IN December 1989 a young Canadian man massacred 14 of his female university colleagues.
This shocking crime traumatised the surrounding community, leading, two years later, to a group of Canadian men establishing White Ribbon Day as a commemoration of the massacre and a rallying point for other men who, like themselves, wanted to publicly denounce and disown violence against women.
Since then the White Ribbon campaign has gained momentum and it is now supported by men in many countries around the world.
Its power and effectiveness comes from the fact that it grew directly out of the horror and disgust that most men feel about violence against women.
It is not unusual for many men to feel accused, by implication, when other men behave violently to women. But rather than retreating into defensiveness or denial, the White Ribbon campaign encourages and empowers men to actively disown those who breach what ought to be a strict social taboo.
The campaign harnesses the power of respected male role models who, if they wish, may publicly declare their revulsion towards violence by men against women. When well-known and popular men make this pledge their actions draw potency from the fact that they are being seen to eschew silence.
The pledge is explicit. Those who take it swear not to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. That’s a powerful commitment, since it puts all those men around them on notice that they will not stand by and permit violence, nor will they accept excuses about it or allow it to be concealed or covered up.
Given the shaming news that some parts of the Hunter Region, including Cessnock, Newcastle and Muswellbrook, have high and apparently rising incidences of domestic violence, it is clear that the region has much to gain from the White Ribbon campaign.
Most of these incidents represent violence by men against women and it is important that the perpetrators have it made known to them by their friends, peers and relatives that their actions are disgraceful.
It is regrettable that violence of all kinds appears to be becoming more acceptable in the eyes of some in the community. It is also clear that the community is paying a high price for these antisocial attitudes and behaviours.
Violence by men against women stands out as being especially reprehensible because, in many instances, it represents an abuse of power within a relationship.
The White Ribbon pledge is a way for men to declare that they will never condone that abuse.