September 25, 2018 | ° F

Men work to prevent

Twenty-eight percent of high school or college students experience dating violence, and 90 to 95 percent of domestic violence victims are women, according to the University's Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance Web site.

Though the history of domestic violence awareness has been about women, there is currently a nationwide movement to get men involved in the campaign to end violence, said Jessica Mertz, the Domestic Violence Program coordinator at the Community Health Promotion Program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Mertz is one of the coordinators for 100-plus Men Against Domestic Violence, a program to raise awareness among men on how they can help prevent domestic violence and train them to be leaders in the movement.

She said the movement to get men involved was a natural progression in an effort to raise awareness about the issue because most abusers are men.

"Whether or not I am abusive, I do have a responsibility because I am a male," said Carlos A. Cordero, the director of Social Services at the UMDNJ Eric B. Chandler Health Center.

Adriel Bernal, a Rutgers College junior, said he would be interested in attending the training course and would like to see the organization grow.

"Maybe one day there will be 100-plus men against domestic violence," Bernal said. "That would be progress."

The program, which is sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Community Health Promotion Program and the New Brunswick Domestic Violence Awareness Coalition, was kicked off in October at a march in the city. In February, the program gave its first training session to a group of teenagers from New Brunswick High School, Mertz said.

"Once they come in and do the training, we kind of look up to them as ambassadors in the community," Mertz said.

Mertz, a University graduate, said she developed a passion for the issue when she was a domestic violence counselor in Philadelphia.

She said the training sessions teach men to develop healthy relationships, be mentors to young people and how to help a friend in an abusive relationship.

Bernal said he thinks it is important to speak to a friend if one notices a physically or emotionally abusive situation.

"[It's about] educating them to stand up and say this isn't OK," Mertz said.

Though most abusers are men, most of them are not abusive, Cordero said.

"I have always said there are more men who do not abuse than that do enter an abusive relationship. There is a need to promote that," Cordero said.

He has worked in the domestic violence field for over 20 years and runs the training sessions with Mertz.

"Abusive behavior is similar to any other addictive behavior, in my opinion," Cordero said.

He said abusive people learn they can gain control by instilling fear. Though people can receive counseling, he said they still might have a desire to be abusive.

About 10 years ago, most courts sent people convicted of domestic violence charges to anger management classes.

"Anger management alone is not a complete solution," Cordero said. "People also need to learn alternatives to abusive behavior and how to build healthy relationships through communication."

Mertz said there are a lot of reasons men become abusive. But the program focuses on the messages in society and popular culture that are offensive to women.

"One of the reasons we're trying to address is there's a lot of degrading language [in our society]," Mertz said. "[It's] all the messages in our everyday life that tell us it's OK to speak to women in a hurtful way."

Michelle Cerone

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