The men’s movement working to end violence against women

White Ribbon Scotland (WRS) is a prevention led charity focused on eradicating violence against women by including men in the solution. There are only two paid members of staff for WRS; Davy Thompson as the Campaign Director, and myself (Rebekah Cheung) as the project liaison officer, and we operate all over Scotland.

What does the White Ribbon mean?

When someone is wearing a white ribbon it shows that they oppose gender-based violence.

The White Ribbon Movement started in Canada in 1991 after a male student opened fire on his female peers after women had been granted access to a male dominated course, a course that he had been rejected from.

After that, across the world, different white ribbon movements were set up and even though we are all working towards the same goal to eliminate violence against women, we are all our own separate entities and we work in our own ways.

What does White Ribbon Scotland do?

At White Ribbon Scotland, we run projects where we approach a community (whether that be a geographical area, a school or college, organisation etc.) and work with them on ways they can show that they are actively trying to eradicate violence against women.

Once they demonstrate this across a 12-18 month period, we present them with an award, looking for them to continue their efforts to help eliminate Violence against Women (VAW).

We ask for people, especially boys and men, to take the pledge to vow not to “commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women”.

We know that most men don’t commit sexual assault or rape, but many stay silent about it – they have no idea just how powerful their voice is when it comes to calling out a rape joke or a sexist comment.

Our belief is that even though it starts out as a “funny” joke, these lower level forms of violence against women then become more serious acts like domestic abuse, coercive control, or sexual assault and rape.

As a prevention campaign, we are unique to other charities that work within the Gender Based Violence sphere. The theory behind this is that if our work existed on a larger scale then there would be no need for charities that provided victims with support, because there would be no victims in the first place. We understand just how ambitious this aim is, especially as it will take significant cultural shift and education.

What is the Bystander Effect?

The basis of the bystander effect is the greater number of people present, the likelihood of someone intervening when someone is distressed decreases. When you have been out and drinking, has your friend ever made an inappropriate comment or joke, or has he made unwanted advances? Did you know that the bigger the group that you’re in, the less likely you are going to speak out about it?

Peer pressure doesn’t only apply to drugs and alcohol. Most men will feel uncomfortable when a friend makes inappropriate advances but will not feel confident enough to speak out about it. We understand that these conversations are awkward, and it can be really intimidating to call out your mates, especially in a social setting.

One of the main tenets of bystander theory is that your safety is prioritised and that you don’t intervene in a dangerous situation. So if you witness your pal acting inappropriately, we’re not asking you to pull them up and humiliate them in front of all your other friends. What we are asking is that you take them aside, maybe on a different day and in a different location, so that they know you’re not attacking them.

Our area of work is not meant to shame men into caring about gender-based violence. We know that most men don’t commit violence against women but we need them to have an amplified voice to help end it.

How does this apply to “Don’t Be That Guy”?

Last year we provided an article for the Don’t Be That Guy Campaign, discussing why male sexual entitlement was so entrenched when it came to sexual assault and harassment. We were able to see just how much of an impact the campaign had – whether when we were using it in training, or seeing the reaction to it from our community on social media, the campaign was a turning point for guys to understand why their involvement needed.

As a sexual assault survivor myself, it’s been incredible to see so many boys and men taking the initiative with our projects and creating an environment where sexual assault and harassment is not tolerated.

2021’s campaign helped show men what sexual assault and harassment can look like. This year’s campaign will go further and provide the information and courage for men to have that quiet word with a mate, to prevent them doing something they will regret.

Rebekah Cheung

Visit the White Ribbon Scotland website

You can find advice and information on the Police Scotland website
Call Police Scotland on 101 or contact the Rape Crisis Scotland national helpline for free on 08088 01 03 02 (daily 6pm-12 midnight).
In an emergency always call 999.

Image by jcomp on Freepik