Over the past year, the slew of news stories about transgender people in this country has heralded the beginning of a new age of acceptance and support for transgender people and their decisions to live as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

Much of the chorus surrounding Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair reveal earlier this month has applauded her beauty and bravery. The actress Laverne Cox, the first transgender person to grace the cover of Time Magazine in June 2014, stars in one of the summer’s hottest shows, Orange is the New Black, as an unapologetically fabulous trans inmate. A lengthy feature in the June 16th issue of New York Times details the medical sexual reassignment journeys, including both surgery and hormone therapy, that many children and teens are embarking on before even finishing puberty.

There is no doubt that, to borrow from the aforementioned New York Times article, we are collectively having “a transgender moment.” It is incredibly heartening to see the mainstream media and Instagram celebrities alike championing such openness and sensitivity, and yes, even getting the pronouns right.

But one inadvertent effect of all of this feel-good rhetoric and public displays of support is to mask the still pervasive issue of violence against transgender people, especially trans people of color. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that a staggering 64% of transgender people have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. That means that a transgender youth in America today will look forward to a life in which he or she is more likely to be sexually assaulted than not. That is shameful.

According to a recent issue brief released by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in partnership with Trans People of Color Coalition (TPCC), compared to their non-transgender LGBQH (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, HIV-positive) peers, transgender people of color were 1.5 times more likely to face sexual violence and 1.8 times more likely to experience bias-based violence in shelters. This means that transgender people (who also experience homelessness at increased rates) seeking the safety of a shelter are likely to be revictimized there.

The same brief reports that in 2014 alone, 13 transwomen were murdered, at least six by men with whom they were romantically or sexually involved.

These stories, while far less glamorous than Ms. Jenner’s transition, are just as important.

The good news is that we can speak up. For too long, vulnerable and marginalized groups have suffered violence and discrimination alone. When crimes are reported, victims often face revictimization by unsympathetic, or downright discriminatory, law enforcement officials. We can change this.

We can make it known that the world is not only watching and supporting transgender people in their right to transition and live freely — and that we saying “no more” to violence against transgender people. Let’s not waste this “transgender moment.”

Take a stand, and say #NOMORE to violence against transgender people.[social_share/]

Need help?

For Trans+ Survivors of Violence and Loved Ones contact AskFORGE@forge-forward.org or call 414.559.2123 for information, resources and referrals to providers in your area.

To get help or information on domestic violence services, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat.

For dating abuse help and resources, visit loveisrespect.org, call 1-866-331-9474, or text “loveis” to 22522.

For sexual assault counseling and services, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or live chat.

For legal support, visit the Transgender Law Center.

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11062777_10155668375265624_305158492003437425_oDomestic violence and sexual assault are two of the most widespread problems in our communities.

The numbers are staggering. 24 people are physically abused, raped or stalked by their partners every minute. Yet, vital, lifesaving domestic violence and sexual assault programs remain severely under-resourced and under-funded.

California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez has decided to do something about it. He authored and successfully passed a bill making California the first state in the nation to establish a specialized NO MORE license plate, and this first of its kind NO MORE license plate will help fund domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention efforts throughout California.

Today marks the kick-off of the year-long campaign, and we need your help to make the California Says NO MORE license plate a reality. In order to begin product of the plate, we need to reach our goal of at least 7,500 orders.

Support life-saving programs in California by ordering your NO MORE license plate today: nm-license-large




For more information or assistance, please contact:

California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services – Victim Services Division
3650 Schriever Avenue Mather, CA 95655

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Gabriella Lock remembers the last time that she was abused by her ex-boyfriend. She had woken up to find him in a rage, and when she tried to leave, he pushed her so hard that she hit her head on the floor, momentarily blacking out.

Gabriella, or “Rella,” as her friends call her, was able to call 911, but not before her ex-boyfriend pushed her down the stairs as she was fleeing. The paramedics who arrived at Rella’s apartment that day may have saved her life, but she still suffered physical and psychological effects of the abuse.

“I felt ashamed, embarrassed and heart-broken. I didn’t want anyone to know, not even my parents,” Rella says. “I had to spend 3 days in the hospital before I was released.”

