As part of Vera House’s 21st annual White Ribbon Campaign, about 200 people tied white ribbons around poles in downtown Syracuse on Friday to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault.
“You make a commitment not to commit, support or remain silent about abuse, and all these people here today have made that commitment,” said Executive Director Randi Bregman.
Carrying banners and signs, the crowd, which included participants of all ages, marched from Clinton to Armory Square to kick off the campaign. In 2013, Vera House’s advocacy program helped almost 1,500 victims, and its crisis hotline served nearly 5,000. Since the organization’s first ribbon campaign in 1995, awareness is much higher, with about 25,000 Syracuse-area residents wearing white ribbons during last year’s event.
“I think there’s a lot more people in this community who see a ribbon, know what the ribbon means,” she said.
Many of the participants were college, elementary and high school students. It’s important to educate them early, and that requires adults to set a positive example. “If we get out there from Vera House and tell people a message, and they go home into a community where the message is accepting of abuse or tolerating, then we’re not able to create that culture change that we see.”
As elementary-school student Capri Montanaron helped hang ribbons, she excitedly chanted: “Two, four, six, eight – what do we appreciate? White Ribbons!” For her, the campaign is important “to show people that they should be nice to other people,” she said.
The White Ribbon Campaign originated at the University of Montreal in 1991, following a shooting massacre there, which left 14 women dead. The gunman specifically targeted women, “so the men there, came together and stood up and said that they wanted to do something to raise awareness about violence against women and to try and help prevent it,” said Loren Cunningham, Vera House’s prevention and education director.
The organization works to educate youth through a variety of programs, including Mentors in Violence Prevention, “where we try to engage young people in that conversation and take leadership around preventing these issues,” Cunningham said. Because young people have the most power to change an abusive environment, seeing so many at the march pleased her, she said.
“Annually, our largest White Ribbon campaign is done by a group of high school students at Baker High School, so I think that speaks to their commitment and their passion about these issues,” she said.
The White Ribbon Campaign lasts through Sunday, March 29. During this time, Vera House encourages community members to wear white ribbons or bands around their wrists. Director Randi Bregman hopes the campaign teaches people “to not stand by when people make jokes that put people down,” she said.
“When you see or hear something that can be considered abusive, speak up, find your voice and be part of the solution.”
(Those with concerns about relationship or sexual violence may call Vera House 24/7 at 315-468-3260 or visit their website.)