By James Pouliot
---- — BYFIELD — It’s hard to imagine a pain worse than a parent losing a child.
For Malcolm Astley, that loss is exacerbated by how he lost his 18-year-old daughter, Lauren. She was strangled and slashed to death by an enraged ex-boyfriend in July 2011.
Astley, a Wayland resident and a former high school principal, has turned his grief to a new purpose — he has become one of the nation’s most visible and affecting speakers on violence against women. Yesterday, he brought that message to Greater Newburyport.
Over 200 students, parents and members of the public gathered at the Governor’s Academy’s Whiston-Bragdon Arena on Tuesday for the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center’s second annual White Ribbon Breakfast. The event was held to discuss violence against women from a male perspective and to raise funds for the center. The White Ribbon Campaign is an international organization of men and boys dedicated to stopping violence against women.
Visibly upset, Astley delivered a message about finding healthy ways for men to mourn breakups and other emotionally traumatic situations.
“It is terribly painful to have someone break up with you — it is one of the worst pains in life,” Astley said. “It’s time for us all to acknowledge that and stop being silent about it. It’s not about losing your value or your self-respect so that you let the pain turn to anger and forget about what is important, and allow yourself to snap.”
According to Astley, girlfriends serve as significant emotional outlets for young men, who are often discouraged from showing pain or sorrow to their male friends. He urged a societal acceptance of a more vulnerable masculinity, saying that the current male “gender role” often leads to emotional isolation, anger and sometimes violence.
Astley compared the male “gender role” — domination and outward toughness — to monarchies, and cars without seatbelts, saying it was a social trend that had become obsolete and dangerous.
The White Ribbon Campaign began after a 1989 school shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique. Marc Lépine, a radical anti-feminist, entered the school with a rifle and shot 20 women and four men, killing 14 of the women before turning the gun on himself. Following the event, Quebec men wore white ribbons to show their rejection of violence against women.
This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the movement’s official beginning and the 25th anniversary of the shooting.
Tuesday’s breakfast also included the presentation of a video by Gov. Deval Patrick in support of the White Ribbon Campaign.
“Being a man has nothing to do with exerting power over other people,” Patrick said. “Being a man is about wisdom and kindness and understanding, and having the courage to feel your own vulnerability. Violence against women is a violation of our humanity, and we all have a role in ending it.”
Violence against women is not an issue of protecting women from violent men, but of preventing men from turning to violence, according to speaker Mark Welch, co-chairman of the White Ribbon Campaign.
“This is a man’s problem. Violence against women is a male issue,” Welch said. “It goes away when members of the community come together and say, ‘Not here, no more, we’re going to stop it.’”
Last year’s breakfast raised $35,000 between donations, ticket prices and sponsor contributions, according to Suzanne Dubus, chief executive officer of the Jeanne Crisis Center. This year’s event is on track to double that.
The money will go towards the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, an international anti-violence training program which was introduced to Newburyport High School and Amesbury High School.
The Mentors program focuses on teaching student leaders how to prevent and resist violence among their peers. Both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ leaders are chosen, as MVP hopes to spread their message even to the “troublemakers” of the school, according to Jarrod Chin, director of training at their curriculum for their Center for Sport and Society.
The program uses sports analogies and celebrity athletes to connect with students, then trains these student leaders against being passive bystanders in violent or abusive situations.
“In sports, the Patriots don’t just go out on Sunday and play,” Chin said. “They spend a whole week practicing, studying their playbook, so when the game time comes...they know what to do. Bystander intervention is the same thing: the more that people practice and rehearse these things, the more likely they’ll intervene.”
This year’s funds will go towards expanding the program to other schools in the area.