October is a month for raising awareness about women’s issues. The 31-day span has been deemed both Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I will talk about the latter but for an inspiring and unique video about the former, click here.
An event at the White House Wednesday sought to highlight the issues surrounding domestic violence and outlined the Administration’s newest initiatives intended to combat the issue. Important though the policies are, it is perhaps equally important to give the movement a face.
Obama’s Bottom Line
“The bottom line is this: nobody in America should live in fear because they’re unsafe in their own home, no adult and no child,” President Obama told a crowd of advocates and officials in the East Room. “And no one who is the victim of abuse should ever feel that they have no way to get out.”
The Administration’s new initiatives include financial services that help connect survivors with jobs, rebuild their credit, and get back on their feet. The Department of Housing and Urban Development released new regulations yesterday that prevents victims from being evicted or denied housing because a crime was committed against them. The Justice Department also released a new initiative that ensures that law enforcement is equipped to enforce protective orders. The Department also launched a new effort to help victims find pro bono legal services.
“Talk. Ask. Listen.”
Policy changes are important but often do not reach the people they are intended to protect immediately, if ever. Particularly when it comes to issues like sexual and domestic violence, the law is often lacking. For these reasons, I think it is all that more important to have a grassroots movement led by, in this case, survivors and, yes, celebrities. If the government doesn’t get the message to the victims, celebrities and other survivors can.
Joe Torre, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was in attendance at the White House ceremony yesterday and told his personal story of growing up with a physically abusive father and the effects it had on him as a child and as an adult. As a result of his own experience, he started the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation that works with children who are living in abusive households.
Actress Mariska Hargitay also spoke to reporters following the ceremony and delivered an emotional message.
“I speak for thousands of survivors whose hope for healing I carry with me today … when I tell you how grateful I am to see the conversation on these issues elevated to this level.”
As a the crime-fighting detective on Law and Order: SVU, she receives thousands of letters from fans who, survivors of sexual or domestic violence themselves, find strength in her character, Olivia Benson.
Mariska is an ardent advocate for victims of sexual violence and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which she started when she was confronted with the shocking statistics of violence against women in this country. “One in three women reports being physically or sexually abused in her lifetime,” she told the crowd.
“I also started to receive a very different kind of fan mail … ‘Hi, my name is Jennifer, I’m 17 and my father’s been raping me since I was 12 and I’ve never told anyone.’ So, I remember my breath leaving my body when the first letter came, and I’ve gotten thousands like it since.”
Then, her own call to action. After reminding the audience and those watching at home that everyone can be involved in the community that combats these issues and supports victims, she outlined exactly how:
Talk. Talk about sexual and domestic violence issues. They are not easy issues to talk about but “talk about them anyway.”
Ask. If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, ask. Ask gently, ask boldly, ask anyway you think is appropriate. But ask.
Listen. Only victims of domestic and sexual violence can truly understand how hard it is to tell another, especially the first time, what she has been through. “When a survivor tells her story, be her community, and listen,” says Mariska.
And that is all I can ask of you.