Group works toward a future without domestic violence

New London - One day every three weeks at Goldy's Restaurant, a group of men and women huddle to eat a delicious breakfast while speaking about an unsavory subject - domestic violence.

Wednesday was one of those occasions, when members of the Safe Futures' Engaging Men group, a team primarily made up of men from throughout the region, met early in the morning to talk about ways to reduce violence.

Bill Wernau is a member of the group and a volunteer at Safe Futures, a regional organization that helps both female and male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. He told the group Wednesday that in a patriarchal society, men learn to think of themselves as having control over others, especially over women, whom they view as second-class citizens.

"What men don't realize is when they are in that system, their full development is impacted," said Wernau.

The Engaging Men group goes to community events to spread the word about Safe Futures and what men can do to prevent violence. Wernau said the key is to get to men when they are young and to teach those in leadership positions that their role should be about empowering others and not be so controlling.

Kurt Hansen, another volunteer, organized the Twilight Trail Run at Bluff Point that benefited Safe Futures last Friday. He said the race has been supporting the organization for eight years because Safe Futures - formerly the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut - is "more than just about taking a check."

Emma Palzere-Rae, director of development and communications at Safe Futures, said that statistics indicate that 6 percent of men are abusers.

"That is why it's so important for the other 94 percent of men to stand up and say that it is not OK," said Palzere-Rae. "They need (to) hold the 6 percent accountable."

Melva O'Neill, community engagement coordinator, said 85 percent of domestic violence is man on woman.

"Men have grown up believing that you have to be aggressive to be a man or have to make all the decisions in the households," O'Neill said. "It's so important for men to redefine their roles and to see themselves as being part of the solution."

O'Neill said one way men can help is by participating in Safe Futures' 18th annual Men Against Domestic Violence campaign, which is underway and ends on Father's Day. Men may make a contribution to the organization by downloading a registration form at www.safefuturesct.org.

According to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women nationally experience domestic abuse during their lifetime; each day, three woman are killed by a current or former partner; and every 15 seconds, a woman is abused.

"I think the campaign helps the victim see that not all men are abusers," said O'Neill. "It shows that men are standing together to say that this is wrong."

Last year, Safe Futures sheltered 131 women and children fleeing abuse in Genesis House, an emergency shelter; provided training and support to 36 women and children at the Phoenix House transitional living program; counseled 5,969 clients seeking assistance for domestic violence; and educated more than 3,500 students and nearly 4,000 members of the community in strategies to both prevent and recognize domestic violence and sexual assault.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer at Safe Futures may call O'Neill at (860) 447-0366, ext. 212.

Those who need assistance may call the Safe Futures 24/7 help line at (888) 774-2900.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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