It's Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and to raise funds and consciousness, Mary Kay has done something pretty cool. After a nationwide search, the beauty brand selected 18 women to produce short documentaries about breaking the cycle of violence. The all-women teams created three films that were narrated by Alexa Vega, Maria Menounos, and JoAnna Garcia Swisher. Want to help raise money to further spread support and awareness? For each purchase of Mary Kay's new trio of Beauty That Counts lipsticks ($13/each), $1 will be funneled to The Mary Kay Foundation, which has already awarded $3 million in grants to women's domestic violence shelters. Or "like" the brand on Facebook this month — every new "like" this month sends a dollar to the foundation, up to $1 million. To catch the films, watch them online and support the efforts of female filmmakers.
Baseball manager Joe Torre may be known for his wins with the Yankees, but he's also working hard to defeat domestic violence. Joe's father abused his mother, and while he kept his experience to himself for most of his life, in 2002, he decided to start his own foundation Safe at Home. He and his wife Ali operate safe places in schools — called "Margaret's Place" — for young students to go and talk to each other or a trained professional about problems at home. Before National Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to an end, I chatted with Ali about the work she's doing to help end abuse at home. Read my interview below.
TrèsSugar: What's the importance of focusing on young people?
Ali Torre: For every one woman that goes into the shelter, two or three children go with her. When we first started the foundation, we did a lot of research into what was being done out and there were not a lot of children programs out there. And we felt that was needed to end the cycle of violence. We decided that schools would be the way to go. Since 2005, we've opened in 10 schools. We focus on children that deal directly with domestic violence in their homes. We provide master-levels counselors to help comfort the kids, be there for the kids, and help develop research about how domestic violence effects children so we can be a leader in the field.
It's called Margaret's Place in honor of Joe's mother. And another reason we chose education was because his mother, who was a victim of domestic violence, always wanted to be a teacher. And we felt this would be a great way to honor her. Her life was dedicated to her children, and education was a big priority for her. Our mission is to really tell children that it's not their fault, that they're not alone, and we're there if they want our help.
TS: Can you tell me more about Joe's experience?
AT: Joe has had a very successful career baseball wise, but has struggled personally with self-esteem and self-worth. He hasn't had your ideal perfect life. He hid in baseball and kept all this shame and embarrassment to himself for many, many years. It did have an effect on his life. He had two failed marriages. We've struggled personally over the years. It's not always related to domestic, but I think if he looks back it definitely impacts your life. Getting help, reaching out and being able to talk about it, that's the first step. Like he said, it helped him connect the dots. He was missing some things in his life and didn't feel so great about himself and some of the choices he made. And he's not blaming anybody, he's just understanding it.
News of relationship violence among high-profile couples makes for dramatic and depressing headlines. Chris Brown's violence against Rihanna shocked many, and the allegations against Mel Gibson troubled most. But not every American had the same reaction. According to Esta Soler, the founder and president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, data shows that young people are having a different conversation. They're more likely to accept physical violence as "something that happens in a relationship."
During my conversation with Esta, she explained that since Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, "there's been a significant change around the way adults view the issues." Before domestic violence awareness became a priority 20 years ago, adults used to make excuses for it, but now the conversation has changed. Unfortunately, it's been more of a challenge to engage young people, according to Esta. She explains that "when the Chris Brown and Rihanna situation happened, what was really interesting, and what's really true in America, is that people over 25 to 30 thought one way, while people under that age group saw it another way."
Esta says that "we need young people to turn that corner and know that whether you like Rihanna or not, Chris Brown needs to be held accuntable for that because he crossed the line and the line was physical violence and that is not acceptable." We need everyone to know that it's not about liking a person, but about who's responsible according to the law — and that's the abuser.
Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and a special guest will stop at nothing to get our attention about domestic violence. In this PSA, they dress up as furries and proceed to hump each other all in the name of raising awareness about abuse. If you're wondering how domestic violence advocacy and kinky sex are related, they aren't — the actors just use the bunny-costume antics to catch our attention. They succeed.
During National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, many groups make an earnest attempt to get people to pay attention to the threat. Do you think using humor is more effective?
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to remind communities that marital, dating, and sexual violence threatens the sense of well-being everyone needs to thrive. While women are the most obvious victims, violence in the home can also impact a child's entire life.
The Family Violence Prevention Fund's Respect Wall lets you declare that you're ready to take a stand against relationship violence. Megan Darko in Four Oaks, NC promises to treat "others as emotional beings, kindly, and politely, no matter what." Jérémie Leroy in Paris, France pledges "to behave as a human among human people." Alex Goldston in Houston, TX says: "Respect requires taking into consideration not just the intent of your actions, but the actual outcome as well."
FVPF believes it can prevent domestic and dating violence by spreading a positive message of everyday respect. What does respect mean to you?
On October 23, 2002, Mildred Muhammad was visited at her Maryland home by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents. They'd come to inform her that her ex-husband, John, had begun shooting people around her. "You are the target," they told her ominously.
John Muhammad would come to be known as the "Beltway Sniper," and with his teen accomplice Lee Malvo, he went on a shooting spree in Maryland, DC and Northern Virginia that left 10 people dead. Malvo is serving a life sentence, and Muhammad is scheduled to be executed November 10 of this year.
In her new book, Scared Silent, Mildred Muhammad talks about her 12-year marriage to John. Things started out well, but John became emotionally and physically abusive after he returned from an Army tour during the Gulf War. Mildred is convinced that his plan was eventually to kill her so that he could regain custody of the children he lost in 2001 and to get compensation for them as crime victims. (He believed the nameless "Beltway Sniper" would be blamed.)
"I was recalling every frightening comment John had ever made to me. He once said, 'When a man hits a woman, it means that he has lost all respect for her. It would be easy for him to kill her after that.' But I did not foresee, not even in my wildest nightmare, that John would ever kill people who had nothing to do with me or our troubled marriage."
Mildred Muhammad hopes that her book will help other victims of domestic violence get the help they need.