David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary

May 12, 2006

May Days

BD Wong filled in as emcee for a very pregnant Mariska Hargitay at the 11th annual Safe Horizon Lunch, held this year at the 69th Regiment Armory. For more than 25 years Safe Horizon has been at the forefront of meeting the needs of crime victim's and their families. They provide counseling and safe house, and help more than 350,000 people annually. They partner up with corporate sponsors such as Liz Claiborne and USI Holding Corporation to meet the ever changing needs of victims of violence.

Over 8 million days of paid work will be lost this year due to domestic violence at a cost of 5 billion dollars. 1 in 5 teenagers are in abusive relationships: nearly 1/3 of American woman report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point, and 80% of those woman go back to their abusers. Would you call this an epidemic in our society?

15 years ago, Liz Claiborne became the first company to take a stand against domestic violence. Safe Horizon created the Liz Claiborne award which went to Morgan Ramses , who had a schizophrenic father and an alcoholic mother. Ms. Ramses had a young son when she met what she thought was a fabulous caring man. He became a jealous abuser, and after months of carrying around a Safe Horizon brochure, she went and got help. She is now entering Law School.

“She went and got help” sounds t like a simple process, but, as it is in any intimate relationship between two people, nothing occurs or is solved quickly. It can even take years to make the first step. Extracting oneself from an abusive relationship is painful, scary, and for many of us seems like an insurmountable problem without end. Furthermore it is very often THE family secret, leaving the victim with the sense that there is really no place to turn.

Josè Raul Perez

Because women make up 46% of the work place, and because of the staggering figures with regard to lost work due to domestic violence, Safe Horizon and USI Holdings  have collaborated to create SafeWork. SafeWork is an initiative to educate corporations on the impact of domestic violence, and how corporations can get involved and keep employees safe. The leading cause of death for women on the job is murder: last year 17% were murdered by their partner at work!

The keynote speaker was Jose Raul Perez . Jose was a happy little boy, who enjoyed a close relationship with his mother. Then came a stepfather who from the beginning demonstrated violent resentment of his wife's pride and joy. Worse for the child, the stepfather was alone with little Jose three hours each day while the mother worked. Many of those days were filled with horrific abuse. Jose was always warned by his stepfather that if he ever said anything about the abuse, he and his mother would be killed.

Jose's story is an all too familiar one. There are a lot of men (and also not infrequently, women) who have no problem torturing the weaker members of the family in a variety of ways both physical and mental. One such incident landed Jose in the hospital, and while he knew he still had to endure the abuse until he was old enough to get out, it was a turning point for him. Logically, he felt safe in the hospital. He vowed to himself while he was near death, that if he survived, one day he would tell his story. The mother divorced the stepfather six years later. The brave Jose got the support and help he needed. He also went full scholarship to Penn. He knows the only solution to this epidemic is for the the word to get out, and often. It is the only way the cycle will end.

Abusers do not come from any one educational or economic class. They do often live in homes along with alcohol and drug abuse – also very common on all socio-economic strata. The police precincts and hospital emergency rooms on the Upper East Side are exposed to extreme cases of physical abuse daily. They are often horror stories, acts of life-threatening violence carried out by people who are otherwise posing (and even lauded for it) as mighty pillars of the community. Of the thousand people in the room yesterday, a very large percentage of them knew about domestic abuse from either personal experience or through friends and partners.

Guests lunched Asian fusion cuisine provided Taste ; excellent. The centerpieces were made by children of the Safe Horizon clients. There were many more men than are usually present at charity lunches. This is a tribute to Safe Horizon's getting out the message. Many found the equation refreshing, and appropriate, as everyone must get involved in order to stop the violence.

I grew up in a house of chronic domestic abuse, my father being the perp. I don't use that word loosely because that is exactly what an abuser is. It is a humiliating word to have assigned to you. However, abusers know somewhere within themselves that they are deserving of it. Because of it, this child grew up confusing fear with weakness/lack of courage. Eliminating that confusion is not an easy task. I should also add that my father was never physically abusive toward me, nor did he inflict me with his abusive words. In that way, I got off easy. My mother and my sisters did not.

In my father's case, he grew up in a home of domestic abuse that ultimately was fatal. When he was fourteen, his mother murdered his father in front of him. Family lore has it that my father's father had it coming. That killing has reverberated down through three generations and dozens and dozens of family members acting out the ramifications of human trauma that many are still, to this day, unaware of. I've written about this before and will surely write about it again because it is always part of my consciousness, thanks to my father's failure to come to terms with his demons. Possibly in a more open environment and with the caring assistance of counseling, he might have found a way out of his own deep-rooted sense of humiliation and spared all of us the feeling. He would also have had a better life for himself as well as his family if he had. Unfortunately for him this never happened. He had to wait for old age to deliver his reality – which is everyone's reality – that we are all vulnerable all the time.

There is nothing new in human history about domestic abuse. The solution is difficult to arrive at often because the problem is most often concealed by all parties, including the neighbors who are exposed to it, for all kinds of reasons: guilt, humilation, fear of retribution, fear of death, being only four of them. Safe Horizon is actually making inroads to correcting that, and for this they are to be lauded and supported. Its ultimate goal is the same ones that the nations of this world must achieve if we are to exist: peace.

Congratulations go out to all those who helped make yesterday's luncheon possible – the guests and all of those friends who were absent. The Honorary Chair was Christine Quinn , the new Speaker of the New York City Council. Corporate Chair was David L. Eslick , Chairman, President & CEO, USI Holdings Corporation. Corporate Vice Chair: Emanuel Chirico , CEO, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation; Event Chairs: Brooke McMurray and John Fowler, Diane and Steve Parrish, Jane and Jack Rivkin . The Benefit featured Champagne and wine by Barefoot Cellars.

Among the guests at this most successful fund-raising (more than $1 million) were Sharon Bush, A.A. Lari, Christina Lari, Harriette Rose Katz, Andrea Stark, Ashley Stark, Laurie Stark, CeCe Cord, Allison Weiss Brady, Diane Weiss, Janna Bullock, Joey Prego, Dr. Robert DiPilla. Alison Minton, Michel Witmer, Eva Dillon, Estee Elkayam, Sharon Elkayam, Liz Finkel Elliot, Dr. Howard Sobel, Elizabeth Scokin, Dr. Paul Cotterill, Melissa Berkelhammer, Elaine Sargent, and Michele Gerber Klein.