out, to be brave and to confront the uncomfortable. It engages participants by framing them as solutions for preventing violence, rather than as potential perpetrators. The latter can “run the risk of switching men off”, he says. 

We’re trying to get men to check their behaviours and attitudes way before it becomes a problem

Goulden asks groups to come up with solutions to a range of imaginary scenarios. How might they respond to a friend harassing a woman in a bar? How could they support a colleague who may be experiencing domestic abuse? “You press the pause button, which you don’t get to do in real life,” he notes. 

The sessions aren’t about teaching participants how to behave, but about giving them a toolkit of strategies. Sometimes gently challenging a mate’s behaviour might be the best approach. “You can use your friendship to say: ‘I respect you enough to tell you that was wrong’.” 

His participants “practise and practise [their bystander strategies] until it becomes muscle memory,” Goulden says. He speaks to all-male and mixed-gender groups: “I’ll go into any community to have these conversations.” 

That includes communities online: he collaborated with Police Scotland on the powerful viral video campaign Don’t Be That Guy. 

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“What we’re trying to do with that campaign is to get men to check their behaviours and attitudes way before it becomes a problem – challenge their views, their language, their banter, because that’s where murder and sexual assault are rooted. It can be hard to comprehend that. [But] men don’t just go out and kill, rape or sexually assault. It starts somewhere and often that’s in words and language, which become part of the culture.” 

What gives Goulden hope is seeing how receptive the vast majority of men are to his sessions. He may never see some of the participants again, but with a growing evidence base supporting bystander education, he is heartened to think of them rippling the effects of their training outwards into their own communities. 

“In many ways,” he reflects, “we’re planting seeds, planting trees that we’ll never see being grown.” He hopes that their influence will be felt in society regardless.

This article is the first in a series, to be published this week and next, about men who are standing up to help end violence against women.   

Main image: Sam Bush 

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This is part of our ‘Men standing up’ series:
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