The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Model is an approach to gender violence and bullying prevention that was first developed in 1993 at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society and the National Consortium for Academics & Sports. With initial funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the multi-racial MVP Program was designed to train male college and high school student-athletes and other student leaders to use their status to speak out against rape, battering, sexual harassment, gay-bashing, and all forms of sexist abuse and violence. A female component was added in the second year with the complementary principle of training female student-athletes and others to be leaders on these issues.
For nearly two decades, the MVP Model has been utilized in various parts of the country with diverse populations. It has been implemented in educational settings with men and women, boys and girls, working together and in single-sex formats. What follows is a discussion of its utility as a gender violence prevention strategy with men and boys.
The MVP approach to working with men is shaped by the idea that men who have status with other men are in a particularly powerful position to influence the way men and boys view and treat women and girls. The MVP approach challenges men — athletes and others — who have credibility with other men to use their status and power to repudiate any definition of masculinity that equates being a man with being sexist, disrespectful or violent toward women, or bullying toward other males.
There is a widespread perception in our society that male athletes are disproportionately responsible for assaulting women. Several studies in recent years have corroborated this perception with empirical data, but to date no full-scale national studies have proven this point conclusively. However, MVP began as an initiative in the sports culture because of a perceived potential for male athletes’ leadership on issues of gender violence — not because of disproportionate perpetration by professionals or student-athletes.
The rationale was straightforward. If popular athletes and other exemplars of traditional masculine success provided leadership on issues that historically had been considered “women’s issues,” they would effect not just the athletic subculture, but would more broadly influence the larger male culture that in some ways looks to athletics for definitions of what it means to be a “real man.” In particular, leadership from men in athletics would contribute to a shift in the cultural acceptance of men’s violence against women.
Feminists over the past several decades have argued that ours is a “rape culture” and a “battering culture.” In other words, the widespread incidence of men’s violence against women — rape, battering, sexual harassment, etc. — needs to be understood not in terms of a series of unrelated individual pathologies, but as a social problem with deeply rooted causes. Specifically, individual acts of gender violence emanate from an unequal and sexist cultural context, within which heterosexual men are conditioned to objectify and dominate women in the sexual sphere, and exert power and control over them in intimate relationships.
If this is true, then primary prevention efforts need to move beyond short-term safety precautions for women (e.g. women being advised not to put their drinks down at parties; to park in well-lit areas; to recognize the warning signs of abusive relational behaviors, etc.). Instead, educators need to address the attitudes in male culture that encourage or legitimize abusive behavior by some men. The goal is to help create a peer culture climate among men whereby the abuse of women by some men would be seen as socially unacceptable and stigmatizing. That is, a man who engages in such behavior would lose status among his male peers, and lose the approval of older males.
One of the most effective – and quickest — ways to achieve this peer culture climate would be to enlist as change agents men who already have credibility with and the respect of their fellow men. There are numerous examples of the effectiveness of this leadership strategy in different contexts. Among the most notable: political scientists and historians frequently observe that President Richard Nixon, a renowned anti-communist, was the first U.S. president to open relations to communist China, and Lyndon Johnson, a white southerner, championed and was critical to the enactment of historic civil rights legislation.
To date, the MVP strategy has been successful, at least by the measure of how the model has been incorporated into the programming and curricula in such bastions of traditional masculine power as the sports culture and the military. MVP is now the most widely utilized gender violence prevention model in college athletics – for both men and women. Numerous Division I athletic programs regularly participate in MVP trainings. The National Collegiate Athletic Association uses MVP materials in their Life Skills program. When it was founded in 1997, MVP became the first gender violence prevention program in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. MVP trainings have been held with personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. But although it began in the sports culture, and retains some sports terminology, by the mid-1990’s MVP had moved from a near-exclusive focus on the athletic world to general populations of college and high school students, and other institutional settings.