Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Silent Epidemic


The Dali Lama has said that it is Western women who will heal the world. Judging from the group of women I had the good fortune to meet and talk with last week, he is on to something.

My reason for being there was a bit circuitous. It started several weeks prior when I met Marcella Goheen and heard her tell her story of The Maria Projecta solo theatre performance in which she tells the story of her family's experience with domestic violence. There were parallels to her true to life story of family secrets and my made up one. Not to mention both of us had grandmothers named Maria. While my novel does not address domestic violence, it does tackle secrecy, the reasons we withhold our truths, what it does to individuals and their relationships and the shame the secrets are enshrouded in, all subjects that  revolve around this bigger issue. I was intrigued.

Just a few days later I received an invitation from Liz Claiborne to attend the 8th Annual, It's Time To Talk, a national day of dialogue and awareness on domestic violence, sexual assault and teen dating abuse.

Mmm. There was that issue again, the one that until that week I had not been paying much attention to.

And then I discovered that the VP of Global Issues at Ruder Finn, the PR firm who coordinates this event was not only a former client from my corporate life but one who I held a great deal of respect for.

And that is how it happened that  last Thursday I sat in the NYC showroom headquarters of Liz Claiborne talking with a handful of the many impassioned women who work towards reversing this trend; Stephanie Piston of the LINA(love is not abuse) Coalition, a survivor who uses her story in an effort to educate our youth to the potential warning signs of a violent relationship as well as what a healthy relationship looks like; Alison Hall of PARR( Pittsburgh Action Against Rape), a recipient of the Gail-Burns Smith Award for being the driving force behind establishing the first Sex Offender Court in Pennsylvania;  Binta Vann-Joseph of the Verizon Foundation, who supports HopeLine which donates pre-paid phones to victims trying to reclaim their life and is now partnering with the NFL Players Association in a program called Training Camps for Life, where teens are educated as to what a healthy relationship looks like; and Karen Cheeks-Lomax, the executive director of My Sister's Place which works to end violence in intimate relationships and combat the effects of domestic violence and human trafficking on individuals throughout Westchester County and the surrounding areas. One of their initiatives is The Next Generation, designed to educate our youth and create a new paradigm of what respect and dignity is supposed to look like.

My head started to spin as I tried to get some clarity about what I was going to write, what I was supposed to write. There was so much to tell. So much that isn't being said. I wasn't sure I could do justice to it. But if I didn't write something  I would only contribute to the silence.

There it was. The silence. That is what I needed to address. No one wants to talk enough about this. The victims are reticent to come forth. There is shame and stigma attached, and that lingering thought that maybe they did something to cause it. The abusers harbor such low levels of self-respect they think there is no other way for them to gain power and control than to exercise it over someone else. We try and pretend this is not really the epidemic in our society it has become and we think if we don't talk about it the issue might disappear. Like eating doughnuts at night when no one is watching and thinking you will still lose weight.

But that is not how disease works. It needs a cure. In this case it needs conversation, like the ones that occurred last Thursday. It needs education. Victims need to know there are safe place for them to go. Our youth needs to be taught self-esteem, respect for themselves and others and what a healthy relationship looks like. We need to model healthy behavior in how we treat each other, publicly and in private. And that can't be done in silence.

While there is no doubt that women are more often the victims than men, this is a social issue, one that transcends gender, race and economic levels. Victims are as likely to be affluent as they are to be poor.  This is not something limited to third world countries but something that happens in this country as well.  And at its core is a lack of respect for how we treat each other.

Those of us who are neither victims or abusers take part in this issue. We perpetuate this lack of respect  by offering no role models or poor role models of what is an acceptable way to treat one another. We see it in our national leaders who have forgotten how to engage in honest discourse,  can barely have a conversation with each other, stretch the truth to fit their aim, publicly calling each other names, sending the message it  is okay to be disrespectful. In essence we are accomplices to the crime.

The rooms at Liz Claiborne last week were full of women engaged in healing this epidemic. I asked each of the women I spoke to what the ordinary citizen can do to help. And they all said the same thing. Take a stand against violence. Every day. It can be as simple as being a role model for our youth. Demonstrate self-respect by knowing and stating your boundaries. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Show respect for the person sitting next to you. Learn what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like and then model it. Get men involved in the process. Women can heal the world but we need men to help.  Make it clear that violence is never appropriate. 



How you modeling respectful behavior?




Want to get more involved? Donate time or money? Check out these websites!
Love is Not Abuse
My Sister's Place
Training Camps for Life
Pittsburgh Action Against Rape
Violence Unsilenced
The Maria Project
Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-787-3224











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