Men’s Engagement on the Vineyard
Each year, Vineyard and visiting men are invited to stand on the seawall stretching across the shore of Martha’s Vineyard in honor of a woman they care about - a visual demonstration of their commitment to supporting an end to violence against all women. At the Annual Seawall Event, a men’s initiative, men of all ages, races, and backgrounds, stand on the seawall in solidarity with those affected by sexual and domestic violence, offering support and making a visible and proud statement much like the seawall itself. Each man, holds a poster with the name of a woman he wished to honor etched across it, sends a message that there is a reason for men to care about violence toward women; that it is not a women’s issue, but a human issue.
The seawall stretches across the shore for miles, guarding the coastline and supporting the island against the elements. Similarly, the men who align themselves on it are there to stand against the elements that contribute to violence against women. According to Jennifer Neary, Program Director for Martha's Vineyard Community Services’ CONNECT to end violence program, Seawall is meant to demonstrate that although the majority of perpetrators of violence toward women are men, the majority of men are not perpetrators. In 2014, Seawall drew more than 50 attendees, a growth attributed to the collaborative spirit between organizers and the community they serve.
“The community as a whole has been amazing,” Neary said. “They have been instrumental in helping us create more awareness and encourage a dialogue about how these issues affect us on the island and in our families. Seeing men put up flyers, promote Seawall in the local media, and engage people in their cars who were crossing the bridge during the 3-hour event, was empowering to survivors and the staff at CONNECT.”
CONNECT to end violence is the domestic violence and rape crisis center on Martha’s Vineyard and has been providing free and confidential services since 1981. Recently they expanded their services to include a new initiative known as V-MAP: Vineyard Men for Abuse Prevention. The event-based group, started by staff member Max Sherman in 2012, is the manifestation of his vision to gather a group of like-minded nonviolent men to engage other men against violence toward women.
When Max, pictured below with his son honoring his unborn daughter, learned that there was no domestic violence emergency shelter on the island, he was troubled that domestic violence victims were faced with an untenable choice: leave their community and support network and go off island for emergency shelter or stay in an unsafe situation. He decided to engage men to work together to bring awareness to the need for transitional resources for the residents on the island. Seawall, now one of CONNECT’s signature events, was the first effort the group of men collaborated on.
As a WRD Affiliate, CONNECT involves men and boys in putting a stop to violence against women and children in the community throughout the year. They collaborate with local high school and college sports teams. Captains of all the local teams attended the Seawall event. The collegiate baseball team, The MV Sharks, created a team photo with their posters indicating women in their lives they chose to honor. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the local High School football team wore purple laces to spread awareness about domestic violence.
CONNECT also partners with other community organizations and the Martha’s Vineyard middle and high schools to provide educational workshops on a variety of topics regarding domestic and sexual violence. To model equality and men’s roles on these issues, each presentation includes a male volunteer co-facilitator. Outreach includes tabling events, discussions on healthy and unhealthy relationships as well as consent and gender roles. Neary credits the education initiative at the schools as a major accomplishment for CONNECT, due to its lasting impact and the creation of ongoing discussions amongst the students, faculty, staff and parents.
CONNECT makes a substantial effort through their advocacy, education, and community mobilization to include all communities and cultures on the Vineyard in changing the social norms that uphold violence. “It’s a hard thing to be on the forefront of,” said Mr. Sherman,” There is still this idea about men having to be strong and not show emotion; but slowly, more and more, people are realizing that if men show emotion and stand up for what they believe in, it will start changing.”
Like the seawall, CONNECT's V-MAP stands against adversity in support of survivors; a great example of one community trying to engage men in advocating for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Ms. Neary hopes that in sharing their work, this can inspire other communities to engage their men as well in this global initiative.To learn more about the services provided by CONNECT and Martha's Vineyard Community Services visit their website.