Rella, 23, who was recently crowned Miss Illinois United Continents, is part of an age group with shocking statistics around dating violence: girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 are three times as likely to be involved in a violent relationship. Rella’s platform as Miss Illinois is to raise awareness about domestic violence and “to show victims that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I felt ashamed, embarrassed and heart-broken. I didn’t want anyone to know, not even my parents” – Gabriella Lock

Luckily, Rella is not alone. A new city-wide initiative in Rella’s hometown, Chicago Says NO MORE, also seeks to change the statistics around domestic violence and sexual assault. The initiative, launched earlier this year by a coalition of business and non-profit leaders in the Chicago area, seeks to leverage funds and resources to combat domestic violence and sexual assault in the communities they serve.

Visitors to the campaign’s website will see a quote from Kristie Paskvan, CFO of Mesirow Financial and Founder of Chicago Says NO MORE:

Everybody gets a wake-up call. Mine was the shooting tragedy at Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue in Chicago last November when 22-year-old University of Chicago student Nadia Ezaldein was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Not just a murder, but the tragic end to an abusive relationship—I was shocked to recognize that this, too, was domestic violence. 

The result of Paskvan’s wake-up call, Chicago Says NO MORE works to raise awareness and funds in an effort to prevent more stories like Nadia Ezaldein’s and Rella Lock’s.

Rella says, “Too many men and women don’t get out of situations like mine […] If I knew more about domestic violence, I might have been able to catch the warning signs before the abuse began.”

Join Kristie Paskvan, Gabriella Lock, and other Chicagoans in saying ‘No More’ to the silence and misinformation surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault by signing the pledge at chicagosaysnomore.org and watching the new Chicago Says NO MORE Public Service Announcements:

Sign the pledge

Need help?

To get help or information on domestic violence services, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat.
For dating abuse help and resources, visit loveisrespect.org, call 1-866-331-9474, or text “loveis” to 22522.
For sexual assault counseling and services, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or live chat.

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Young People Are The Future Of This Movement

Certain problems in this world can be solved, but remain unchallenged. Human nature often compels us to ignore the elephant in the room instead of addressing the issue; over time this willful apathy creates social norms. I define this particular aspect of human nature because I, too, have been guilty of allowing certain problems, like domestic violence and sexual assault, to go undiscussed and unexamined.

 I soon realized that by staying silent, I was contributing to the problem.

As an 8-year-old, I started helping out at the East Texas Crisis Center, a non-profit where my mother works as a family violence program coordinator.  At the time, I was shielded from the victims that came in seeking the safety, shelter, and education that the center provides for those experiencing  family violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to help more in the public spaces within the Crisis Center, allowing me to hear far too many awful stories of abuse, and to see the large number of women that enter the facility daily seeking refuge. I have also learned that my own family, as well as multiple friends’ families, has been affected by domestic violence.

These things disturbed me, but until now I continued my volunteering duty in silence and chose not to speak out about the crises that families in this shelter were facing.  I soon realized that by staying silent, I was contributing to the problem. Not that I was committing the horrendous acts against these people, but I was witnessing such terrible injustice on a local level and and choosing not to  take action.

While deliberating on how to confront these issues in a more impactful way, I saw a NO MORE commercial on television. Athletes were challenging the audience and their fellow athletes to speak out and get others involved to end domestic violence and sexual assault. The commercial stood out to me for two reasons:  1) I am an athlete, affording me an elevated platform from which to speak in my community, 2) “speaking out” is what I had yet to do. Upon visiting nomore.org, I learned “The NO MORE symbol is not owned by any one organization. Rather it belongs to and is available for use by all those (organizations or individuals) who are committed to help end domestic violence and sexual assault.”

After learning it was possible for the East Texas Crisis Center to adopt the NO MORE  logo and slogan, I realized this would be a great platform for me to speak out and raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault within my community. And because I had been volunteering at the Crisis Center for much of my life, I felt I had credibility in speaking about these issues. My mother, of course, was ecstatic about launching the campaign, and a few weeks ago we launched our East Texas Says NO MORE Initiative.

I believe that young people are the future of this movement, and that by starting in schools, we can change and shape attitudes in East Texas.

My goal for this campaign is to challenge high school coaches in East Texas to be proactive in raising awareness around domestic violence and sexual assault. I want them to realize that many of the kids they are coaching and love so much have likely been affected by some form of domestic or sexual violence. I want them to realize someone in their family is probably a survivor.  I want them to understand that possibly one out of every three students they see walking around campus each day has either been in an abusive relationship, or has witnessed one. Educating the coaches and Athletic Directors will cause a trickle-down effect beginning with them educating student athletes, who are already leaders in their communities. Ultimately, we can reach the entire student body, and finally breach each individual’s household. I believe that young people are the future of this movement, and that by starting in schools, we can change and shape attitudes in East Texas.

