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Independence House Profile

MEET WHITE RIBBON DAY CAMPAIGN AFFILIATE:

Independence House

Sexual and domestic assault is not just a women’s issue, and Independence House, which sits in heart of Hyannis, knows just how difficult a task it can be to change this common misconception. A member of Jane Doe Inc. (JDI), the organization dedicates itself to providing services to all survivors of sexual and domestic violence regardless of gender, gender identity or sexual orientation on the Cape as well as community outreach and education since 1979. Independence House embarked on a mission to grow their men’s engagement programs, thanks in part to a five-year long partnership with JDI’s Massachusetts White Ribbon Day Campaign (WRD).

WRD offers a statewide framework for local programs to engage their community in the prevention of sexual and domestic violence. Specifically, the annual campaign aims to reevaluate the origins of gender-based violence, asks men and boys to commit to being a part of the solution, and invites everyone to #ReimagineManhood.

“There is a really unique challenge with getting men engaged with social issues, especially concerning domestic violence or sexual assault,” says Adam Campbell, former Teen Outreach and Violence Prevention Specialist at Independence House. Independence House partners with ten Cape Cod high schools, providing support in the form of a Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) club. Through this program, partially supported by the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, high school students delve into the complexities and societal roots of sexism. Students grapple with the often-held notion that the man will be fiscally responsible, does not need help, and is in charge, while the woman needs to be cared for and will be financially reliant.

In 2017, Independence House hosted a WRD press conference featuring many prominent men from the area. They also introduced the campaign to local schools and invited them to be part of reimagining manhood. Dennis Yarmouth Regional High School and Cape Cod Community College both did their own flag raisings and hosted events.

These initiatives are fueled by ideas and philosophies regarding human rights and ask society to reevaluate gender, which is deeply ingrained. Discussing gender roles and having men engaged offers other important benefits, according to Chris Morin, Director of Prevention, Education and Outreach.

“These programs not only aid in preventing violence against women, but also allow men who have been victims of trauma to feel safe coming forward to receive help,” she says. According to national studies, 1 out of 6 men and 1 in 4 women were sexually abused as children (1in6.org). While most children who were abused as children do not abuse others, 75% of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. Chris noted, “The cyclical connection between victims of trauma and perpetrators of abuse cannot be ignored, and Independence House has boldly taken on the task of addressing it.”

Chris also recognizes the complexity of such a task.. “People still think of domestic violence as physical when really it’s much more,” she says. After describing how violence can also be sexual, financial and emotional, she notes how the narrative of power and control seeps into popular culture and becomes normalized. “Some television shows, video games and songs – not to mention pornography, bring violence into our lives to a level of almost numbness. Engaging in media literacy with students is one way of protecting against this normalization.”

Independence House’s success has made all the difference for thousands of lives throughout the Cape. Lysetta Hurge-Putnam has been the Executive Director for 18 years, and cites some of the impressive changes she has seen across that time when it comes to prevention and community engagement.

For example, Independence House held an art contest for high school students to create art that discussed ideas of sexual and domestic violence. Young men and women from local high schools submitted a wide variety of talent, including one young man who wrote and performed a song about intimate partner violence. These students expressed their thoughts on gender-based violence, and the deep level of the work showed their nuanced understanding of the issues. Young men and women are reaching out to participate in conversations regarding gender violence, and teens want to participate in furthering this growth.

Lysetta also acknowledges the importance of collaborations with myriad organizations to engage with men from various sectors. Over the last two years, they’ve partnered with the Mankind Project to host a Men’s March, aimed at bringing visibility to preventing violence. Each year, between 80-100 men participate in the event, which Lysetta credits to having those men in the Mankind Project reach out to their peers. To engage men, there must be male role models – this is a core concept of Independence House’s strategy.

Independence House has taken the initiative to reach out specifically to men and boys in their community and genuinely ask what they can do to prevent intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Their creative thinking and commitment to this work benefits everyone in their community and beyond. By changing the dialogue around gender-based violence, Independence House is contributing to a global movement that aims at reevaluating gender roles, and finally ending the cycle of violence.

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