Serena Williams recently learned a fact so powerful that it turned her into an activist on the issue. “Every one in four women are affected by domestic violence — and of that, 99 percent was financial,” she shared with Yahoo Lifestyle at a special event in New York City on Wednesday. “I was like, ‘How come I don’t know this? If I don’t know this, maybe millions and millions of other people don’t know it as well.’ ”
Williams appeared at an intimate gathering at a downtown boutique, Tictail Market, to discuss the important, all-too-common occurrence of domestic violence and a lesser known but related problem: financial abuse.
“For me, it was really important to just start the conversation … and raising that voice for all those women out there who need help,” explained Williams, who is an ambassador for the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, which aims to raise awareness of these forms of abuse and to support women who are victims.
This year, the foundation decided to take a new approach to those goals — partnering with six street artists, each of which was tasked with creating a mural. The artworks are being unveiled at locations around the country, each one highlighting a hidden message about financial abuse.
The first mural, a riot of bright pink, orange, and yellow unveiled outside of Tictail Market in NYC, is by artist Isabel Castillo Guijarro. The remaining five pieces will be unveiled throughout the summer in Houston, New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
Visitors are encouraged to post and share the artwork on social media using the hashtag #SafeWayOut in an aim to galvanize people to share their stories and help remove the taboo around discussing abuse.
More than 50 percent of people are unaware of the impact finances have on domestic violence victims, while two out of every three people would not know how to help a victim of financial abuse, according to Purple Purse’s latest national survey.
“We should be talking to our kids about what domestic violence is and what it looks like, and what a healthy relationship is,” Vicky Dinges, Allstate’s senior vice president of corporate relations, said to Yahoo Lifestyle. “Up until now it’s been a private matter, and unless we get men and women talking about it, it’s never going to be solved.”
Signs of financial abuse — one of the most common forms of domestic abuse — can include when someone’s access to their money or credit cards is restricted, their spending becomes tightly monitored, or they excessively worry about how someone will react when a simple purchase is made.
To Dinges’s comments, Williams added this: “I think the key word is men. Getting both men and women talking about it. We need the support of the men so they aren’t becoming abusers. Women as well … to know that when they are abused, [there are] ways they can overcome it and get out of it.”
One statistic Williams hopes to change through the expressive murals is this: One in three people believe that discussing domestic violence is taboo (a 10 percent increase since 2014). It’s especially important considering that 62 percent of those surveyed rank domestic violence as an “extremely serious issue in America,” comparable to terrorism, crime, and drug and alcohol abuse.
The tennis champion, mother, and wife recognizes that not many women have been afforded the same opportunities as she has, and she’s making philanthropic projects, like the Purple Purse, a large part of her life and legacy.
“You know, it sounds funny, but ‘to whom much is given, much is expected in return, and much responsibility in return,’ and I embrace that,” Williams said about her involvement. “I feel like I was given so much, and if you take away tennis — I was given two parents, I was given an amazing family, and not everyone gets that. I feel like I have an opportunity to give back from the position that I’m in, and I love it. I love giving back. I really feel like it’s the best thing I can do.”
If you or someone you know is in a domestic abuse situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
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