With those words, close to 400 male students and staff members at Nashoba Valley Technical High School took the White Ribbon pledge to stop the cycle of violence against women and girls.
The pledge came after Middlesex County District Attorney spoke to the students in the school’s Performing Arts Center on Nov. 17 about the White Ribbon Campaign, a worldwide effort to curtail one of the most pervasive societal ills — abuse of women.
Leone told the students that 90 percent of violent assaults on women are by men, and that between the ages of 16 and 24 is when a young woman is most likely to be the victim of relationship violence.
“These are your girlfriends. These are your sisters. These are your classmates,” Leone said. “Most of the violence gets perpetrated against girls and young women at the hands of their boyfriends. It’s entirely unnecessary, and it’s not what men are about.”
Leone told the students that the White Ribbon Campaign began in Canada after a man shot and killed 14 women at random.
“It spurred a lot of people to do a lot of things in their memory,” he said. “One of the things that happened was that men banded together and created the White Ribbon Campaign to show they could stand up and be real men and not be cowards.”
Then, after singer Chris Brown assaulted his then-girlfriend, pop star Rihanna, in 2009, half of the young people surveyed thought she deserved it, according to Leone.
“It was then we knew we had to do something, and we’ve been in and out of high schools across Middlesex County ever since,” he said.
“The true measure of a man is not only to be strong but also to be gentle,” he added. “Every time you have an inclination to do anything approaching abuse of a women, I want you to think about your sister or your mother or your grandmother.
“If you think you’re a tough guy because you can put your hands on a woman, you’re not a tough guy — you’re a coward. And if you see it happen and you don’t do anything about it, you’re not far removed from a coward. There’s no excuse for abuse.”
And with those words, Leone asked all the male students and staff members in the auditorium to stand and recite the White Ribbon pledge, after which the students received a white-ribbon pin to wear.
While that was going on, down in the Cosmetology, Culinary Arts and Banking/Marketing/Retail classrooms, students were treating a group of battered women to hair and nail care, shopping and lunch.
Earlier that morning, Leone and Assistant District Attorney Marian Ryan spoke to students in those three programs about the D.A. Office’s Cut It Out program, which teaches Cosmetology students how to recognize signs of abuse in their clients.
Ryan told the students that women tend to confide in their hairdressers.
“If you’re in an abusive situation, you’re going to feel pretty safe there,” she said. “When people have a secret — and abuse is a secret — it’s a place they might be able to divulge that secret.”
Leone thanked the students and the school for taking part in the program to treat battered women to a day where they can think only about themselves.
“It’s all about giving them a good day, giving them a fun day, giving them a nice day,” he said. “You’re helping us help somebody, and that’s the best thing you can do in your life.”