If many boys witnessing abusive fathers grow up to become abusers themselves, why can't the opposite be true? Men from all walks of life are banding together to serve as positive role models for children. The movement is known as the White Ribbon Campaign, and it's led by the Center for Women & Families of Eastern Fairfield County, Inc.
Men wear the white ribbon as a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. It is an international movement that began in Canada in 1991.
"We're the first in Connecticut to have it," said Debra Greenwood, president of the Center for Women & Families, which has a satellite office in Monroe.
The local White Ribbon Committee includes police officers, politicians and teachers among its membership's diverse backgrounds. It has a monthly meeting during which initiatives are created to educate people about domestic abuse.
As the economy continues to sputter the strain on households has led to a 38 percent increase in instances of domestic violence since October of 2008, according to Greenwood.
Stephanie Stacy, co-coordinator of community education for the Center for Women and Families, said the White Ribbon Committee has about 25 members and nearly 200 pledges of support.
Eddie Petrocelli, a community educator, has spoken alongside two women as an advocate at Chalk Hill School.
"I think there needs to be more men out there," Petrocelli said. "We need to raise awareness. If we get more men involved, we can prevent violence against women."
"It's good to have a positive male role model," Greenwood said.
She pointed out that men and boys are also victims of abuse, which includes verbal and physical violence.
In fact, Greenwood said, Fairfield Police Det. Kerry Dalling plays recordings of 911 calls made by men and shows photos of men who were assaulted at the beginning of her talks and says, "I get it. Men get abused too."
Thirteen people sat around a conference room table inside the Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County's Bridgeport headquarters on June 15. It was a meeting of the White Ribbon Committee and seven men and six women attended.
Petrocelli led the group in a gender role stereotype activity. Agree, disagree and unsure were the answers to check in response to statements including: Boys are born more violent than girls. Girls are born more emotional than boys. It is okay for someone to hit their girlfriend or boyfriend under certain circumstances. The guy should always pay for the date.
There were occasional differences of opinion and there were some statements everyone agreed upon.
Petrocelli said it's the same exercise he does with school children.
"People can have opinions and labels about things, but people can be totally different," he said of its purpose. "You shouldn't judge a book by its cover and you should know someone before you label them. Give them a chance to show the way they really are."
Boys are often raised to be tough with aggressive sports and action movies, but Petrocelli said they do not always have to be that way.
"You don't always have to be tough," he said. "You can show your softer side."
Partnering with Monroe
The Center for Women and Families opened its office at Monroe Town Hall last year and the police department and other officials have worked closely with the center on several initiatives.
Vida Stone, the first selectman's administrative assistant, will serve as chairman of the advisory task force to establish a White Ribbon Committee in town, according to Greenwood.
Greenwood said the center is also piloting a healthy relationships program with Monroe Police Det. Kelly McFarland.
"This is almost new unchartered territory," she said.
McFarland said Monroe police are switching from the DARE program to the SHARE (Safety Health and Relationship Education) program, which she created to be tailored more to Monroe students' needs. In addition to drug and alcohol awareness, it deals with conflict resolution, Internet safety, healthy relationships, bullying and stereotyping.
Petrocelli and Nicole Buckley, a school resource officer, made lesson plans and taught the program in Monroe's schools, according to McFarland.
The Center for Women and Families also does teen dating programs at the high school, McFarland said.
McFarland, who handles all cases of domestic violence and child sexual assaults in town, said she works closely with the Center for Women and Families, using it for advocates and as a support system.
"I sit on the multi-disciplinary team for sexual assaults' bi-weekly meetings at center," McFarland said. "When a child needs a forensic interviewer, the center provides an expert and ongoing services for victims and their families. If I have someone who may have been sexually assaulted or have been a victim of domestic violence and want an advocate, I’ll arrange for someone to come to the Monroe office or I’ll bring them to the center in Bridgeport.
"I think they're a very valuable resource. I've used them several times. They're always professional. I get good feedback from the people I refer to them and I think it's an asset to have them in our community and it’s a resource for me working in law enforcement, as well as for the people who use their support services."