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Start the Conversation: Engaging Men and Boys

Start the Conversation: Engaging Men and Boys

The Pledge for Accountability Against Gender-Based Violence

In 2023, the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado launched the Pledge for Accountability Against Gender-Based Violence! As a part of our year-long campaign, this Pledge encourages men and boys to become better allies, recognize that many of the behaviors that contribute to gender-based violence are associated with negative masculine stereotypes, and speak up against gender-based violence in their lives. Read more about the Pledge and campaign here. We are encouraging New Yorkers to take this Pledge and to share it with the men and boys in their life:


Why It's Important

Active participation of men and boys is crucial in the effort to eliminate gender-based violence. Historically, men and boys have not always been prominent in this effort, but by engaging with them around this topic, men and boys can fulfill a crucial role in ending gender-based violence.

This toolkit provides definitions, conversation starters, and resources to "Start the Conversation" with the men and boys in your life.

Download the PDF

How to Use This Toolkit

Do your research. The resources in this toolkit will help you learn about gender-based violence and engaging men and boys so you're prepared to answer common questions. 

Be clear about definitions. Gender-based violence is about power and control; it’s not an accident or a miscommunication. Definitions are at the end of this toolkit.

Be ready. Once you’ve learned about the topic, think about who you want to talk to and the best way to talk with them (alone, with friends, in a group setting, etc.). Many different people can benefit from talking about gender-based violence (i.e. what it is, how it impacts us, etc.) and you may need a different approach for each one. Check out the different ways to "Start the Conversation" in this toolkit.

"Start the Conversation!" There are so many ways to get involved to end gender-based violence. By bringing this difficult subject into the light, you’re showing survivors that they aren’t alone.

Every conversation will be different. Sometimes these conversations can be difficult. Don't forget to take care of yourself throughout the process.

Make sure you’re heard. These conversations are important but can be hard for many people to talk about. Some people aren’t ready or may have difficulty hearing what you have to say. Remember to meet people where they are and know that you are making a difference just by bringing this topic into the light.

Create a safe and comfortable space. Acknowledge the possible discomfort and reassure the people you’re speaking with that their feelings are valid and their contributions to the discussion are valuable. Set a standard with the expectation of creating open dialogue by establishing group agreements.

Promote reflection and participatory learning. Be present for the conversation by listening and understanding what individuals are feeling. Look for opportunities for agreement and connection. Be mindful of the language you use.

Encourage openness and honesty. Remain open to positions that are different from yours and be open to receiving questions about your own assumptions. Different lived experiences shape our perspectives, and the goal of these conversations is to help one another learn and open our minds to other possibilities.

Ways to Start the Conversation

Please note that some audiences may find this material difficult. To learn more about the topic, or to talk to an advocate, see the resources at the end of this toolkit. 

Host a Documentary Viewing Party

Listen to a Podcast

Start a Reading Group

  • Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Roxane Gay, 2018)
  • Breaking Out of Manhood: The Next Generation of Manhood (Tony Porter, 2018)
  • You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame, Resilience, and the Black Experience (Tarana Burke and Bre Brown, 2021)
  • You Throw Like a Girl: The Blind Spot of Masculinity (Don McPherson, 2019)
  • The Macho Paradox (Jackson Katz, 2019)

Talk About a PSA

Post on Social Media

  • Social media can be a great place to "Start the Conversation"
  • Post a graphic, ask a question, or share an article or video to get the conversation going
  • Make sure to tag @NYSOPDV

Call it Out

The best time to "Start the Conversation" is when people are engaging in harmful behavior that contributes to rape culture and blames victims for abuse. When you hear rape jokes or victim blaming, say something. Sometimes people don't even realize that their words can have consequences on how we view sexual violence and victims. If you're not sure what to say, try:

  • “What did you mean by that?”
  • “How would you feel if that happened to you or someone you love?”
  • “How do you think they feel?”

Conversation Starters


  • What types of problematic messages do boys get about what it means to “be a man?”
    • “Boys don’t cry”
    • “Take it like a man”
    • “Stop acting like a girl”
    • “Be strong”
  • Where do these messages come from?
    • Family
    • Friends
    • Society
    • Media
    • Community
  • How are these messages reinforced as boys grow up?
  • How do these messages shape how men behave?
  • What are some ways that men try to “turn off” their feelings?
  • Can two people have different opinions of masculinity or manhood?
  • What does healthy masculinity look like?

Masculinity and Gender-Based Violence

  • How do the messages boys get about masculinity impact their relationships and how they treat girls and women?
  • How does it impact their ability to express their gender identity and sexual orientation?
  • What messages about sexuality can be harmful? How?

Bystander Intervention

  • Why don’t more men say something when they see harassment or abuse? What stops them from stepping up?
  • What is needed to help men become more active bystanders?
  • What can men do to keep each other accountable?

Men as Victims and Survivors

  • Why would it be hard for men to talk about being victims of violence?
  • Why do you think some people stay in unhealthy relationships? Are these reasons different for women than for men? Why?
  • What are some things we can do to support men experiencing abuse?

Important Definitions

Gender-Based Violence: Violence or threats that happen because of someone’s sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or other related characteristics.

Consent: Fully formed, freely given, and enthusiastic permission for what someone is okay with in relation to their body. A person cannot give consent if they are being physically forced, guilted, manipulated, threatened, or coerced.

Consent can be taken back at any time and is not based on relationship status or consent given in the past.

Consent cannot be given if the person is underaged, incapacitated, sleeping, physically helpless, or has certain disabilities.

Sexual Violence: Sexual violence includes sexual acts or activities that happen without consent. This may include rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. Sexual violence includes different types of unwanted physical contact including rape, molestation, groping, sexual abuse by an intimate partner and child sexual abuse, that may or may not be criminal.

Sexual Assault: Unwanted sexual contact through physical force, threats, guilt, manipulation, or coercion with the goal of establishing power and control. Some victims are assaulted by a stranger, but most know their attacker. It may be a current or former intimate partner, a friend, an acquaintance, or a family member.

Rape: A type of sexual assault with actual or attempted penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth without the consent of the victim.

Sexual Harassment: Unwanted verbal or physical sexual advances, sexually explicit statements, or discriminatory remarks because of the victim’s sex. Examples include requests for sexual favors, sexual comments or questions, offensive remarks about a person’s sex or gender identity and expression, and unwanted messages or images that are sexual in nature.

Sexual Abuse: An ongoing pattern of unwanted sexual contact with the goal of establishing power and control. Sexual abuse usually occurs when the victim has less power than the abuser, such as a caretaker of a person with disabilities or an adult and a child.

Rape Culture: An environment with cultural norms, stereotypes, and institutions that contributes to sexual violence, while ignoring the realities of sexual violence. The impact of rape culture is different for everyone but occurs across sex and gender.