‘Voices of Men’ highlights males’ roles in stopping domestic violence

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

1/21/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Domestic violence is sometimes thought of as a women's issue, one where the voices of men are unnecessary or unimportant. Actor Ben Atherton-Zeman debunks this myth through humor and voice impressions in his performance, "Voices of Men."
The one-man educational comedy will be offered twice on Wednesday. Mr. Atherton-Zeman will perform at Gunter's Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy at 10 a.m. and the Maxwell base theater at 2:30 p.m.

"Mostly (violence) happens to women and girls at the hands of men, and most of the time my gender remains silent," he said. "So I focus on men's violence against women, and on my gender's responsibility to raise our voices until this particular form of violence is a thing of the past."

Maxwell's Family Advocacy is hosting the performance to bring attention to this issue.

"What we really want to see is heightened awareness of what is right and what is wrong in relationships," said Beverly Lesyea, the Family Advocacy officer.

Other performances have been successful in the past. After seeing "The Yellow Dress," a one-woman performance, last year, members of the community asked for more theater presentations.

Each play addresses a different side of abuse. Where "The Yellow Dress" centered on young women who were victims of dating violence, "Voices of Men" wants men to be aware of how their language and actions impact women.

Mr. Atherton-Zeman designed the performance so the male characters are forced to realize that they are both part of the problem and part of the solution. His multimedia presentation uses men's voices to show how subtle the abuse can sometimes be. After the presentation, Mr. Atherton-Zeman will ask men to make a pledge to not remain silent about abuse.

"It's very powerful," said Ms. Lesyea, who saw Mr. Atherton-Zeman perform several years ago at an Alabama governor's conference on domestic violence.

Through impersonations of well-known characters such as James Bond and Rocky Balboa, Mr. Atherton-Zeman educates audiences on sexual assault and consent, dating violence, stalking and emotional abuse. He aims to minimize male defensiveness and encourage conversation.

"Emotional abuse is the most difficult to identify," Ms. Lesyea said. Often, victims know that words bother them, but are hesitant to define them as abuse.

That's why "Voices of Men" is so important, since the abusers also may not realize their impact on their loved ones, she said.

Stopping emotional abuse - verbal aggression, dominant behaviors and jealous language - can prevent the situation from escalating.

"Domestic violence starts with emotional abuse," Ms. Lesyea said. "If there is not intervention, (the abuser) moves down the continuum."

Family Advocacy is here to help. Any active-duty service member, family member, or intimate partner who is eligible to receive care at a military medical treatment facility can use Family Advocacy.

Emotional abuse can be challenging to address, since victims are often living with their abuser or are in an ongoing relationship. Restricted reporting - without notifying command or triggering an investigation - helps FA work with victims to develop a safety plan.

Abusers may not know that what they say and do has a negative impact on their families, Ms. Lesyea said. That's when presentations like "Voices of Men" have the biggest influence.

"I think it's going to be eye-opening," Lesyea said.