I challenge student athletes across the country to be leaders in their communities and say ‘NO MORE’ to domestic violence and sexual assault.

Want to say ‘NO MORE’ in your community? Download the free Tools to Say NO MORE and start using the tools to raise awareness in your community or to create your own local initiative.

no more kltv image

Jaired Maddox is a graduating senior at All Saints Episcopal School in Tyler, Texas. A member of the All Saints basketball team since 8th grade, Jaired plans to study Business and Sports Management at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, this Fall. He plans to continue raising awareness around sexual assault and domestic violence on campus. To get involved with his local campaign in East Texas, please contact the East Crisis Texas Center.


Need help?

To get help or information on domestic violence services, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat.

For dating abuse help and resources, visit loveisrespect.org, call 1-866-331-9474, or text “loveis” to 22522.

For sexual assault counseling and services, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or live chat.

Additional Resources

For more information on how you can get involved, check out  A Call to Men, Men Can Stop Rape, and Futures Without Violence’s Coaching Boys Into Men program.

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Warning: Elements of this story may be triggering.

How I Survived Domestic Chaos

Ask any author and they will tell you that their characters are like family. We talk about them as if they are our children, as if they are actually walking around in our reality. In fact, characters can be worse than petulant children, and for good reason: they are manifestations of the writer’s subconscious, and as such, will fight tooth and nail with us in the hope that we will write the story that needs to be written, not necessarily the story that we we want to write.

Sometimes, a character is born out of necessity. This is the case with Taris, the protagonist in my upcoming novel, Chaos and Moonlight.

Taris is an unlikely hero born out of my own domestic abuse.

Rewind the clock to 2000. I was young and head over heels in love with a boy. He was dark and mysterious and said all of the right things to a girl who had just enough of a rebellious streak to buy into it. It wasn’t long before we were married, one day after work, by a justice of the peace. We went to dinner that night, and he announced to everyone in the restaurant that I was his brand-new bride and he was thrilled to have me. Not to be married to me or to share in this experience called life with me, but to have me. I didn’t see it then. I thought that his need to be near me all of the time was a romantic gesture, like something out of a novel. I equated it to him needing me like people need oxygen. It was exciting and scintillating…and horrifyingly incorrect.

The first time he hit me was two weeks after the wedding.

Prior to saying ‘I Do’, I had never seen that side of him. He had always been accommodating, loving, and kind. But once the ink had dried on our marriage license, he turned into a different person. Angry and vindictive, he blamed me for everything. If I made dinner and he didn’t like it, the verbal abuse began.  If I came home from work even five minutes late, he gave me the third degree, called me horrible names, and slapped me. He belittled my intelligence and told me that I was lucky to have him because no one else would want a woman so stupid. It’s hard to verbalize even now, but I was raped by my ex-husband. Frequently. (Allow me to take this moment to say that no means no, regardless of whether there is a ring on your finger.)

Ours was a private war, waged behind closed doors. To the outside world, we were a perfect couple. In private, he regulated what I ate to keep me the size he wanted, and consistently made me dye my hair the color he thought it should be. But in public, he doted on me. He wore such a convincing mask, no one had any idea. I certainly didn’t tell them. I was afraid to let anyone know what a horrible mistake I had made. I made my bed, and I was going to lie in it. At the same time, part of me secretly wished that someone would see him for the monster he truly was…

And then one night as I lay on the couch, I found my most unlikely of saviors: Taris.

The scene played in my head like a movie: a tall, dark, and terrifying being rose up from the corner of the room, casually strolled over to my husband, and with one hand lifted him up, and threw him out of the house. I must have replayed this in my mind about a million times.  At first I felt insane, for creating this thing. I didn’t know what he was, but I knew he was my protector, my confidant, and exactly the kind of hero I needed to step up and help me escape.

And so, I made him a promise: if he helped me get out of my situation, I would tell his story.

Did I realize Taris was my subconscious? Yes. It didn’t matter, though, because to me, he was real. When I learned he was a vampire, I wasn’t at all surprised. He was inherently tortured, and there was an undercurrent of pain to his character that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Taris was broken, but only because he loved too hard and fought to save those closest to him, despite the odds stacked against him. The oldest of his kind, he waged a daily war against a silent battle of extinction that saw him as the protector of his people and the savoir of their race. His narrative was allegorical in that his greatest enemies were people that he once loved, people that allowed the violence of their existence to lay waste to all that was good and decent in his life.

