Tong Thao: Hmong Men respond to sexual assault within their community through 'Man Forward'

Sexual assault is a personal violation. When the perpetrator is someone you know, it violates your sense of trust in the deepest way. So when we heard about this most recent incident of a 21 year old Hmong man who has admitted to molesting a 6 year old and other girls in his church, we were appalled and saddened to see continued victim blaming and the lack of accountability. As a group of men who are against gender-based violence, we say men must take a stand and participate in creating community accountability when sexual assault happens in our communities.

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

Regardless of faith or religion as a community of men, we must stop condoning the behavior of men who commit sexual assault. We are ashamed of how the community responded to the young girls who were molested. We cannot treat sexual assault as an individual's’ problem. This view creates responses that treat sexual assault as an isolated incident. When sexual assault is seen as an individual’s problem and an isolated incident, our response to fix the problem is to create more polices, more training, more education, more security, etc. However, these are short term responses that do not help prevent or deter future incidents of sexual assault in our community. As men in our communities we have a responsibility to act by shaping the culture of how sexual assault happens. It is our responsibility to educate young men to respect and see women and girls as true equals. It is our responsibility to help shape the characters of young men to shift their morals and values on how they currently view women and girls.

As men we believe that we can no longer place the burden on women and mothers in communities to look after their daughters and sons. As men we must take on this burden to shape a future that is free of sexual assault by building deeper bonds as fathers and sons; fathers and daughters, etc. We can no longer as a community blame women and mothers for not looking and checking up on their daughters and sons. We recognize that it takes a village to raise a child so it must take a village to protect a child and end sexual assault.

We believe the appropriate responses when community accountability has taken place and men have stood up to sexual assault would be to check on the welfare of the girls who were harmed in this instance. We must acknowledge and affirm that community spaces must be safe. We must stand solid in stating out loud that communities, especially men do not support sexual assault. We must listen to victim and survivors’ stories and  affirm that what happened had nothing to do with their behavior or who they are. We must affirm with victims and survivors that what they did was not their fault. We must affirm that they are not going to get anyone in trouble by sharing their stories. We must create spaces that let them know they have the right to share their story with anyone. We, as men must start listening to the voices and experiences of women and girls in our communities. If we are to end men’s violence against women and girls we must start by listening to those who are on the receiving end of men’s violence.

We encourage and call out to our brothers in the community to stand up and speak out about ending men’s sexual assault in our communities. We call out to the men in various communities that we must hold stand in solidarity by not letting men’s violence against women and girls happen. We call on all communities regardless of faith to work with domestic violence and sexual violence advocates who have been doing this work for several years to create different solutions and responses to sexual assault. It is time that we as men stop silencing the voices of victims and survivors and start amplifying their experiences in community.

Man Forward is a group of Asian American/Pacific Islander men, mostly Hmong men local to the Twin Cities who advocate to change the narrative of what it means to be an Asian man. In doing so, we hope to foster a different world wherein girls and women are valued, respected, and honored and men and boys can freely express who they are to each other.

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    Tong Thao