On December 8th, Liz Claiborne hosted “It’s Time to Talk Day,” focused on spreading awareness and education about ways to end teen dating violence and domestic abuse – a topic not on the list of hot discussion points for many. The purpose of the day was to offer the media and blogging communities access to experts in the field: government leaders, non-profit organizers, survivors, and parents who lost their children to dating abuse – all to generate discussion and awareness to help save lives. I was particularly inspired by the survivors and parents I talked to because they brought home for me the lack of dialogue surrounding this important issue.
The good news is there is support and resources available to victims who are empowered to take action. During the day I spoke with leaders from two important victim assistance programs, Ariel Zwang and Liz Roberts, CEO and Chief Program Officer of Safe Horizon, and Maile Zambuto from the Joyful Heart Foundation.
Safe Horizon runs the New York City domestic violence hotline and provides shelter to thousands of women and children in the area, acting as the largest single provider of domestic violence shelter and touching the lives of more than 250,000 victims. Encouraging victims to break the cycle of abuse and seek resources and services such as the New York City hotline and Safe Horizons is a critical piece of the organization’s work. Being there for victims through all times of the year, including the holidays and economic downturns helps the healing and rebuilding process.
The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order fame, also works to help survivors through its retreat and wellness programs, in addition to helping thousands take the first step in getting help through their website. Maile emphasized the importance of this first step in recognizing the need to seek help in a troubling relationship whether it is finding information, educational materials, or seeking shelter and healing from a domestic abuse organization.
Speaking to the issues of prevention, both Amy Barasch of the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Kimberly Campbell, Manager of Public Affairs at Orange and Rockland Utilities, demonstrated how both corporations and governmental employees such as teachers, police officers, and child welfare workers are educated and trained how to screen, respond, and reduce domestic violence. For corporations, issuing a policy in the workplace can have a positive effect on not only creating a more productive and humane environment, but by enhancing awareness of the issue and prevention at home. For the government sector, helping police officers and educators screen domestic violence issues enables them to better respond and prevent domestic violence crimes.
Lastly, the hosts who especially brought this close to home were Danielle DeZao, Founder/President of h<3rt1 (Heart One) and a victim of teen dating abuse herself, and Bobbi Sudberry, President of Kaity’s Way (www.kaitysway.org) and who lost her daughter to teen dating abuse. Both women channeled their experiences into forming organizations that will help other teens recognize the signs of teen dating abuse and give them the protection and information they need to end it, as 1 in 3 teens is involved in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship.
Danielle saw the controlling and abusive behavior of her boyfriend and knew to get out of the relationship. However, it still stunned her to find that she felt alone in her experience and that she had not recognized the ill behavior sooner. We spoke about having the courage as a bystander of violence to speak up and ask the questions needed to push a victim to account for the abuse and end the relationship.
Bobbi Sudberry shared her daughter’s story to help understand how important it is to protect victims of abuse under the law. Although Kaity ended her abuse relationship, at the time, she was unable to get the protection and injunctions needed under the law to shield her from her abuser, ending in her tragic death.
Throughout the day of interviews and interacting with people passionate about this topic, I realized that I myself did not receive much education or information on teen dating abuse growing up and that more can be done to open the dialogue. Teaching right from wrong to our children may not be enough to help discern a loving relationship from an abusive and dangerous one. Educational programs and tools for teens and victims of domestic violence will help raise awareness and end the cycle for future generations. For more information visit www.loveisnotabuse.com
Allison is an Account Manager at Mom Central.
Disclosure: Liz Claiborne is a client of Mom Central.