The question I hear most often is, “Why did you start EndAbuse4Good?” I wanted to create a program that would benefit the community, and without any thought I quickly chose working with victims of domestic violence.

A year later, while preparing to film our first public service announcement Make Under, the art director asked me to review photos of victims of domestic violence for the video’s makeup direction.  As I scanned through them I suddenly felt a knot in my throat—my eyes filled with tears and a deeply buried, terrible childhood memory came crashing through.  I suddenly flashed to holding my little sister’s hand, and holding my breath, as my mother was screaming on the other side of my bedroom door, “Stay inside! Don’t open the door!”  My father was beating her so badly that her front teeth would need to be replaced.

Staring at the art director’s photos, I realized I was looking at what had happened to my own mother. It was suddenly clear why I had chosen to cast that the blond-haired, blue-eyed young actress: she resembled her.  As a little girl I couldn’t save my mother, my sister or myself, and I grew up with an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.

It is time to break the silence and shame that allows this epidemic to thrive.  My mother is a survivor of domestic abuse, and so am I.  In a classic example of how domestic violence is a cycle I, too, have been trapped in abusive relationships marked with isolation, put-downs, shoving, hitting, financial abuse, stalking and threats. After telling a partner that I wanted to leave, I only very narrowly escaped with my life.

These memories were buried in my subconscious.  As they bubbled to the surface, I was too embarrassed to admit them for fear of what people would think of me: “What’s wrong with her?” or “She must be stupid.”

The truth is, without education, an early childhood history of domestic violence greatly increases the likelihood of a young woman being trapped in an abusive relationship.  And it’s simply unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of children are trapped as helpless witnesses and victims!  As women of all ages and walks of life began sharing their stories with me, I saw more clearly than ever that we need to educate our youth about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and the early warning signs of abuse.

DOMESTIC ABUSE IS NOT JUST PHYSICAL VIOLENCE!  It is emotional and mental battering that leaves a person destroyed from the inside out. With our Education = Prevention Initiative, our workshops help prevent dating and domestic abuse. And at the close of a wellness program or kids event, we see our participants transformed inside and out from sad and anxious to smiling with wide open faces – and I know that we have made a real difference.  When we visit campuses and girls share their stories and hug and thank us, I know that we are breaking the cycle by starting the conversation I wish so badly I could have heard when I was young.

Will you please join us and help end abuse, for good.