Almost all men like to say they're against violence against women, and most say they'd intervene if they saw it.
But those good intentions don't always play out in reality, according to a survey on men's attitudes toward gender-based violence released October 30 by the White Ribbon Campaign.
According to the Leger phone poll of 1,064 Ontario men, the first of its kind in the province, a quarter of respondents who've witnessed harassment or violence against women did nothing to stop it. Some said they saw the altercation as a personal matter, simply didn't want to get involved, feared for their personal safety or thought someone else would deal with it.
White Ribbon staff released the survey at a media event in the YWCA's Nancy Auditorium attended by women's centre workers, teachers and public health officials. It also shows that many men are still unclear on what constitutes consent and psychological abuse, identifying a key area on which the advocacy group could focus its work.
While many of the results were what one might hope - that's to say, a great majority of men hold ideals based on non-violence and equality - some key sections stood out.
• Only 70 per cent of respondents said forcing a partner to have sex "always" constitutes domestic violence. Another 21 per cent said forced sex "sometimes" equals violence, and an appalling 6 per cent said forced sex is never domestic assault.
• 20 per cent of respondents agreed that "many so-called rape victims are actually women who had sex and ‘changed their minds' afterwards."
• 12 per cent of the men polled agreed that "women often say no when they mean yes." Happily, 78 per cent disagreed.
More good news: 89 percent disagreed that women in provocative clothing put themselves at risk.
Respondents were split on whether an abused woman is able to leave the relationship if she wanted. According to frontline workers, women in controlling relationships often find themselves isolated from supports and fear going out on their own without financial means.
Todd Minerson, White Ribbon's executive director, said the survey will help the organization target its work and act as a baseline from which to measure societal change.
"There is a direct correlation between our understanding of gender equity and violence against women," he said. "Now we have data to confirm that."
At the presentation, the male contingent was largely made up of more than a dozen high school students, who seemed to be following the data and discussion with rapt attention.
Ian Ko, a well-spoken Grade 12er at the posh boys-only Crescent School, was there with other members of the institution's newly formed Diversity Council. He said that without girls as part of the normal school day, his peers' cues on how to interact with women often come from the media - needless to say, not always a bastion of feminist representations.
His comments showed a better grasp of the subject than that of the adults surveyed by Leger, many of whom are "unsure how... the sexualization of women in media and popular culture contributes to harmful attitudes towards women."