And so, I made him a promise: if he helped me get out of my situation, I would tell his story. It sounds insane, but at the time, he was all I could cling to. I would jot down little scenes in a notebook that I kept at work, because I couldn’t risk my husband finding out. All the while, Taris was prodding me to make a move, to save myself, but I was still scared.

Until I found out I was pregnant.

In an instant, the flickering hope of saving myself turned into an immediate, raging necessity, and I knew that when I had my chance, I would take it. I was willing to do things for my child what I was too terrified to do for myself. While I was pregnant, the abuse stopped; rather, the physical abuse stopped. Because of the stress, I was bed-ridden for most of my pregnancy. Once my child was born, I thought I would have to bide my time, but my doctor told me to go. In his voice, I could hear my Taris screaming, “Run. Don’t look back.”

I left in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on my back, a baby in the car seat, and a fictional character cheering me on, telling me to keep driving.

I left in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on my back, a baby in the car seat, and a fictional character cheering me on, telling me to keep driving, to push the pedal harder.  When I got where I was going, I ditched my car, hopped in a new one with my mother, and never looked back.

The people that saved me were my mother, my mini-me, and my monster. He spurred me on and kept his promise. Now I needed to keep mine.

Fast forward several years. I met and married a wonderful man who loves me and my child in ways that I never dreamed possible. I never forgot Taris, but thinking about him was painful. The memory was so fresh and his story was so parallel that I didn’t feel like I could actually put it on paper. I had pushed what happened to me deep into the darker parts of my soul. Rather than telling anyone what happened, I put on a happy face and pretended that it was all a bad dream, but the only way I could recover and heal was to let it bleed out onto paper. With this in mind, I kept my promise to my monster.

I’d agonized over Taris’ tale, and when all was said and done, it became an almost 100K word behemoth: Chaos and Moonlight.

Love should not hurt, and no human being has the right to harm another. Find your Taris. Seek your rock: in someone else, but most importantly, in you.

For me, Chaos serves a greater purpose: It’s hero was an anchor for me in my darkest days, and the story of Taris’ redemption was catharsis after years of pain and abuse. Domestic violence is a heavy theme in Chaos, though it might not seem so to the unaware reader. For those never affected by domestic violence, this book may not be reminiscent of abuse at all. Or, to any survivor or victim, it could be a trigger.  But it is my hope that for anyone who is trapped in an abusive situation and yearning to break free, this story could perhaps be the final push that they need to leave.

I’m open now about my battle with domestic violence; the make-up covered scratches and bruises, the subtle twinge of pain that I tried to hide when I moved to do even the simplest tasks; the sexually coerced things I did because he told me to in order to “keep the peace” that sometimes still make me feel filthy, even fifteen years later.

Domestic violence is an atrocity that will only be eradicated if we chose to end our silence, which is what I have attempted to do by my decision to publish Chaos. It is my clarion call, my battle cry. It is my way of speaking up and reaching out. Love should not hurt, and no human being has the right to harm another. Find your Taris. Seek your rock: in someone else, but most importantly, in you.

IMG_20150511_104313A.D. Marrow is a writer living in North Carolina. Her new novel, Chaos and Moonlight, was inspired by her own experiences with domestic violence.




Need help?

To get help or information on domestic violence services, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat.

For dating abuse help and resources, visit loveisrespect.org, call 1-866-331-9474, or text “loveis” to 22522.

For sexual assault counseling and services, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or live chat.

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It has been five years since University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love was brutally killed by her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V, just weeks shy of her graduation. Hugely, at the time also a lacrosse player at the prestigious university, broke down Yeardley’s door just before midnight on March 2, 2010, after a full day of drinking, beat and shook Yeardley, and then left her to die.

Yeardley’s death rocked the UVA community, and the country, largely because it was all so hard to believe. Yeardley had come from a loving family, had been a standout lacrosse player at Notre Dame Preparatory School in suburban Baltimore, and had worked hard to achieve her dream of playing Division 1 lacrosse at UVA, a dream she had promised her late father, John, she would achieve before he passed away in 2003.

