Fighting Abuse

Local nonprofit wants men to help end domestic violence

The Emerge! Center Against Domestic Violence has a new message: Men can have a leading role in ending domestic abuse.

Emerge! CEO Ed Mercurio-Sakwa said the nonprofit agency's new program, Answering the Call, asks men to set the example that masculinity is not synonymous with being controlling or abusive.

"There's a certain role that men can and need to play in addressing male violence against women," Mercurio-Sakwa said. "Those small minorities of men who are abusive to their partners do so in the presence of the rest of us men. And therefore, the rest of us men have a really significant role to play in holding other men accountable and setting the norms of what's acceptable and what's not."

He said the campaign is gender-based because, while men are not always the abusers and women not always the abused, that is the vast majority of cases, and they have to start somewhere.

Emerge! helps people get out of domestic abuse situations. The nonprofit has a 50-bed shelter, which is always full of women and children. And they offer support groups and resources for men, women and families to create healthier futures.

Answering the Call is a men's education program that includes a 26-week curriculum in which men can deconstruct negative patterns and unhealthy behaviors. Some men are court ordered to attend while others self-enroll.

The campaign launched at their 16th annual Mother of the Year Luncheon, on May 19, where the agency honors survivors of domestic abuse by sharing one woman's story.

"We're talking about a population of incredibly courageous people who have left very dangerous situations in order to try to create a life free from abuse for themselves and their family," Mercurio-Sakwa said.

This year's keynote speaker was Donisha Rita-Claire Prendergast, activist, film-maker, writer, public speaker and Bob Marley's granddaughter. "We can give money. We can take a picture and feel good about it," she said during her keynote speech. "Or we can really think a little bit harder about how we are really going to create sustainable change in our communities. The children are watching."

Answering the Call promotes everyday discussion about abuse, healthy relationships and male/female paradigms in order to counteract socialization that can lead to violence against women. The program also advocates that men in the community lead by example.

In an introduction video about the campaign, Chuco Ruiz from Chicanos Por La Causa, a nonprofit which builds community for the underserved, said it's important to talk to young men about healthy manhood.

Ruiz said the talk can can be "as simple as the conversations during lunch. Some of the young men like holding each other accountable, calling each other out."

Syndric Steptoe from the Commitment to an Athlete's Total Success life-skills program, working with University of Arizona athletes to support a healthy life after graduation, also speaks in the video. He talks about manhood with the young men he works with.

"The hyper-masculine culture and changing it—it's a thought pattern," he said in the video. "I'm challenging right now to buck that system, to step up and say something when you know in your gut it's wrong. When you see something, when you see your teammates doing something that you know that's not right, for you to say something and do something."

In 2015, there were 107 domestic violence fatalities in Arizona, 25 of which were in Pima County, according to statistics Emerge! collects from several reputable sources. As well, one in four women in the U.S. report experiencing domestic violence at some point during their lives.

Another outcome of abusive relationships is that children who witness them are more likely to end up in them as adults. Emerge! strives to change those types of patterns.

Besides shelter, some of the services Emerge! offers include domestic abuse education, emotional support, individualized case management, legal services and family services.

Emerge! also has a 24-hour hotline where people can find out more about resources or just talk if they're not ready to come in to the organization. The line offers assistance in Spanish or English and can assist in other languages when needed.

Prendergast ended the luncheon's keynote speech by leading the room in singing Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" and with a call to action.

"As social soldiers, as activists, as individuals who are prepared to emerge, to become something of which we have never been, to step up to the plate, to defend, to arm, to inspire our community, I say thank you," she said. "I charge you, Tucson, to do that, to be that, to be the change that we need to see in the world."

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