Well-meaning men need to help women prevent violence against women.
That was the stark message representatives of a number of area social service agencies took away from a seminar held by a New York group called A Call to Men (ACTM) on Wednesday and Thursday at the DoubleTree Grand Key Resort.
"If women could have ended [domestic abuse] they would have done so years ago," ACTM co-founder Tony Porter said in the opening session. "There's a quote that says that all that evil needs to triumph is for men of good conscience to do nothing. We need to have all men stand up to help end violence."
The seminar, which also included a reception Tuesday evening and a sunset sail on Wednesday, was brought to town under the auspices of the Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys (DAS), and was attended by women and men from Wesley House Family Services, AIDS Help Inc., the Navy, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and other groups.
A Call to Men's mission is "working to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful, and all women and girls are valued and safe."
It's a theme that abuse shelter CEO Venita Garvin Valdez was pleased to hear.
"I believe that we have to have men in the movement to eradicate violence against women," Valdez said. "We brought A Call to Men here hoping to start a ripple effect in the community, to bring men off the sidelines, so to speak. We want well-meaning men who don't abuse their wives or girlfriends to understand that if they don't challenge that good friend of theirs who goes home and beats his partner, they're colluding with them in a sense."
A Call to Men and its co-founder have been in the Florida Keys before.
In 2011, Porter spoke to boys at each Monroe County School District high school, and returned later that year for a forum with the Navy and the men's program at Florida Keys Outreach Coalition.
This time around, Porter found a receptive audience in people like Sheriff's Office Detective Sgt. Linda Mixon of the Major Crimes Unit.
"I plan to become more collaborative with, and better meet the needs of, other agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, Wesley House, and especially the Domestic Abuse Shelter," said Mixon, who oversees five detectives and four victim's advocates. "I'm also hoping that more of us can come together for meetings and form committees. I really want to do what I can to help the shelter achieve their goal of eliminating domestic abuse as much as possible."
Another attendee, the Rev. Chris Todd, found plenty in the seminar to work into his teachings both as an Episcopal priest and as a chaplain at the Monroe County Detention Center.
"It was a very different perspective and approach than what I was expecting," said Todd, who is the priest in charge of St. Francis in the Keys Episcopal Church, and interim pastor of Lord of the Seas Lutheran Church, both on Big Pine Key.
"I was expecting a barrage of statistics, many of them depressing, but instead they're more talking to the men who don't abuse women themselves, but who are complicit in a culture that sees women as possessions, or sex objects. There was a lot of validity in what they said."
As part of his clerical duties, Todd provides marriage counseling to members of his flock, and said he would adapt some of what he heard at the seminar into his regimen.
"In religious circles, there tends to be a lot of sexism," Todd said. "People often emphasize certain biblical passages, like Ephesians, which advises women to submit to their husband's wishes, but they forget about St. Paul, who wanted men to love their wives and treat them with respect.
"A lot of the guys at the jail have what you would call traditional views on the role of women, so I also think I may throw some of these things into the mix when I speak there. It's a point of view I don't think they hear a lot about."
For more information on A Call to Men, visit www.acalltomen.org.