One of the most personally and communally harmful social problems facing the US, including Boulder County, is that of domestic abuse, also known as physical and sexual violence. It is a problem that annually affects millions of victims nation-wide. It is one that crosses all races, social and economic backgrounds, cultures, and relationship types.

Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior used by one partner in a relationship to establish and maintain power and control over the other person. This behavior can be exercised either emotionally or physically.

SAFE SHELTER OF ST. VRAIN VALLEY (Safe Shelter), which was founded in 1978, is the only domestic violence agency in Longmont – a city that accounts for approximately 40 percent of Boulder County’s reported domestic abuse cases. This non-profit provides emergency shelter and nonresidential services including safety planning, advocacy, counseling, community referrals, housing assistance, and legal services for individuals impacted by domestic violence. It is one of two organizations that deal with domestic abuse in Boulder County, the other being the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence based in the City of Boulder.

Although domestic violence can be caused by either gender, according to Tim Johnson, Boulder County Deputy District Attorney and senior domestic violence prosecutor, “The vast majority of violent crime is male on female, in heterosexual relationships.” National data mirrors those of our community: (a) 85% of all intimate partner assaults are committed by men; (b) 6 million American women are beaten each year by their husbands or boyfriends; (c) 20% of all murders in this country are committed within the family; and (d) 13% of all murders in this country are committed by spouses.

According to Longmont‘s Chief of Police and Public Safety Chief, Mike Butler, domestic violence is Longmont’s No. 1 public safety issue.

PROGRAMS TO DEAL WITH MALE VIOLENCE

Since men are the primary perpetrators of abuse both against males and females, Safe Shelter is engaging in a three-pronged prevention initiative based on the belief that boys and men have the responsibility for changing the prevalent culture that condones and facilitates violence against women. The initiative is designed to give men and boys the tools to understand abuse and safely advocate on behalf of victims.

The initiative’s programs are (a) the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC); (b) Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM), an evidence-based curriculum that uses the influence of athletic coaches to instruct their teams; and (c) a state-wide community awareness and will-building messaging campaign tentatively called It’s Not OK. All of the programs are being developed with a grass roots approach including St. Vrain Valley Schools, community leaders and professionals, parents, and just about anyone who wants to play a role in ending partner abuse. The common goal is to provide men with the tools to intervene safely and act as allies and advocates in order to break the cycle of domestic violence.

WRC is an international movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity. Founded by a group of Canadian women in 1991, following the 1989 massacre of women at France’s Ecole Polytechnique, it is now the world’s largest such initiative.

The international campaign seeks to engage males in “educational programming that challenges language and behaviors, as well as harmful ideas of manhood that lead to violence against women.” White ribbons, which members wear, symbolize men and boys renouncing violence. They are invited to sign the following pledge: “I pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about men’s violence against women and girls in all its forms.” Safe Shelter began the campaign in July with a core group of interested male allies. It invites additional members who believe in the cause and want to take the pledge.

A media campaign supporting WRC is spearheaded by Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence and involves 10 other Colorado-based anti-violence non-profits.  CBIM was launched with its first team this fall. Although still in the nascent stage in Boulder County, it is hoped that with a public awareness campaign, and an increasing commitment of men to speaking out against domestic violence, Boulder County can eventually experience a reduction in not only the perpetration of domestic violence, but create an awareness of the social consequences of the problem as well.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Safe Shelter believes every boy and man can help promote gender equity, healthy relationships, positive ideals of masculinity, and help end gender-based violence by speaking out against it. The following are the core tenets to be followed.

Believe. This issue is real. Believe survivors’ experiences. Your support will make a difference. Tell them ‘it’s not your fault’. No one asks for or deserves to be sexually assaulted or harassed.

Be an Upstander. Don’t walk on by if you witness harassment or an assault on the street or anywhere. Assess the risk, then intervene and confront or defuse the situation. If you need to, ask for help. Call 911.

Offer Support. Ask if you can help people who have experienced violence and connect them to support services. Become familiar with Safe Shelter’s services and refer survivors of domestic abuse to our phone line or facility. 303.772.0432

It Starts with You. Lead by example. Question your own attitudes and behaviors and how they may disrespect or harm women. Sexist language and street harassment all contribute to a culture of violence.

It Stays with Him. Be a role model. Talk to your family, friends and co-workers about the roles they can play in ending violence against women. Challenge men and young men in your life to make a difference!

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

The WRC is male-led direct action. The campaign works through people spreading the word about ending violence against women and girls at a local level. You can become part of Safe Shelter’s WRC right now by contacting VolunteerCoordinator@safeshelterofstvrainvalley.org. Join a growing group of local male allies, contribute your ideas and recruit more members.