Men and Boys Creating a Culture of Peace

White Ribbon Campaign

It’s happened again. Another domestic violence death has rocked the Valley. We weep for Jessica Ann Pripstein, found slain in her apartment Feb. 20; her boyfriend charged with killing her.

How can we comfort her family and friends? For all the vitally important work that’s been done to prevent violence in our community for decades – first by women, later joined by men – we know we can’t stop every abusive act of malice.

The work Safe Passage, the YWCA, NELCWIT, Womanshelter/Companeras, and the Everywoman’s Center do to support survivors of violence; the efforts Moving Forward makes with perpetrators in its batterers’ intervention program; the broad reach of the domestic violence task forces of the region’s District Attorney’s offices, all have greatly improved the lives of women and have helped men and boys live lives based on a culture of peace. And yet, it’s happened again.

In these raw early days of grieving for Jessica Pripstein, it may be small comfort to know there is an international movement of men and young men saying no to all acts of abuse against women, including murder, the act Ryan D. Welch is accused of committing.

But the story of the White Ribbon Campaign, founded more than two decades ago in Canada, is exactly the kind we need to hear at a moment like this– when our hearts are heavy, when hope for harmony in the home may seem a distant dream.

Across Massachusetts this week, including at a gathering at the State House on Thursday, hundreds of men and young men will don white ribbons and sign pledges stating, “From this day forward, I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.”

It was Dec. 6, 1989. Angry that he’d failed to get into engineering school, a lone gunman strode into a lecture hall at the University of Montréal and murdered 14 women whom he blamed for his academic failure. A shock wave pulsed through every segment of Canadian society – from the classroom to the barroom.

Two years later, challenged by the women in their lives to respond to all forms of men’s violence against women, three men—the late Jack Layton, Michael Kaufman, and Ron Sluser (with others)—launched the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) as a way for men to begin to take a stand against men’s violence against women. That first year, 1991, 100,000 wore ribbons across Canada. Today, the campaign has spread to at least 70 countries and several million men have signed pledges not to commit, condone, or remain silent in the face of domestic or sexual violence.

At its heart an educational campaign, WRC is politically nonpartisan, seeking to reach a wide swath of men and young men. Some serve as informal ambassadors spreading the word. In the U.S., the campaign has been growing in recent years in, particularly here in Massachusetts. It is spearheaded by the Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe Inc., the Boston-based statewide coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence. It coordinates 60 local member programs around Massachusetts working with allies on, what Jane Doe organizers say, are “lasting solutions that promote safety, liberty, and dignity for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence.” The 2012 Massachusetts White Ribbon Day, the fifth such commemoration, will be marked by a gathering on Thursday at the State House, as well as a separate first-ever White Ribbon Campaign incorporating members of the military.

The 2012 campaign has added a new component, a tool kit to help male high school athletic teams across the Commonwealth. “Young Men 4 Change” encourages male youth to demonstrate leadership in addressing violence against females in the school community.

“Since many coaches and student athletes are leaders in their wider communities,” Norberg-Bohm said, “emphasizing working with male athletic teams is a powerful way to both invite and inspire other men and boys to make a public and private commitment to promote respectful, safe, and healthy relationships.” Coaches can be instrumental in helping athletes they are training to become involved in White Ribbon Day and to assist them to be responsible people on the field and off. What could the impact be of hundreds of male coaches and student athletes across the state declaring their commitment to this principle of non-violence?

We’ll never know if Ryan Welch, charged with Jessica Pripstein’s murder, would have turned out to be a different kind of man if he had gone to a high school “promoting values of safety and respect in all relationships and situations.” What we can know is some young men will listen, are listening.

To honor Jessica Pripstein’s memory – along with all the women who have been killed in domestic violence murders in Western Massachusetts, the Commonwealth, across the country and around the world – let’s dedicate this year’s White Ribbon Campaign to each of them. Let’s take the pledge to remember that harmony in our world begins with peace in our homes.