Women and Abuse

Enlisting Men and Boys to Stop the Abuse of Women

In the war against domestic violence, men and boys are being enlisted. By Caroline Linton.

The sad cycle of domestic violence has been dominating the news. Oscar Pistorius was released on bail Friday after shooting and killing his girlfriend, whom he had been accused of abusing during their relationship. Rihanna and Chris Brown vacationed together in Hawaii, despite his history of abusive behavior.

But for all of the headlines generated, who’s really talking to women and girls—and men—about the reality of abuse?

“I wanted to be a voice for these girls, because as big a topic as domestic violence is, you don’t talk about,” says Jasmine Villegas, 19 years old and a survivor of abuse in a previous relationship. She joined other activists Thursday at Verizon Wireless’s day-long summit devoted to shining light on the all-too-hidden problem.

Villegas spoke about trying to prevent domestic violence among teens, along with Sharon Love, whose 21-year-old daughter Yeardley was killed by an abusive ex-boyfriend in a case that made national news. They were joined by Katie Ray-Jones, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline / National Dating Abuse Helpline and Barton Erickson, program director of Preventing Abuse & Violence Education. Other panels focused on the effect PTSD in the military has had on domestic violence, the role of social media in stopping the violence—and how mobile technology can be used for the same purpose.

Verizon has taken an activist role in raising awareness of domestic violence. Chief Executive Dan Mead spearheaded the support of Telling Amy’s Story, a PBS documentary about a Pennsylvania store employee who was killed by her abusive husband. Through the Verizon Foundation, the company has given more than $179 million to domestic-violence charities since 2001. Among the luminaries at the conference: CBS Sports and News sportscaster James Brown, who has led a campaign aimed at men and boys to help stop violence against women by being part of the solution.

Mike Mason, Verizon’s chief security officer, says he became involved not just because of his company’s work—it was also personal. His sister was in an abusive relationship. He realized then how important it was for men to be involved—especially since Mason didn’t even know his sister was being beaten up by her husband.

Mason says he told his sister “you are not a potted plant—you have decisions you can make. Once you start to take control of your life, it can’t end at the hospital or the police department.”

Teaching boys about abuse is where Neil Irvin comes in. The executive director of Men Can Stop Rape works with teen boys to teach them that masculinity is not about power over women—and that stopping abuse starts with men. Their motto, he says, is to bring boys to them before it becomes a problem.

At one of their youth-education programs, Irvin says one boy had been unable to grasp when watching a documentary about an abused woman that it wasn’t the victim’s fault. “He was still contributing to a rape culture that makes it difficult for women to come forward,” Irvin says. But by the end of the program, the teen gave a report on victim-blaming—and used his earlier attitude as an example.

Arizona Cardinals cornerback William Gay was just 7 years old when his mother was killed as she tried to leave an abusive relationship. As an adult, Gay has visited women’s shelters and even NFL locker rooms to relay his story and deliver his message: “there is no excuse to put your hands on a woman.”

NASCAR driver Brennan Poole says he became involved in the issue via his 17-year-old sister, Wynser, who also spoke at Thursday’s summit. Wynser said she first became aware of the problem of domestic violence after a friend of hers was in an abusive relationship. “Boys can really damage you—and I think that causes a big effect with girls and women—and with the world in the long run.”