Long before #MeToo and #TimesUp, before Gillette and the American Psychological Association took on toxic masculinity, men across Central New York were speaking out against domestic and sexual violence.
Working with Vera House, men like Calvin Corriders, regional president for Pathfinder Bank, Mark Fuller, CFO of United Radio, and James Branche, head of HR for United Radio, are working to keep the conversation going in hopes of bringing an end to violence against women.
“Statistically speaking, men are primarily the ones committing the offense,” said Corriders, the honorary chair of this year’s Vera House White Ribbon Campaign. “[You have to] have men in the community speaking out, saying it’s wrong, and you have to have the reputation of being someone who is walking the talk and basically gathering an army of men together to say, ‘Hey, this is wrong.’”
Vera House’s month-long White Ribbon Campaign seeks to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence using male leaders in the Central New York community. The 2018 effort involved more than 20,000 people.
This year’s campaign marks the 25th year of the White Ribbon Campaign in Syracuse. It originated in Canada in 1991 as a reaction to a mass shooting in Montreal. On Dec. 6, 1989, a male student at the Ecole Polytechnique, Marc Lépine, entered a classroom carrying a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife. He separated the male students from the female students and shot the women, claiming he was “fighting feminism.” He then moved through the building, targeting women, for the next 20 minutes before turning the gun on himself. In total, 14 women were killed, and another 10 women and four men were wounded. The so-called “Montreal Massacre” is the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history. A group of men responded by launching an awareness campaign regarding the issue of male violence against women, encouraging other men and boys to pin a white ribbon as a personal acknowledgement of the role men must play in the struggle.
Now the White Ribbon Campaign is in more than 60 countries worldwide. Vera House brought the campaign to Syracuse in 1995. Those who sign on to the campaign pledge to “never commit, condone or remain silent about abuse.”
“That pledge is really core to everything we do,” said Chris Benton, Vera House’s director of marketing and communications. “If you participate in the campaign, you’re making that personal commitment.”
The drive also seeks to raise money to continue Vera House’s mission to end domestic and sexual violence in Central New York; this year’s goal is $150,000. Some of that money will come from the kickoff breakfast, to be held at the Marriott Downtown Syracuse on March 1, and the annual walk on Friday, March 29 (see sidebar); more will be raised through the sale of white ribbon lapel pins, rubber wristbands and other merchandise. To commemorate the 25th anniversary, Vera House is offering a T-shirt as well as a limited-edition wristband.
Those wristbands are more than just a fashion accessory, according to Branche, who serves as co-chair of this year’s campaign with Fuller. Fuller and Branche also serve on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
“I did a presentation last year with a survivor who has been very active at Vera House and has shared her story several times,” Branche said. “She was saying how when someone would come up to her when they realized she was a survivor, that they say, ‘Well I think I am going through something very similar.’ She would take her wristband off of her wrist and give it to them and say, ‘You hold onto this — on the inside in case you need it, here’s the number [for Vera House.’”
At the time, Branche said, the story surprised him—but then it started happening to him.
“People would hear I was on the board of directors at Vera House and on several occasions, enough for me to remember, people would do the same thing, to the point I gave way all the bracelets I had, and I had lots,” he said. “That’s one thing that someone can do — when you purchase one of these bracelets, purchase a couple of them, and not only are you supporting the great cause, but you could potentially save a life.”
There are a number of ways to participate in the White Ribbon Campaign, from purchasing lapel pins and wristbands to coordinating a campaign in your workplace, school or place of worship. All materials are supplied by Vera House. Community members are also invited to do peer-to-peer fundraising for the White Ribbon Walk on March 29.
“Every year that walk grows a little bit. We’re hoping for hundreds of people to join us,” Benton said. “It’s one hour out of your day. We start at noon and end at 1 p.m., so people can come out on their lunch hour and walk with us and stand in solidarity.”
If you’re looking to make a deeper commitment, Fuller suggested volunteering for either Vera House or McMahon/Ryan.
“There are several ways without spending a dime that you can improve the situation in our community,” he said.
The simplest way, however, is to just be part of the dialogue.
“We believe it’s important to start conversations about this so when people start talking about violence against women it becomes more commonplace, more comfortable,” Benton said. “They’re not easy conversations to have but very important.
That dialogue is more meaningful, she said, when it’s started by men in the community.
“It’s important to see these messages from all directions, not just coming from places like Vera House,” Benton said. “We think it’s just the beginning of hopefully our society coming around to be able to talk about these issues in a meaningful way. The White Ribbon Campaign is a bit of a vehicle for that.”
Fuller, who was compelled to join Vera House’s board after his daughter’s best friend, Jenni-Lyn Watson, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2010, acknowledged that those are often uncomfortable conversations, but they need to take place.
“For me it’s being able to challenge folks to understand how they feel about these issues even if it makes them uncomfortable,” he said.
“It’s critically important to bring this subject out to light, to help reduce it, quite frankly,” he said. “A lot of stuff is happening in the dark. Bringing it out into the light will help sanitize it and hopefully reduce the number of incidents of domestic and sexual violence.”
Fuller said that, while recent events highlight some progress society has made in this vein, we still have quite a ways to go.
“It’s a systemic issue, and I do thinkthe only way to change it over time is to challenge it,” he said. “And that’s what I think we’re doing. It starts with people in their own circle of influence and thenit continues, like ripples in a pool, right? And it just keeps pushing out other circles of influence and folks are able to achieve better results over time.”
Do you need help?
Vera House’s administrative offices are located at 723 James St., Syracuse; (315) 425-0818. You can also call the following crisis lines:
- Vera House 24-hour crisis and support line: (315) 468-3260; Verahouse.org
- TTY Crisis and Support line: (315) 484-7263
- New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-6906; opdv.ny.gov
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: 1-800-656-HOPE; Rainn.org
In addition to emergency shelter services and crisis support, Vera House provides support and advocacy for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence, counseling services, education programs, foster care for pets and volunteer training. Businesses can schedule state-mandated sexual harassment prevention training through Vera House; contact Angela Douglas at (315) 425-0818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To organize a White Ribbon Campaign in your workplace, contact Vera House at (315) 425-0818.
- When: 7:30 a.m. Friday, March 1
- Where: Marriott Syracuse Downtown
- What: This breakfast, which launches the campaign, will feature remarks from 2019 Honorary Chair Calvin Corriders, regional president of Pathfinder Bank.
- Cost: $30 per seat or tables of 10 for $300
- Info: verahouse.org/event-calendar/ev-detail/white-ribbon-campaign-breakfast
- When: Noon Friday, March 29
- Where: Clinton Square
- What: Join us on your lunch hour for a short walk from Clinton Square through Armory Square to tie white ribbons around trees and lampposts to recognize the Campaign. A short program follows at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown.
- Info: verahouse.org/event-calendar/ev-detail/white-ribbon-campaign-walk
- For more Campaign events, visit verahouse.org/event-calendar.