SPECIAL FEATURE Vera House launches 26th annual White Ribbon Campaign

By Megan Sheehan

For the entire month of March (and beyond), those wearing a white ribbon, pin or bracelet are making a personal statement to never support, commit, or remain silent about abuse. These white ribbons mean “No more.”

Vera House has run its White Ribbon Campaign for 26 years. The effort not only raises money for the organization, but seeks to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence by getting men on board to spread the message. This year, the campaign is led by Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon. The two leaders, along with a team of male county government workers, have also completed Vera House’s 12 Men Model Program, which focuses on bringing men together to hold one another accountable.

“Participation in the 12 Men Model was transformative for all of us,” McMahon said at a press conference. “Certainly, for me as an individual, and as a leader, I think what is particularly powerful about it is for us to go through that experience and then to go back out into our work environments and to begin to see that ripple effect that this program can have.”

George Kilpatrick, Vera House’s Men’s Outreach Project Coordinator, said the 12 Men Model has proven extremely successful in changing men’s attitudes toward gender and masculinity.

“We create a safe space for men to share their most intimate thoughts in ways that they had never anticipated that they would,” he said.

The model engages men in groups, sometimes as small as four or as large as 30, to enter into a dialogue about masculinity and male roles. In four to five one-hour sessions (this is flexible), the groups challenge traditionally held thoughts about gender roles — “boys will be boys” and victim blaming that can lead to a culture that allows violence and abuse — and encourage participants to carry the lessons they learn out into the greater community. In doing so, the groups hope to create a community that not only redefines the concept of healthy masculinity, but also rejects the culture of domestic violence and calls it out when they see it.

This is a unique program which has been studied by The Worker Institute of Cornell — and it has been determined to be effective. Their summary states to have found that “After completing the program, men rethought their attitudes toward gender and masculinity and took action towards preventing abuse.”

Kirkpatrick was thrilled to have two of Onondaga County’s male leaders on board with the program.

“That was amazing,” he said. “When I tell my colleagues across the country that we had our mayor do it, and that we had our county executive do it, that’s really impressive. I can’t emphasize enough how significant that is.”

For their part, McMahon and Walsh were happy to be part of the campaign.

“I’m very honored that I was asked to participate as an honorary co-chair and lend our platform, [and] to encourage more people to get involved and have these conversations,” McMahon said. “It doesn’t make you weak; it makes you strong.”

Walsh agreed.

““We are a model here in Syracuse that we are proud of,” he said. “Before long it spreads far beyond the walls of your office, or your home, throughout your community, throughout your neighborhood and it just keeps going.”

And that’s the real purpose of the White Ribbon Campaign, according to the campaign’s co-chair, James Branche.

“The main goal is to educate and to get the awareness out about domestic violence and sexual abuse, because it happens,” Branche said. “[The fact that] 26 years later, we’re still doing this [White Ribbon Campaign] means it’s necessary. It’s needed to be able to hopefully stop this at some point. I think that’s the most important thing that I see from this campaign is the education piece and what we can do.”

Kirkpatrick said in order to make the campaign successful, more men need to sign up for the 12 Men Model.

“We want more men to take a leadership role. We want more men to understand that they have a role to play in promoting gender equity and ending gender-based violence,” he said. “We know that the majority of men are not committing violence but there’s a small percentage that do and we want to reduce that percentage especially because women are impacted most.”

Branch ended with some advice for men.

“Sometimes the most difficult conversations are the most rewarding. Being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “Change doesn’t happen in the comfort. You have to be uncomfortable to make change.”

Vera House has set a goal of $20,000 for this year’s White Ribbon Campaign. You can help by fundraising the White Ribbon Campaign Walk on Friday, March 20 at 12PM starting in Clinton Square and ending at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown.

If you are interested in participating in a Men’s Outreach Program, contact George Kilpatrick at [email protected] or (315)425-0818 ext.2254

For more information on Vera House programs and fundraising efforts visit www.verahouse.org

As always, if you are in crisis, call the 24 hour help line (315)468-3260.