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Vera House looks to social media, other outlets to take proactive approach to domestic violence

Ellen Abbott
Some Nottingham High School athletes have taken part in a pilot program teaching them how to have better relationships. (file photo)

Vera House in Syracuse has been helping victims of domestic and sexual violence for 25 years now. Officials for the agency say they will continue to help victims, but are looking for a more permanent answer to the problem over the next 25 years.

The domestic and sexual violence numbers in this year’s Vera House annual report didn’t change much from the past. Last year in Onondaga County there were two homicides involving intimate partners, and Syracuse Police and Onondaga County law enforcement officers answered almost 18,000 total domestic violence calls last year.

Executive Director Randi Bregman says services like a domestic violence court, specialized units in police departments and other parts of the criminal justice system, like child protective advocates, continue to help victims, but at some point it’s not enough to be reactive.

"I think we need all those services," Bregman said. "But I think we need to come back to what are some of the under messages and causes of peoples' decision to hurt, humiliate and put fear in someone they say they love and care about, or commit sexual assaults against someone typically they have relationships with.”

Bregman says one way to address the topic of domestic abuse is to pay attention to how women are characterized in today’s culture.

“If we can change language that says things like, you play like a girl, and recognize that when we diminish women and put men down by saying they are like women, we tolerate a culture that tolerates violence against women,” Bregman said.

She also wants the focus of Vera House to pivot towards more prevention in the next quarter century. She says that might be things like expansion of college campus “It’s on us” campaigns to the general community, growing the boys into men model in more schools and getting viral messages on social media.

“You think about something like how a domestic violence incident in the NFL can spread so quickly," Bregman said. "What if we can start to spread some of those opposite messages at the same time.”

She says getting the message out in any way possible will help encourage dialogue about the issue.  

“Is it naive? Is it overly hopeful? Absolutely possible," Bregman explained. "But I don’t know what else we do. We will continue to respond. We’re not limiting any services. But we have to reinvest ourselves in a community to try and end these tragic events before they happen.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.