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Seeking Men to Fight Domestic Violence By Mathilde Piard

Movement changes image and recruits men to combat violence
By Mathilde Piard

The poster showed a woman wearing a hospital gown and a bruise on her back. The bruise had a statistic written over it: one in 12 high school students was beaten by a boyfriend or girlfriend. The only other words on the poster said: “If you or someone you know is being abused, call 311. In emergencies, call 911.”

Today, the image is a bratty-looking kid in an oversized orange hoodie that says, “Awaiting Instructions.” The poster reads: “Eat your vegetables.  Finish your homework.  Respect women.”

The first poster, part of a three-quarter million dollar advertising campaign organized by the Mayor’s Office two years ago, represented the old-school approach to combating domestic violence that was largely driven by women, especially feminists.

The second one, part of a year-long state-sponsored campaign launched last October, illustrates how images combating domestic violence have changed in recent years. Now the effort is more inclusive of men.

“Women have shifted the public message from men as the batterer to men as part of the solution,” said Brian O’Connor, director of public communications at the Family Violence Protection Fund, which originally developed the “Coaching Boys Into Men” campaign.

Measuring the impact of this effort is difficult, said Amy Barash, executive director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. For a campaign that raises awareness about available services, the effectiveness can usually be measured by the demand for services going up (such as the increase in phone calls to a hotline). “How do you know if you change social norms?” she said. “I’m not sure one can expect an issue as inbred as domestic violence to be changed in a year but I’d like to think we’ve seen some progress.”

Nonetheless, pre- and post-testing and surveys will be carried out to assess whether or not people have responded positively to the message in New York. After the campaign originally ran, the fund released a poll that found that more than 68 percent of fathers talked to their sons about the importance of healthy relationships.

“There has been a sea change in men’s attitudes toward domestic, dating and sexual violence, and especially in their willingness to take action to stop it,” the fund's president Esta Soler said at the time the poll was released last June. “That’s one reason domestic violence has been declining in this country.  But it’s still a tremendous problem.”

“After about 25 years we started to recognize that we could build shelters on every corner of a community and still not reduce violence,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which will be turning 30 this summer. “As smart and eloquent as I am, men didn’t want to listen. But if a man came to them and said this is not appropriate behavior, then it was probably going to have a bigger impact.”

History of the domestic violence movementTimeline of the domestic violence movement

The coalition initially aimed to secure funding for shelters, share information and support research. Later efforts focused on improving how the police and justice system dealt with domestic violence.


Then activists realized they had to tackle social values on top of services. After focusing on getting help to women, the movement then targeted friends, family and co-workers of victims who remained silent. In 1994 the fund launched the first national campaign called “There’s No Excuse for Domestic Violence.”

Now even this is old news. In an email, a fund spokesperson said that prevention eforts have shifted to "teaching the next generation about what a healthy relationship looks like.”

It's no longer enough to be non-violent or to oppose abusive men. Today, men must change the culture that fosters violence and become feminists, activists said.

“Men need to confront not just the men who are abusive but the entire culture of sexism and misogyny that men benefit from,” said activist and former NFL quarterback Don McPherson in an interview.

If women were to say the same thing, Smith said, they would be branded as bra-burning lesbians.

Ted Bunch, co-founder of A Call to Men, talks about “well-meaning men” in his seminars: men who are not abusers and don’t see themselves as part of the problem. He argued that these men need to recognize the priviledge they have from living in a male-dominated society. Bunch also said that men should actively try to change social norms in their communities.

From the ambulance to the classroom (Video: 3:44)
Daniel Jose Older
Photos: left, Yian Huang/NYC24, right Mathilde Piard/NYC24
Daniel Jose Older is a paramedic and activist.

Daniel Jose Olderhas taken up this cause. After working as a Brooklyn paramedic for a year, Older joined Reflect Connect Move because he said he had to deal with violence against women every night.

“I had to stop and think, 'why is it that so many of brothers do that? What’s going on with us as men?'”

In spite of the enthusiasm for men in the movement, few men are involved. This means a high demand for men to speak at events, which can translate into higher fees for them.

“What’s ironic is that men get paid more to say the same things,” Older said. “The problem is when we expect and receive higher acclaim for it than our sisters who have been doing the same work for years.”

This new approach also an attempts to tackle domestic violence in a positive way.

“Looking at bruised and battered people and hearing statistics about people being hurt is horrifying,” said advocate Lois Beekman. “But it is not as engaging as trying somehow to include people in this spirit of hopefulness.”

Beekman has worked against domestic violence for over a decade. Her work has tried to push the movement into the mainstream and to get male celebrities involved, such as Michael Bolton.

When Beekman joined the family violence movement, few men were involved. She met Smith, walked into her first coaltion board meeting and said “Ladies, you’ve got to put on your pearls and high heals and you’ve got to let the men in.”

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Dave Burdick contributed to the design of this story.

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