But as Yeardley’s mother Sharon and sister Lexie learned throughout Huguely’s trial, despite how hard it was to believe that such an awful thing could happen to such a sweet, kindhearted person, there had been warning signs. There had been so many warning signs. There was the time that Huguely had attacked Yeardley before being pulled off of her by a group of visiting University of North Carolina lacrosse players. There were the threatening texts and an email he sent her saying he should have killed her, which Yeardley had shared with her friends. There was the time Huguely broke into a teammate’s apartment and beat him up because he had walked Yeardley home from a bar.

According to Sharon Love, in the years between Yeardley’s death and the trial in 2012, she did not see Yeardley as a victim of relationship violence, but as the victim of a single violent crime. In 2010, Sharon founded the Yeardley Reynolds Love Foundation to honor Yeardley’s memory by supporting causes she was passionate about, including lacrosse programs for disadvantaged youth.

That changed as Sharon sat through the trial. “We learned more and more, and we realized that we needed to focus our efforts on dating violence.” If only the people around Yeardley had known what they were seeing, Sharon says, then maybe they would have intervened and prevented Yeardley’s death.

In 2012, the Yeardley Reynolds Love Foundation, more commonly known as One Love, a combination of the number that Yeardley wore on her UVA lacrosse jersey and her last name, pivoted its effort to address relationship violence, focusing on 16 to 24-year-olds. Sharon was shocked to learn that young women in this age group are at three times greater risk of being involved in a violent relationship.

In July 2014, One Love named Katie Hood, a family friend of the Loves and the former CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, as CEO and brought on a full-time staff to jumpstart the dating violence prevention and awareness initiatives that it’s carrying out today.

Since Hood took the reins last July, One Love has pushed out the Escalation film and workshop for use on college campuses. Escalation tells the story of a college relationship from its seemingly sweet beginnings to its tragic end. The film is shown as part of a 90-minute workshop led by a One Love facilitator or a campus facilitator trained by One Love. Unlike some other instructional videos on the topic, Escalation feels like a credible and authentic representation of a college relationship in today’s alcohol-fueled hook-up culture.

Hood says that the reaction to Escalation has been overwhelmingly positive, and that the workshop has helped college students see certain behaviors they have witnessed and experienced as part of a larger picture of a violent or abusive relationship.

“If we can label the behaviors of abuse, and break it down into pieces that are accessible to young people, then we can take the emotional abuse zone–which is filled with excuses–and start making it black and white,” she says.

There is no charge to bring Escalation to college campuses, and over 100 universities are planning to host the workshop in 2015. Hood hopes that as more and more students see Escalation and talk about these issues, the social capital costs of intervening will diminish, and young people will no longer fear social repercussions for speaking up to let someone know their behavior is not ok.

“We want to start in the ecosystem of college communities,” Hood says. “We’ll have success if ultimately the good guys live with a community standard that no longer tolerates bad behavior.”

To that end, One Love also launched the See it. Share it. SHATTER THE SILENCE. PSA, which implores bystanders to take action and #be1forchange. The PSA directs viewers to the One Love My Plan App. Based on the findings of 20 years of research conducted at Johns Hopkins University, the app’s Danger Assessment tool allows a user to judge if a relationship is safe by answering a series of questions. The relationship is given a score on a scale of 0 to 20, with a score of 18 or over indicating extreme danger, like the kind that Yeardley was in. Users can also use the app to make an exit plan.

Both Hood and Sharon Love agree that the more they can get people talking about dating violence, the lower the incidences will be, and the fewer stories like Yeardley’s will appear in the newspaper.

“People don’t talk about it, they don’t discuss it, and they don’t feel like other people can relate to it,” Love says.

She and Hood have already seen the volume go up on the conversation around dating violence, partly because young people are gaining the language to label abusive behaviors and recognize abuse in their own lives.

Says Hood, “This is Yeardley’s story, but it’s everyone’s story. We want to honor Yeardley by helping others and by changing the statistics around dating violence.”

For more information about the One Love Foundation, visit joinonelove.org.


Need help?

To get help or information on domestic violence services, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat.

For dating abuse help and resources, visit loveisrespect.org, call 1-866-331-9474, or text “loveis” to 22522.

For sexual assault counseling and services, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or live chat.

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Verizon and the NFL’s William Gay are teaming up to support victims of domestic violence. Verizon HopeLine is launching a 1 Million Phone Drive to Stop Domestic Violence with the goal of collecting one million donated phones by the end of 2015. The company created a moving new PSA with the Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback that tells the story of Gay losing his mother to domestic violence when he was seven years old.

