The origins of any group or organization seeking social change will reflect clear signs of the time. For those willing to look honestly at the twenty-five years prior to the rather austere beginnings of the BEAR group in 2001 a harsh landscape of masculine power-abuse and behavior emerges. The extreme version of these abuses target women, children and minority populations with behaviors constituting serious felony criminal violations. It was in the forum of the criminal justice system that two very different individuals began an in-depth education into the dark and savage male behaviors severely injuring, killing women and children on a daily basis.
Their individual differences define the context in which the epidemic of male violence thrives. One of them, was born a white male on the west coast of California, the other born female on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His was a stable intact family with a consistent and predictable path through high-school and college academics. Her path was one of daily survival in a world of divorce, alcoholism, physical abuse, police and ambulance visits prompted by life-threatening family violence. His experience of white male privilege was as it was meant to be, seamless and invisible, wrapped in the successes and recognition of athletics and career. Her experience of overall male privilege was in-your-face oppression, threat, reliance, physical and mental injury. It would seem a common year of birth might be the only possible shared connection between these two.
An auspicious meeting between the two in a central coast California police station in 1984 began a rather tentative collaboration to provide high quality support and investigative services to victims of rape and child molest. As time passed, the inherent distrust pre-supposed to exist between police personnel and rape crisis center personnel was replaced with shared goals, mutual trust and respect. These allowed in-depth and critical discussions to occur between them which resulted in an exponential increase in his knowledge of the many faces of oppression from a woman’s perspective. In contrast, her knowledge increased concerning investigation and prosecution techniques as they are individually practiced based on personal beliefs, socialization and the influence of patriarchy. The 6 year working collaboration was informed through the many voices of female victims suffering at the hands of male community perpetrators.
1996 - University of Idaho
The vast background, training and experience of these two individuals is brought to the Moscow, Idaho campus of approximately 10,000 coed students. National research conducted by Mary Koss approximately 10 years earlier is verified through on campus research completed in 1997 through the Dean of Students Office and the Women’s Center. The UI population of women victimized matches national numbers where 25% or 1 out of four females on campus will experience a rape or attempted rape in the campus community. The male perpetrator in these cases is known to the victim in over 90% of the crimes. Less than 5% of these crimes are reported in any official capacity resulting in hundreds of violent crimes against women escaping university administrative notice. The issue for these two dedicated professionals became how to bring education, awareness and social change to an ever changing and displaced population.
The male portion of this cooperative duo brought 18 years of intensive law enforcement investigative and professional academy advanced officer trainer experience to the table. His female counterpart brought a masters degree in clinical psychology, over 3000 hours of professionally supervised counseling experience, victim court advocacy, and rape crisis center trauma experience from a county with an advanced Sexual Assault Response Team program. Their incredibly well rounded combination of skills was utilized initially to create basic programs to inform students of the risks associated with the socially condoned party and drinking scene.
It became readily apparent through interactions and discussions with students their knowledge and acceptance of risk was limited, as was their understanding of what actions or behaviors constituted illegal or criminal behavior in areas of sexual contact. The general lack of awareness of these crimes by students, staff and faculty served to support the myth this campus community was safe for all students. In direct contrast to these beliefs, national and local research strongly supported the position that socially encouraged male sexualized behaviors toward women create an environment hostile to many women who attend university institutions.
It was within this paradigm two programs were created by the male former law enforcement trainer. One was for women and was called “Through the Eye of a Predator”. The basic concept of this program written and performed for female students at the University of Idaho in the late 1990’s was in direct response to the lack of information women had about how certain college age men were manipulating circumstances prior to isolating and sexually assaulting women they knew. The program provided for the first time an extensive list of commonly used rapist tools, as well as recognizing the serial nature of college-aged male rapists. Women were provided an opportunity to observe the behaviors and tools of the rapist as they would be utilized in a party or dating situation. At the time national views reflected a general consensus these were mostly acts perpetrated due to “miscommunication”.
The second major program was called “How Not To Be The Accused”. It was created to provide very accurate and direct information to males concerning their fear of false accusation as well as showing them the proper mind set and steps to protecting themselves from unintentionally hurting someone else. Legal statutes and real world situations revealing how non-verbal communication and heavy drinking produced higher risk for perpetration combined to provide men who wanted to do the right thing; accurate and specific information to help keep themselves and their women peers safe.
Through the presentation of this program over the years a population of concerned men began to step forward providing thanks for the important information and to ask the retired law enforcement officer if there were more options open to them to make a difference in their community. The products of these presentations were men who better understood the risk to their peers and they wanted to make a difference. They believed hyper-masculinity and violence against women were tearing the very fabric of the communities in which they lived and there was a need for change. These conversations sparked the idea of creating a group that would focus on changing the campus culture to better support victims of violent crimes, keep other men accountable and create a support system for men that encouraged respectful behavior toward each other and women. Brotherhood Empowerment Against Rape (B.E.A.R.) started as a result of these conversations about involving men as catalysts to create changes in the prevalence of violence and specifically violence against women.
B.E.A.R. as an official student group started in 2001 in coffee shops and couches on the UI campus. The 5 founding members of B.E.A.R. were Bart Cochran, Sean Chavez, Tom Conklin, Adam, and Don Lazzarini. Don functioned both as a mentor and founding member with the assistance of Valerie Russo, PhD. Don and Valerie are the two individuals whose diverse lives and experiences are chronicled in the opening paragraphs of this history. Their lives, knowledge and friendship became the impetus for bringing their passion for social justice to the University of Idaho and later the Dean of Student’s Violence Prevention Programs.
The first year of BEAR was focused on developing a lasting foundation rooted in judeo-christian values and goals for creating change in male behavior and choices. This foundation led to the implementation of the three key elements: Education, Accountability and Activism. These elements have been incorporated into every aspect of BEAR’s operation and are used as a guide for programming, mentoring and meetings. The consistent mentoring, education, and leadership of Don and Valerie for BEAR leadership, in combination with the values and goals, gave BEAR the solid foundation it needed to make a positive change.
The group grew and began participating in national campaigns such as the Clotheslines Project, White Ribbon Campaign, Denim Day and Vagina Monologues. This participation allowed BEAR to find its place both as a “Builder of Better Men” and as an ally to the women’s movement. Through success and trials BEAR and its members have grown and learned to be active participants in creating a healthy and safe community. With the aid of University of Idaho support, State of Idaho grant funds, and DOJ Violence Against Women on Campus funding, BEAR has continued to recruit, educate and guide other men by their example.