Signs of Change

Men become a powerful face against domestic violence 

The signs are simple – a small white poster board with the words "Take Action," "Sister," "Niece" and even "Neighbor" handwritten on them. The men holding the signs might be smiling slightly but the message is nothing to laugh about. These men are taking a public stand against our community's alarming rates of domestic violence. It's all a part of a new YWCA domestic violence awareness campaign.  

You'll probably recognize more than a few of these men in the high profile media campaign.

Billings Mayor Tom Hanel bears the sign "daughters." Hot 101.9's Jason "Big J" Harris shares the love for his "Mom" with the word "Educate" close by. Even YVW's publisher Jeremy Vannatta holds a sign with two simple words, "Believe Her." These men are hoping this new campaign will help to change some pretty grim statistics. As you sit and read these words, one in three women will be living in fear of the next episode of domestic violence. Every 24 seconds a woman falls victim to violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking.

"I was absolutely overjoyed that these guys so quickly understood the important role that they play and that they are the ones that have to help drive this peer to peer message," says YWCA's CEO, Merry Lee Olson. "They are saying, 'Hey, it's time we stop this, all of us.'"

There was another important statistic these gentlemen will hopefully help put an end to and it's just as troubling. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse when they become adults.

"It's an opportunity for us to be able to spread the word," says Jeff Ewalt, also known as the "nature guy" at ZooMontana. "Even if we help one woman stand up and say 'Hey, I can do something' or one man say, 'Okay, I am not going to do this anymore.' That's what it is all about. That's why we are doing what we are doing." Jon Phillips, who helps in the financial division of the YWCA couldn't agree more. He says, "It's just the right thing to do. It's something that we all need to do."

The campaign kicked off the weekend of January 5th and has been going strong ever since. A few TV spots even landed in some of the local coveted openings during Super Bowl 48. It's a high profile run time that some of these men feel is priceless.

"This is a message that constantly needs to be out there," Jeremy Vannatta says. "I hope this endeavor has legs beyond some splashy ads. We need to be embracing women. We need to be supportive and understand what they may be going through. We need to prop them up and help them. This campaign just speaks to all of that."

And while the campaign hopes to tell perpetrators of violence to stop, Olson adds that this message is also aimed at the victims themselves. Right now, the fastest growing segment of victims is women from the age of 18 to 30. Olson feels that this campaign could not only let these women know help is available, it could help reduce the number of times a woman has to be hurt before she takes action or, worse yet, loses her life.

"There's not a week that goes by without tears. Gosh, these situations just cause chills to go down your spine," Olson shares. "But the fact that we are making a difference and that the community supports us and pulls together? That keeps us on the positive edge." 

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