HopeLine collects no-longer-used wireless phones, batteries, chargers and accessories in any condition, refurbishes and recycles them in an environmentally safe way, and donates the proceeds to domestic violence awareness and prevention initiatives. The program also donates refurbished phones, complete with service and data, to domestic violence shelters and organizations for use by victims and survivors.

Since its launch in 2001, HopeLine has collected more than 11 million phones, donating almost $30 million in grants to domestic violence organizations and over 190,000 phones to domestic violence victims and survivors. We sat down with Jessica Shih, Verizon’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility & Community Relations, to learn more.

Verizon has demonstrated substantive and continuous commitment to helping survivors of domestic violence. Why is the issue of domestic violence so important to Verizon?

When we look at the statistics that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are affected, it was pretty clear this was an issue that no one is immune to. We felt we could make a difference by leveraging our technology to provide victims with a way to reach out for help and stay connected with friends and family. When HopeLine started back in 2001, domestic violence wasn’t getting the attention and corporate support was needed to help the survivors and educate the next generation, so we created HopeLine’s phone donation program to turn old phones and accessories into support for organizations that work on the frontline every day.

What have been the biggest successes of Verizon HopeLine’s previous phone drives? Where have you seen the biggest impact?

The successes really belong to the survivors, and their stories of courage inspire us to continue our work to make Verizon’s HopeLine program even bigger. Some of our greatest contributions including championing research that shows the greater impact of domestic violence and women’s long term health or developing programs to train healthcare professionals and advocates on how to identify and treat victims of domestic violence when they come in for help.

What can you tell us about the upcoming Verizon phone drive?

We really want to provide more funds to support organizations that are working tirelessly to end this epidemic, and we need the public’s help. Verizon wants to get 1 million phones donated to the HopeLine program by the end of this year. We’re asking people to join us and help stop domestic violence by donating their used and unwanted phones and accessories to a local Verizon store.

Have an old phone you’re no longer using? Learn more about HopeLine and how you can donate at http://www.verizon.com/about/hopeline/get-involved

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We often hear about the physical scars left by domestic violence and sexual assault. But the mental and emotional scars can be just as damaging. We sat down with Dr. Cynthia Telles, director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute Spanish-speaking Psychosocial Clinic, to learn more about her commitment to these issues.

Do you have a personal connection to domestic violence? What was the impetus for your passion and commitment to this issue?

As far back as the late 1980s, I was involved in research into spousal violence in Mexican American communities. Through my work the Director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute Spanish-speaking Psychosocial Clinic, I have seen first-hand the psychological damage that domestic violence can cause. In my role, I help train the psychologists, and other mental health professionals, who work directly in the community, caring for those in need.

All too often, abuse by family members and friends, as well as sexual assault generally, are the immediate or underlying causes of the crises that mental health professionals are called upon to treat.

What do you view as the biggest obstacle to preventing and ultimately ending DV?

Stigma. Until we can talk about the problem openly, we continue to give it too much power over us, over those we care about, over our communities. We need to end the stigma, and create an environment where victims of domestic violence can talk about what happened, and through that openness begin to heal. It should not require victims to exercise great courage to speak out.

Stigma is also an issue in mental health care, for many of the same reasons. And in mental health, as in cases of domestic violence, the stigma can lead to shame, and fear of asking for help. It’s heartbreaking to think of the damage done twice in these cases – the first caused by the abuse, the second caused by the inability to seek help. We have to break this cycle.

How would you like other advocates, corporations and foundations to respond to this issue? How can others get involved in being part of the solution?

Create the space where more people can have a conversation about domestic violence. Educate your employees, stakeholders and communities about domestic violence. Be visible in your engagement and activism.  We all have a role in making it okay and safe to talk about, and then we can all more easily have a role in solving it.

About Cynthia

Dr. Cynthia Telles has served as a member of the Kaiser Permanente Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan Board of Directors for more than a decade, offering her wealth of experience and leadership to a prominent and forward-thinking organization. Since 1986, Cynthia has been an associate clinical professor within the School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

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Domestic violence and sexual assault are some of the most stigmatized and misunderstood issues plaguing our society. In order to bring about lasting change in how these issues are addressed, we must achieve a greater level of understanding of their impact on our communities. That means all of our communities. Today, 54 million Latin@s* reside in the United States, yet there is limited data on how this community is addressing domestic violence and sexual assault and what their unique challenges and strengths could be.

