Bob Russo joined the Middlesex County Deputy Sheriff’s Association as a Reserve Deputy interested in community service. “I felt a connection and had some experience with domestic violence in my life, some of my family members were victims.” Mr. Russo reached out to Jane Doe Inc. to find out how he could help and became a White Ribbon Day Ambassador in 2007. Mr. Russo and his production agency plays an important role in helping to produce the annual Massachusetts White Ribbon Day at the State House. His contribution makes the event special in providing lighting, tech support, and audio.
Mr. Russo embraces the opportunity to dismantle stereotypes through his work with the White Ribbon Day Campaign. During his time as part of a motorcycle club, Mr. Russo invited his fellow members to attend the first White Ribbon Day event at the State House. “We came to White Ribbon Day, wore the pins, and took the pledge. It was interesting because even though the event at the Statehouse was crowded, standing room only, we had a good 6-8 feet of space around us, forming an unspoken moat around the ‘scary men in black leather.’ White Ribbon Day is moving forward with breaking down our understanding of stereotypes about perpetrators and victims…There are people from all walks of life and all strata of society who are involved in effecting change.”
In the same light, Mr. Russo supports the effort of the White Ribbon Campaign to reframe men “from being viewed as victimizers to being viewed as part of the solution…I wear my White Ribbon on my coat year round, and once when I was in line at the airport, two women asked me about it. After I told them about the goals of the White Ribbon Day campaign, one of them looked at me and said ‘thank you.’ It was really great that she got it, and it broke the stereotype of who the activists might be in this work.”
“Through the years seeing these people who have committed their entire lives day in and day out is very impressive…sometimes you get a feeling of helplessness in solving the problem because it is such a daunting task.” Despite the progress in breaking down stereotypes and engaging men in this work, Mr. Russo does not take lightly the challenges that arise in preventing sexual and domestic violence. Speaking from experience with trying to help others, Mr. Russo states, “sometimes victims refuse help. With all my connections with law enforcement and Jane Doe, it was disheartening that I couldn’t help a family member in that situation.” Mr. Russo also recalls the challenges of directly intervening as a bystander: “I was at Revere Beach with my girlfriend, and saw a young couple. The man was yelling at her, pushing her, and then slapped her upside the head – not hard, but to intimidate her. I went over to intervene, and she defended him, saying it would only make him madder…It was difficult for me to think that she would pay the price for my intervention later on when they’re alone at home.” As challenging as these setbacks are, Mr. Russo’s connection to the White Ribbon Day Campaign is a resource to helping him think through his experiences and his options to being an effective and proactive bystander.
Men and women can address these barriers to social change by “educating boys when they’re younger and trying to break that cycle,” says Mr. Russo. “It is never too early to start a germ of an idea.” In doing so, it is important that boys understand a positive framework of masculinity: “I’ve seen all types of masculinity…Masculinity is more of a mindset. There are inherent differences between men and women but that difference does not need to be a barrier…As a man, I strive to be better not at the expense of others, but because I want to exceed at what I do…However, this message of masculinity should not only be about how to be a man, but about being a good person.” Mr. Russo finds hope that by educating children, we can take important steps toward creating a safer world for future generations: “I am doing this for my daughter. So that some day she might find a man with a better self image, so that he does not have to put down other people to make himself feel better.”