State House Celebrates White Ribbon Day


Jane Doe Inc. celebrates White Ribbon Day with purpose of encouraging men to join in fight against domestic violence
Jane Doe Inc. celebrates White Ribbon Day with purpose of encouraging men to join in fight against domestic violence

By Pat O’Rourke
BU News Service

Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, celebrated Massachusetts White Ribbon Day on Thursday. An event was held at the State House to recognize the day and raise awareness of violence against women.

The theme of the event was ‘reimagine manhood’, encouraging men to take a stand not only against violence, but against the social definition of a ‘man’. One out of every six women are victims of domestic violence. By challenging the social construction and bringing male influence into the fight, the hope is that the rates will become less frequent.

“I think men can be powerful role models for younger men,” said Debra J. Robbin, Executive Director of Jane Doe Inc. “I think it’s also important to think of ways in which men have been socialized around the messages that they’ve received and turn that around.”

White Ribbon Day is one of many events Jane Doe puts on across the state throughout the year with the goal of bringing men into the fight against domestic violence. A network of public officials, community leaders, coaches, and teachers volunteer in the effort of bringing the issue to light, and educating young boys. The coalition works with Boston’s four major sports organizations in raising awareness.

Northeastern University athletic director Peter Roby is a leader in the process of bringing men into the issue and being a leader of young men against such violence. Roby served as the co-chair of this year’s White Ribbons Day campaign.

“A vast majority of the perpetrators [of domestic violence], unfortunately, are men,” said Roby. “If it’s a societal issue, then we can change it as well. And I want to be a part of how we bring about that change.”

The event was attended by high school student-athletes from several high schools in Eastern Massachusetts. Roby, who was the director of the Northeastern Center for Sport and Society prior to becoming the director of athletics in 2007, undertook the role as co-chair in an effort to spread awareness among his peers in the sports community.

“Sport can play a key role, it’s a very important place in a young person’s life,” said Robbin. “It teaches them team building, camaraderie, collaboration, and it also takes an important public stand when athletes, no matter what their age or affiliation, start to talk about sexual and domestic violence.”

Roby feels not giving into what society pains as manhood is crucial.

“Part of it is not falling purvey to the stereotypes,” said Roby. “Not giving into the expectations that society may place on us. And knowing what we know contributes to it, thinking more critically about it, challenging those social constructs around masculinity.”

Nevin Roh was born into an abusive relationship. When his parents split when he was four years old, he thought it was because of him. He carried that guilt for much of his childhood years. Now a student at UMass Medical School, Roh delivered a poem at the event that illustrated what he witnessed. He’s joined the cause after seeing what his mother went through at the hands of his father.

“I always felt it was a responsibility for me to always try and be a good man, whatever that really means,” said Roh, who was born in Louisiana and lived in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio before moving to Brookline as a senior in high school. “[I think] it means I am personally responsible for redefining what masculinity means to me. And I challenge myself, consistenly, daily, to redefine what it means to be a good man, and trying to define that outside of the unhealthy messages I got throughout my life.”

Like Roh, Roby sees the White Ribbons Campaign as an outlet to spread awareness for domestic violence.

“It gives us an opportunity to engage in a conversation, to reach out to people across the commonwealth to allow themselves to become part of the solution,” said Roby. “It’s the entree to creating the conversation, and hopefully it inspires people to want to do something about it.”

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