That’s why we teamed up with the Avon Foundation for Women and Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network to take a comprehensive look at domestic violence and sexual assault among U.S. Latin@s.

“The NO MÁS Study: Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the U.S. Latin@ Community,” commissioned by the Avon Foundation for Women, set out to fill a knowledge gap and uncover invaluable insights on this important segment of American society.

The NO MÁS Study, conducted by Lake Research, reached 800 adult Latin@s nationwide, including 100 recent immigrants and 100 Latin@s ages 18 to 30 years old. The full results of the study are available for download here.

The study uncovered a very troubling reality of domestic violence and sexual assault among U.S. Latin@s ages 18 years and older, but also brought to light some of the proactive strengths of this community. Ultimately, there is a sense that Latin@s want to get involved to address these issues in their communities and have conversations with their children about domestic violence and sexual assault.

  • More than half of the Latin@s (56%) in the U.S. know a victim of domestic violence and one in four Latin@s (28%) knows a victim of sexual assault.
  • 41% of Latin@s believe the primary reason Latin@ victims may not come forward is fear of deportation, 39% say the primary reason is fear of more violence for themselves and their family, and 39% attribute the primary reason for Latin@ victims not coming forward to fear of children being taken away.
  • Nearly two-thirds of all Latin@s (60%) are willing to get involved in efforts to address domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • More than half of Latin@ parents (54%) say they have talked about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault with their children and 57% of Latin@s report talking about domestic violence and sexual assault with their friends.

To help inform the NO MÁS study, Lake Research convened Latin@ focus groups in Atlanta and Los Angeles that provided a glimpse of the scope and impact of these issues, and the Latin@ community’s desire to take action to address them. Here are some of their words:


“There’s too much domestic violence. My neighbors fight and yell a lot… in my case we have learned to control all of that. We are not a perfect family, but we have made an effort so that our children do not follow the same pattern, violence generates more violence.” –Recent immigrant Latino, Los Angeles


“[We are] afraid to have Child Services in our home…we are kind of afraid to be on the radar. You know there is this kind of like we lay low, you lay low…” –U.S. born Latina, Los Angeles


“Because it starts within your house….with you and your kids and the conversation, and as much as you know, you could share that onto your kids.” – U.S. born Latina, Los Angeles


“Just as you talk to them [children] about drugs and sex, you can talk to them about violence…” – Recent immigrant Latino, Los Angeles


“My wife and I respect each other and this is something I try to instill in my children, I want to give them a good example of marriage.” – Recent immigrant Latino, Los Angeles


“[It] starts with us as men saying you know what we are not going to tolerate it in our community and I am not going to let you do it and we have to have an open discussion about it.” –U.S. born Latino, Atlanta

Informed by the NO MÁS Study, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network, the nation’s leading Latin@ organization on domestic violence prevention, and NO MORE, are launching a “NO MÁS” campaign, in partnership with Verizon, to further equip the Latin@ community to prioritize conversations about these issues and to take action to address them in their families and communities.

The NO MÁS public awareness campaign is the first campaign of its kind, engaging and activating the Latin@ community to end domestic violence and sexual assault, and includes a wide variety of other educational resources. 

Learn more at www.wesaynomas.org

*Casa de Esperanza uses “@” in place of the masculine “o” when referring to people or things that are gender neutral or both masculine and feminine.  This usage reflects our commitment to gender inclusion and recognizes the important contributions of both men and women.

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For as long as I can remember, I have been a keeper of stories.

Often, in a waiting room, a dentist’s chair, on a plane, or in a classroom, a stranger will open up to me and share personal stories, some of which are about deeply painful traumatic experiences.  It’s a role I treasure and have willingly taken on throughout my life beyond those planes and waiting rooms, first as a sexual assault crisis counselor and, since 2013, through starting Surviving in Numbers, an organization that helps domestic and sexual violence survivors safely share their stories. In turn, I’ve often related to myself as responsible to hold others’ traumas, but kept my own hidden.

After I was sexually assaulted during the fall of my senior year of high school, this shifted; I felt voiceless, scared, powerless, and I needed someone to hear and hold my story. I turned to only a few friends and my brother for support. Eventually, everyone I told about my perpetrator had their own bad experience with him: he’d assaulted a different friend of theirs, he’d harassed someone they knew, or they’d been bullied by him themselves. This horrifying repeat-offender context meant I was lucky enough to be automatically believed.

