Busing in the message

by Kate Vander Wiede
Managing Editor
Monday Oct 11, 2010

Casa Myrna aims to start a conversation

"What's waiting when you get home?" the ads ask. "If it's an abusive partner, there's help. Call today."

If you've been riding the red, orange or silver line this month, you've probably seen these signs, evidence of Casa Myrna Vazquez's newest ad campaign on domestic violence (DV).

"The goal of the campaign is really to raise the visibility of domestic violence to a wide audience. "And it's also a way to publicize the Safelink hotline number." explained Casa Myrna development and communications associate Michelle Sedaca of the bi-annual campaign, which will run during the month of October, domestic violence awareness month.

Casa Myrna, a South End-based non-profit, and a leading provider of shelter and supportive services to victims and survivors of DV, is the only DV organization running transit campaigns on a statewide level. Since 1977, when community advocates and organizations, including Villa Victoria residents, United South End Settlements and the South End Community Health Center, came together to create it, Casa Myrna has been providing support, legal assistance and housing to victims.

Through their hotline (877-785-2020) they provided immediate help to over 30,000 callers just last year.

"Domestic violence is not an issue that is easily talked about," Sedaca explained, noting there was still a great deal of "stigma, and a lot of myths and stereotypes" surrounding the issue.

She stressed the fact that DV doesn't discriminate.

"Domestic violence...crosses all boundaries," Sedaca said, noting that gender, socio-economic status, race, ethnicity and more, had no bearing on the matter.

Nevertheless, it is a message that is not often discussed in the media and, in large part, one that DV survivors often have a hard time talking about themselves- whether because of embarrassment, fear or other reasons. But Sedaca and the rest of Casa Myrna hope the ad campaign will inspire more conversation.

"It's really important to highlight the issue and really put the spotlight on domestic violence in a public way so communities start to talk about it and share resources," Sedaca said, "so it's not something victims and survivors have to handle on their own."

Though the ad campaign will show up in train lines in Boston and bus lines in surrounding cities, Casa Myrna has been reaching out in a more local way over the last year as well - through the South End Community Health Center.

There, a Casa Myrna professional comes in once a week to speak with patients. It's a partnership that Dr. Robyn Riseberg, a pediatrician at the center and a three-year board member of Casa Myrna, came up with.

"It is so prevalent, and people are telling me more about domestic violence everyday," said Dr. Riseberg over the phone recently. "It is so in my face."

"Domestic violence...crosses all boundaries."

Dr. Riseberg has been interested in DV issues her whole life. Her parents, she said, where always very aware of the issue and one of her family's close friends started an organization call Peace at Home, a public awareness organization, when she was younger. The leader of that organization later created the movie, Defending Our Lives, which followed women put in prison for killing their abusive husbands and won an Academy Award in 1994 for Documentary Short Subject.

In medical school, Dr. Riseberg did several projects on the topic. When she had the opportunity to work on the Casa Myrna board, she jumped at the chance, and quickly saw reason to intertwine their work with her own.

Before the partnership, Dr. Riseberg said doctors would sometimes be unsure about asking their patients if they were victims of DV, as they wouldn't know where to point them if the answer was yes.

"Now they can say, 'Well we have an advocate and I can give you an 800 number immediately,'" Dr. Riseberg said. "I think that gives providers a lot of comfort in being able to even ask the questions."

Dr. Riseberg told a story about one of her patients who she directed to the professional - a woman with a newborn baby whose abuser had sold her car, robbed her and locked her in an attic for three days. While the woman had moved into a new apartment, she hadn't been able to get a restraining order against the man yet.

It's an example that highlights a unique facet of the partnership between SECHC and Casa Myrna - the DV professional's ability to help victims navigate the restraining order process.

In separate interviews, both Dr. Riseberg and Sedaca both spoke of rising numbers of younger victims of domestic violence. Sedaca said in the last five years, Casa Myrna has also seen an increase in single women.

The ad campaign is a way to give these and other victims a place to start, a number to call, something to reach for. And in order to reach even further, Casa Myrna is also in the final stages of editing a domestic violence public service announcement (PSA), their first PSA since the 1990s.

"There's no narration, there's just the soundtrack," said Sedaca, explaining the PSA follows a woman as she completes a day of chores and then heads home. "You hear her heartbeat, her breathing, how it escalates as she's approaching her home."

The PSA, Sedaca said, has the same goal as the ad campaign - to reach victims, raise awareness and start conversations.

Ask whether these kinds of campaigns have worked in the past, Sedaca said they had, pulling on a specific example from last spring during their first public transit ad campaign of the year. The campaign's theme surrounded the open-ended phrase 'When I grow up, I'm going to be...' Posters showed pictures of girls as chefs, movie stars, doctors. The last frame was just a girl with the word 'safe.'

Soon after the campaign was implemented, Casa Myrna got an email from a college student who had been in an abusive relationship previously.

"As a survivor of dating violence, I wanted to say thank you for putting up the 'When I grow up, I'm going to be...' signs around the MBTA," the email read. "I've been out of that relationship for almost two years now, my future is falling into place, and this campaign really hit home. I know that other people will notice and be moved to find help."?

The SafeLink number is (877) 785-2020. SafeLink is a critical resource to those affected by domestic violence - women, men, adults, youth, victims of abuse and their family members, friends, and colleagues. Callers to SafeLink receive confidential "help at the end of the line" 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

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