On March 7, 2013, President Obama reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. Initially spearheaded by then-Senator Joe Biden in 1994, the bill was crafted with the purpose of providing a comprehensive approach to violence against women via tougher measures to hold offenders accountable as well as programs to provide services for domestic violence victims.
“One of the great legacies of this law is that it didn’t just change the rules; it changed our culture,” Obama said. “It empowered people to start speaking out. It made it okay for us, as a society, to talk about domestic abuse.”
The battle for improved support of domestic violence victims and their loved ones hasn’t been confined to Capitol Hill. Hollywood has since joined the ranks to assist with getting people to talk about the issue via a partnership between actress Rosario Dawson and the Allstate Foundation.
In October, recognized as the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Dawson will help to raise awareness for domestic violence with the Purple Purse, the Allstate Foundation’s symbol for this initiative. More than a thousand Purple Purses will be passed throughout the U.S. with the goal of sparking important, life-changing conversations around the issue.
In a recent interview with EBONY.com, Dawson had plenty to say about this issue and how she has witnessed the impact of domestic violence and its various forms of abuse throughout her life.
EBONY: What made you want to join forces with the Allstate Foundation and their Purple Purse campaign?
Rosario Dawson: When I think about the one in four women [in the U.S.] that are impacted by domestic violence, [which is] also true for young girls in their first relationships, and what that does to a person—it’s not okay. Over a billion women on the planet being abused is not okay. So we have the power, we have the resources, we have the numbers, and we have the opportunity to do something about it. Just because this isn’t an issue that’s on every single talk show doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly important and that it doesn’t make an impact.
EBONY: Why Purple Purses?
RD: The reason why the purses are purple is, that’s the color for [October] and for this issue. The reason why they’re purses is because financial abuse is the number one reason why women stay or go back to abusive relationships.
EBONY: So you all are looking to make an impact both in the social and financial realms of this issue. Speaking of making an impact, how has this issue—or the effects of it—impacted your life?
RD: My mom was really honest: she was 16 when she was pregnant with me and 17 when she had me. She was the one who would teach my friends how to use tampons and talk to them. There weren’t many safe places for them—they weren’t raised with the kind of unconditional love that I was raised with. I could see how that affected their schoolwork; how that affected their self esteem; the kind of choices that they did when they did start dating and who they would start dating.
EBONY: So it seems you got to see how other life issues can lead a person to find themselves in this situation.
RD: And it affects every other issue. The kid who’s experiencing domestic violence, no one sees that this kid had parents who were incarcerated or in single [parent] homes. I was very lucky to grow up in a home where I was told I was loved all the time. But that’s not true for everybody and it’s one of the reasons why I had to do this work.
EBONY: You also grew up in a family environment where activism and community organizers were very prevalent.
RD: Community organizers save lives, they save communities. Those are the people that I grew up with, and so it’s an honor to do this work and follow what they did, because a lot of them didn’t get microphones put in their face, they didn’t get accolades, and they didn’t have the resources necessarily. Allstate has been [investing] money and talking, and being outspoken on this issue since 2005.
EBONY: What are two lessons that you’ve learned from coming up in a family where advocacy was such an important aspect of life?
RD: The thing I learned the most actually from the people around me is that you can change, people can change. And as important as that is, you also have to let them do that on their own. So for women who are in abusive relationships, a lot stay with the potential of that person because they think, well, he wasn’t always like this—he came from an abusive family, he can get better. He has to do that on his own; he has to choose that. It’s like someone with a drug addiction; you can’t just put them into rehab, they have to go into it. You cannot fix someone else, you can only help yourself.
EBONY: Even people who aren’t necessarily abused manage to fall in love with the potential of a person.
RD: I can just say that from experience. I’ve watched people change to beautiful things, but I didn’t make that happen. People have to choose that for themselves. It’s a choice every single day.
EBONY: What do you love most about being a part of the Purple Purse campaign? What makes it so special to you?
RD: What I love about this campaign is that it actually triggers conversation; it gets people talking. We’re not just talking about people who are abused; we’re reaching out to people who aren’t. We’re empowering others to be able to ask the right questions, and be helpful to the people that they know and love. I think that’s a really respectful and beautiful part to this campaign.
EBONY: And for those who want to give back or volunteer with this campaign, what can they do?
RD: In October, start rocking our purple and letting women know we stand in solidarity with them.
For each physical or virtual purse passed and registered on www.PurplePurse.com, the Foundation will donate $5 to local YWCAs. The Allstate Foundation will donate up to $320,000 to the YWCA in total. You can participate online beginning October 1st through October 31st, by visiting www.facebook.com/PurplePurse to share a virtual purple purse with inspirational messages to friends and family.