Boston — In the 1970s, women's groups began waging war against the long-ignored problem of rape. And behind the front lines of their battle, a less visible support group was growing: men organized to combat rape.
''This is a national movement following the leadership of the women's movement of the last 15 years,'' says Don Long, a counselor at Rape and Violence End Now (RAVEN) in St. Louis, Mo.
RAVEN coordinates a network of men's groups in the US and Canada combatting violence against women. Mr. Long estimates there are about 10 groups working primarily against rape and another 12 working to fight rape and other violence against women.
These organizations provide educational services, such as talks, classes, and workshops in the community, that focus on ending such violence. Some groups offer counseling services for men with a history of violent behavior toward women. Counseling for relatives and husbands of rape victims is also available. Since 1978, RAVEN has counseled more than 450 men, 100 of them so far this year. Among the programs in the network:
* Seattle Men Against Rape is working with policemen in the Port Angeles, Wash., police department. The group's aim is to show officers the importance of treating rape victims more compassionately. It also works with sexual offenders in state prisons.
* Men for Nonviolence in Ft. Wayne, Ind., presents lectures in local high schools on what is called ''acquaintance rape'' - an attack by someone the victim already knows, often in a dating situation. Cincinnati Men's Network in Ohio has a similar program.
* Vancouver Men Against Rape in British Columbia is raising funds to help support the local women's rape crisis center during government cutbacks. The organization also pickets adult bookstores in Vancouver.
* A 16-year-old California organization, Santa Cruz Men Against Rape, helps the local women's rape crisis center post descriptions of local men suspected of having committed sexual offenses, in order to alert women in the area. Group members will also accompany a victim of a sexual attack if she decides to confront the offender informally. One member, Glen Fitch, says that when approached in this manner, offenders often decide to accept help from the group or else leave the community. Mr. Fitch says the organization has ''never had to confront the same man twice.''
Many such men's organizations formed when members realized that rape is not just a woman's problem. ''Pornography and violence against women is a symptom of a deeper societal problem of not respecting women,'' says Long.