This Starts with Positive Masculinity

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, co-chair of this year’s White Ribbon Day campaign, weighs in on positive masculinity, male role models, and how communities can help stop violence.

For me, White Ribbon Day is about creating a community standard among boys and men that rejects violence. This starts with positive masculinity.

When I think of positive masculinity, I think of role models, people I want to be compared to. I think of my father: a man who worked hard, but who cared for us. He impressed upon me the importance of respect in my personal relationships. My mother did, too, of course, but it was my father, the man of the house, who taught me what it meant to be a man myself. My siblings and I were active as kids, and we enjoyed sports and competition, but there was a guiding principle that distinguished competition from violence, and especially forbade violence against women. Today, I have kids of my own, a son and a daughter, and I find those lessons so valuable and so important to share with the next generation.

They’re lessons that extend beyond the home and into the community. Professionally, I’ve seen far too many cases involving men who either never learned those lessons of respect and non-violence, or never took them to heart, and the results are tragic every time. We see sexual and domestic violence cases in every form from every type of relationship, but the statistics are unequivocal: the majority of these cases involve men using violence against women.

As a prosecutor, I want to do two things about this sort of violence. On one side of the issue, we have to hold offenders accountable and provide support to victims. We need to interrupt those cyclical relationships where violence escalates, abates, and escalates again. But the other side of the issue is every bit as important: we need to teach boys and young men not to engage in that behavior, long before that cycle begins. We need to send that message explicitly and as part of a broader philosophy that rejects violence. I’m in a position as DA where I have the opportunity to do that publicly, and it’s a perfectly natural extension of our work here in a modern prosecutor’s office. We don’t just carry our briefcases into a courtroom and leave at the end of the day: We work on prevention and partnerships every bit as much as our more traditional duties trying cases.

As we approach White Ribbon Day, we at the DA’s office have been ramping up our efforts for the campaign on Facebook and through events like our 5th annual Basketball for Peace tournament held on February 21st. This event presented a great opportunity to talk to a lot of boys, young men, and adults who are involved in what’s traditionally been a very male sport, and show them: You can be a man, you can be strong, and you can be respected without ever considering violence in a relationship. You can make this pledge, and you can keep it, and it will make you stronger. It will mean something to you, it will mean something to the friends and colleagues who respect you, and it will mean something to the women in your life.

I also want to acknowledge my peers across the Commonwealth who have incorporated the WRD campaign into their work as District Attorneys:

  • DA David Sullivan of the Northwestern District (Hampshire and Franklin Counties) is working with local JDI programs NELCWIT, Safe Passage and Center for Women & Community to hold high school events and a music video contest on teen dating violence awareness.
  • DA Timothy Cruz of Plymouth County is recruiting the police chief in each town to include the WRD Pledge on the Role Call agenda on March 7 and place white ribbons on cruiser aerial antennae.
  • DA Gerry Leone is making presentations to boys in high schools throughout the county.
  • These principles of respect and nonviolence are ones that everyone can embrace. White Ribbon Day demonstrates to boys, men, and everyone in the community a truly positive vision of masculinity: You can be strong and still show love. You can be independent and still show compassion. You don’t have to limit yourself.

    This, after all, is how we change things one person at a time.