I call it lucky because this is not the experience for most survivors: while an estimated 60-80% of survivors never report their assaults to law enforcement, more painful to sit with is that many survivors never tell anyone in their lives, for fear of being disbelieved, shamed, treated differently, or retaliated against by their assailant or assailant’s friends.

Young survivors in particular often struggle with this silence, as well as with peers or others in their lives who don’t know how to respond to disclosures in a positive way, in part because culturally, we often avoid discussing the prevalence of sexual violence among teens. Despite our hesitance to address it, the fact remains: 44% of sexual violence victims are under the age of 18, and 1 in 3 teens has been physically, emotionally or sexually abused by a dating partner. Even if we already think we’re getting it right, we can always do a better job of supporting these teens — but how?


1) You’re not alone

Many people (teens, adults) don’t realize how often this happens, and may then feel isolated in their experience. Over the past 2 years, I’ve taught over 1,000 high school students on basic facts about sexual violence, debunking common myths about violence, story-sharing, how to support peers who disclose, how to identify supportive people they could disclose to, and how to step in effectively if they witness violence (harassment to assault).

A common response I often hear after these workshops is, “Before you came in to speak, I didn’t know of anyone else who’d been sexually assaulted.” If young people feel alone in their experience, they often feel ashamed and worry no one else will understand. Don’t wait until you hear someone disclose an assault to start talking about sexual violence — talking about it openly and early helps teens understand that violence shouldn’t be ignored, and is never a survivor’s fault.

2) I believe you

While the needs of survivors are intricate and all survivors have different needs, the best thing you can do for any survivor who discloses their story is to let them know you believe them and will support them in any way they need. We often worry about needing to find the perfect thing to say to a survivor, but sometimes, the perfect thing is as simple as letting them know you believe them. If we want survivors to share their stories, they need to know they’ll be safe doing so. If they aren’t believed, it can be devastating: as one survivor shared, “The first person I told asked me, ‘Why did you allow it to happen?’ which hurt just as bad.”

3) It is absolutely not your fault

One of the toughest pieces of workshops I run involves debunking myths around sexual violence. These myths are so deeply ingrained in our culture that we may not even realize we believe them, and they are incredibly harmful to victims and to all of us. When we live in a culture where people believe and don’t challenge the idea that what someone is wearing can “provoke” someone to assault them, or that waiting to report an assault means that person is making it up, we all suffer.

In class, I provide a safe space to openly discuss these ideas so that we can work through them together; without addressing the myths, those teens who unknowingly or knowingly blame victims go on to become adults who also blame victims. “Raise your hand if you believe someone can be ‘asking’ to be assaulted,” I’ll pose to the class. More than once, a student has raised their hand, and it’s a terrible moment to see a piece of victim-blaming culture already instilled in someone so young. However, more than once, another student’s hand has gone up after: “No one is ever asking for it.” “Just because someone wears something, doesn’t mean they want to have sex.”

In order to change bad cultural norms, we must stop accepting them: whether you’re a young person or an adult, it’s crucial for people of any age to be challenged on these harmful ideas.

4) I will support whatever choice you make

We may feel very strongly about what a survivor, especially a teen survivor, should do after disclosing being assaulted. Commonly, these “should”s are around reporting: a survivor should go to the police, to the hospital, to their parents, or to a counselor.  That choice must be the survivor’s. Not every survivor ever wants to report or take any kind of action, and that is perfectly fine.

Survivors have very valid reasons for not wanting to report, especially to law enforcement, who are part of a legal system where punishment rates are low in a system that is not designed to support survivors. Some survivors may not want to have their assailants punished, may be afraid of their assailant retaliating against them and hurting them further, and some survivors may just want to move on and not be forced to re-tell and re-visit their story dozens of times in a precinct or courtroom. Whatever decision a survivor makes is truly okay, and we need to actively let survivors know we will support whatever choice they make.

Survivors deserve all the love and care we can provide them. We don’t have to be superheroes – by holding a survivor’s story, listening to what a survivor wants and showing a survivor we support them unconditionally, we can make an enormous difference.

AliAli Safran is the Founding Director of Surviving in Numbers, a non-profit serving survivors of sexual and domestic violence through story-sharing and prevention education.

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