February 27, 2013 - eader Editor
Danny Inman is a trailblazer.
The 2005 Oxford High School graduate was the first male professional advocate in Michigan in the field of sexual assault education and prevention.
"There are a lot of male volunteer advocates around the state, but there weren't any that got paid for it until me," explained Inman, who now lives in Kalamazoo.
He works for No Zebras & More, a Michigan-based company that offers prevention education for schools and universities concerning sexual assault, sexual aggression, intimate partner violence, stalking and harassment. For the meaning of "No Zebras" see the shaded box to the right.
It wasn't easy for Inman to enter a field that's still dominated by women because most victims of sexual violence are females and most perpetrators are males.
He noted that when Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services in Three Rivers, Michigan first hired him back in 2010, he "was the only male staff member they'd ever hired in 27 years."
Inman's main job was to assist survivors of sexual assault and their families as they navigated the legal and medical processes. His clients ranged in age from 12 to 80.
"A lot of people viewed me with suspicion, especially when I first started," Inman explained. "People thought that no one would ever want to talk to me – that I would remind everyone of their perpetrators and no one would come to my office."
There were also some suspicions that Inman was a rapist either trying to gain access to the system or make amends for his past actions.
Neither could be further from the truth.
"There was a whole bunch of crazy stuff," Inman said.
Fortunately, that all changed once he was able to prove himself and demonstrate his value.
"Once they hear my knowledge, how much I've done and how much I can do, they get over (the fact that I'm a man and those suspicions) real fast," Inman said.
Although a lot of clients, if given an initial choice between a male and female advocate, would choose the latter, Inman indicated that once he started working with them, they didn't have any issues.
"I think I've only had two people who refused to work with me because they were uncomfortable," he noted.
"Once they've decided they're going to talk about it, they're going to talk about it. The hardest part is reaching out to people who've never talked about it before."
Inman believes men tend to shy away from being advocates because "they view people who do this kind of work as feminists" and anti-male.
"I would say there's an element of the anti-sexual assault movement that is pretty nasty towards men because it's mainly men who are causing the vast majority of the problem," he said.
But he stressed that's not representative of the whole movement or the programs he's worked for.
Inman indicated it's also difficult for some men to face the type of power they, as a sex, wield when it comes to this type of violence and oppression.
"But more men are getting involved," he noted. "There are other programs, since I started working, that have hired men and for more than just prevention. Men have been involved in prevention for a long time, but there's been very few men that have done direct advocacy. That's starting to change."
Inman got his start in this field back when he was a student at Central Michigan University (CMU). He attended a "very powerful" freshman orientation program about sexual assault called "No Zebras, No Excuses."
"Everyone has to go through that," he said.
The program is put on by Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates (SAPA), a volunteer, student-operated organization at CMU that provides support and advocacy for survivors of domestic and sexual violence as well as other behaviors that could cause people to feel harassed, intimidated or afraid.
Inman was asked to join SAPA and spent four-and-a-half years as a volunteer with the organization. This experience was really beneficial to him as a professional advocate now.
As a SAPA volunteer, he received 50 hours of training each year. Inman noted the standard of training at the professional level in this state is less than 20 hours and it's a onetime thing.
"I was working with advocates who had been in the field for 20 years and they had less training than I did," he said.
As can be expected, Inman is extremely passionate about educating people about sexual assault and violence.
"It happens to people everyday in our communities, but there's this sort of conspiracy of silence around sexual violence, especially in places like Oxford," Inman said. "Nobody talks about it because either they don't know what they're seeing, they don't know how to help someone or they don't even know if that's really what happened to them.
"It's such a pervasive and insidious problem that nobody's talking about it. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning – breaking down those barriers to get people to realize it's happening around them every day."
After he entered this field professionally, Inman indicated he's had some people he knows in his personal life come forward with their stories about sexual assault.
"They were finally telling someone for the first time because they had never known anyone before that was so active in the cause," he said. "I've had a few people here and there come forward. I would like to have more because I know more people around me have been affected. But they're going to tell in their own time and that's fine."
Like anything else in life, there are many myths surrounding sexual violence.
"The biggest myth – and the thing I get the most up-in-arms about – is that you can tell who's going to perpetrate sexual violence just by looking at them and that it's going to be a stranger," Inman said. "Like it's going to be some maniac with a gross mustache who drives a panel van with a teardrop window."
That couldn't be further from the truth.
"A lot of our myth-based thinking is centered around it's strangers who are going to commit sexual assault," Inman said. "But it's mostly likely going to be somebody that you know and trust. You're not going to carry your Taser when you're with someone you've known for years."
He indicated that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 75 percent of the time, sexual assault is going to be perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim and trusted.
The other myth that bothers Inman is that "how a person acts or dresses somehow causes sexual assault to happen to them."
"I hear that sort of thing all the time that if someone just didn't act this way or go somewhere with this person, then somehow this would not have happened to them," he said. "But really we should say, 'Why did that perpetrator do that?' That's really the question we need to ask."
So what can be done to help prevent sexual violence?
"I think the best thing we can do is to provide a space for survivors to come forward and get the help that they need," he said.
If more survivors start talking, then more perpetrators can be identified and brought to justice earlier, so they don't hurt more people.
"We need to hold perpetrators accountable," Inman said.
Most sexual assault perpetrators don't just do it once or victimize just one person, according to Inman.
"We know, in our field, that a person who commits sexual violence, on average, (perpetrates) six to seven other acts of sexual assault with multiple people," he said. "If we provide a safe space for survivors to come forward, the odds are (for each one) there are six or seven other survivors who are experiencing the same thing from the same person."
Education is key in the fight against sexual assault.
"A lot of the myth-based thinking that we've been taught as kids, we still believe when we grow up," Inman said. "If we educate people from the time they're young that this is what sexual violence looks like, they grow up to be police officers that handle cases appropriately. They grow up to be judges that will not allow myth-based evidence. They grow up to be citizens and jurors that will finally hold these people accountable for their actions."
Inman noted that 97 percent of people who commit acts of sexual violence "never see a jail cell because these things don't get handled appropriately by the system."
It's the education aspect that Inman's primarily involved with as an advocate with No Zebras & More.
That's why he's quite excited that his company was recently awarded a contract by the U.S. Navy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to conduct its educational program ("No Zebras, No Excuses") at naval facilities all over the world.
Inman described the program – "It teaches the realities of sexual violence. It addresses that stranger-based (perpetrator) mentality. And it empowers people to realize that once sexual violence happens, it can probably happen to somebody they care about, so they had better pay attention now before it gets to somebody they care about."
He said the program consists of 12 different vignettes and in between each one, there's a series of talking points designed to help educate the audience about what they just saw. "It's shown to be pretty effective versus just having a (commanding officer) stand up and say, 'You'd better watch out for this,'" Inman said.
Inman would love to someday bring a sexual violence prevention program to Oxford High School to educate students.
"I've tried before," he said. "I offered to come do some presentations for Oxford High School and they told me 'no thank you.'"
He noted that was right around the time the school district was dealing with a case involving an OHS teacher's husband who had allegedly sexually assaulted an OHS student. These alleged assaults occurred at the teacher's home, not on school grounds.
"I guess (the district) was being sued at the time, so they didn't want to put their foot in it, which is okay," Inman said.
"It's a difficult issue to talk about, especially if you're being sued."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.