VERO BEACH — The sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, the estranged wife of O.J. Simpson who was slain in 1994, came to Vero Beach Friday to advocate on behalf of victims of domestic violence and help raise money for a domestic violence safe harbor in the area.
Denise Brown was the featured speaker of the “Every Woman is My Sister” luncheon, which served as a fund- and awarness-raiser for SafeSpace, which has been providing a safe haven and support to victims of domestic violence in Indian River, Martin, and St. Lucie counties for the past 30 years. One of those havens is a 24-bed, state-of-the-art, secure facility located in Vero Beach.
Gerri Crawford, Sherry Wilson and Weasy Carmack, who were instrumental in arranging the luncheon, have started a grassroots Friends Group in Vero Beach to help spread the word. Wilson also started “12 Dames of Christmas,” copying a concept that a friend of hers began in Naples.
“We make Christmas wishes come true for women and children living in the shelter,” said Wilson.
They have also started a speakers group of volunteers and staff who are available to talk to civic groups, churches and other organizations.
SafeSpace board member Bob Schlitt introduced luncheon sponsors, board members and dignitaries and turned the microphone over to Erin Grall who welcomed guests and commended SafeSpace as being the epitome of an unduplicated service in our area.
Grall introduced Denise Brown, who began by saying that it wasn’t until after the murder of her sister that she learned Nicole had suffered from domestic violence.
“I became an advocate for victims because I don’t want others to become a statistic,” she said.
Being less than two years apart in age, the Brown sisters grew up with a close bond and remained close even after Denise moved to New York and Nicole moved to Los Angeles.
Denise said that when she first flew out to meet her sister’s new boyfriend, she witnessed an episode that showed his jealous temper.
“I wondered why Nicole would stay with a guy who seemed like such a jerk, but I had no idea about the domestic violence,” she said.
After Nicole’s death, the family found and read her diaries and discovered to their horror that there had been 17 years of verbal, emotional and physical violence brutal enough to occasionally warrant hospitalization.
“She was living the nightmare so many other women live,” Brown said. “If you’re emotionally abused and put down often enough, you start to believe that you’re worthless.”
“SafeSpace is there to help these women,” Brown continued. “One thing I noticed at the shelters was that they all had smiles because they were safe and they had hope that things would now get better. There is also a huge need for transitional housing where women can learn to live on their own.”
Saying that domestic violence affects everyone in the community, she remarked that it is also a “dirty little secret” that nobody wants to share.
“These women don’t want to live that way, but they get caught up in the circle of domestic violence and don’t know where to go for help,” Brown explained.
She said there are different ways that the community can help, including donating old cell phones, establishing neighborhood watch programs, making financial contributions and by continuing to talk about the issue of domestic violence.
“Just as there are no socio-economic boundaries to domestic violence, it takes everybody working together to end the cycle of violence,” Brown said. “If a piece is missing, someone will lose their life.”
The Honorable Diamond R. Litty, Public Defender of the 19th Judicial Circuit closed the luncheon, noting that she had seen the judicial system from every side.
“Programs like this save lives,” she said. “We had 27,000 criminal cases last year, and many of them were domestic violence cases. If it were not for SafeSpace, there would have been many more.”
After the luncheon, Art Ciasca, director of development for SafeSpace, underscored the need for the community’s support and generosity. who remarked on the critical need for support.
“We are seeing a 57 percent increase in the need for our services, but at the same time we are facing 15 to 30 percent cuts in government funding,” Ciasca said.