Manning Up for Women’s Rights
Vera House is helping train men to be allies in the fight against relationship violence.
Chris Kosakowski struggled to constrain his anger.
Sitting in their off-campus apartment, Kosakowski and his friend took a break from studying for their psychology exam and started talking. The conversation was flowing as they bounced from topic to topic. At 3 a.m., the tone shifted from late-night chat to a heart-to-heart.
That’s when Kosakowski’s friend told him her story of abuse at the hands of a romantic partner.
Kosakowski felt an “unbridled rage” well up inside him. He wanted to find the perpetrator and lash out at him.
But that’s not what Kosakowski’s friend needed from him at that moment. He knew he needed to show support and empathy. He had to reserve judgment and avoid probing questions.
“I realized that this was the first time my friend was able to talk to someone about this,” Kosakowski said. “That this was the first time they were listened to, the first time they felt supported and heard.”
In that moment, something clicked for Kosakowski, campus team coordinator for Vera House, Onondaga County’s nonprofit domestic and sexual violence agency.
“Around my sophomore year of college, I looked around my group of friends, and I realized that every person had been impacted by domestic or sexual violence to some degree,” Kosakowski said. “I realized I needed to do something to make a change.”
Working to End Relationship Violence
Sister Mary Vera founded Vera House in 1977 when she recognized a need for emergency shelter services for women. The mission has broadened to include services such as outreach, advocacy, education programming, children’s counseling, and an accountability program for people who cause harm in relationships.
Vera House offers a variety of services through its shelter, counseling, and advocacy programs. In 2020, its shelter program served 242 adults and children, according to the nonprofit’s annual report. The counseling program helped 967 individuals in more than 7,00 sessions. And the Advocacy Program supported thousands of clients — 4,927 hotline calls, 271 online chats, and 120 walk-ins.
Meanwhile, prevention and education programs reached 8,778 people in 19 schools and local community groups. The program focuses on youth education programs for a key, but often overlooked, demographic in conversations about relationship violence — men. The objectives are to raise awareness about healthy relationships and encourage men to commit to ending violence.
“When we are making the world safer for survivors and victims, we are making the world safer for everyone,” Kosakowski said.