Domestic violence activist gives a stirring talk at SafeSpace luncheon

VERO BEACH — Elegant and eloquent, Victor Rivas Rivers hardly projects the image of a victim of domestic violence. 

But that doesn’t mean that the emotional and physical scars from his violent and traumatic childhood do not exist. Athlete, actor, author and now spokesman for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Rivers was the guest speaker at the second annual Every Woman is My Sister luncheon at the Community Church of Vero Beach to benefit SafeSpace.

Event chair Ginger Duer first became involved with the organization after a co-worker in Tallahassee was murdered by the husband she was attempting to leave.

“They had problems but he had never been violent. But the day she attempted to move out, he strangled her,” said Duer.  “I held her 2-year-old the night of her viewing; he cried for his daddy.  What do you tell him?”

Her husband Kris Duer, an attorney who provides pro-bono legal services to victims, went the extra mile in his red stilettos at the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser this past fall.

“I did surprisingly well; Ginger was a little concerned at how well I did,” laughed Duer, who said he even carried their 3 1/2 -year-old daughter the last half-mile.

SafeSpace CEO Jill Borowicz thanked sponsors and committee members, and also applauded the Honorary Chairs; members of the Man Up Team who are setting the example of good men protecting their sisters. Community leaders, the men had all donned purple ties to signify their solidarity against domestic violence.

“I almost had a hard time recognizing them; last time I saw them they were wearing red stilettos,” said Borowicz.  “These good men were standing tall in their heels to tell people that domestic violence is never OK.”

At last year’s luncheon, Denise Brown, sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, related the message that domestic violence can no longer be treated as a dirty little secret.   This year, guest speaker Victor Rivas Rivers, author of the book “A Private Family Matter” told the story of his horrific childhood, growing up in a household where the physical and emotional abuses heaped on his mother and siblings were a daily fact of life.

Commenting that people often perceive domestic violence as just a woman’s issue, Rivers and the Man Up Team are proof that men can be macho, even in red hot stilettos, by working to break the cycle of violence and by acting as positive role models for boys.

As a child, Rivers pleaded with the police for help; stripping to show them the scars, bruises and burns on his own body, but was told that it was a private family matter.  At that time police would only get involved when the abuser killed, or was killed.

Rivers noted that domestic violence is the most underreported crime in America, often because of denial or shame, but that it has a way of spreading, adding that the 94% of the men in prison were victims of, or were around, domestic violence.

“Unlike in the movies, domestic violence is real, horrifying, scarring and all too often it is deadly,” said Rivers.  “Love should never hurt.”

To thank Rivers, Sheriff Deryl Loar made him an honorary Man-Up team member, giving him a pair of size 14 red stilettos and a purple tie.

“It’s an exciting time that we have these stand-up men who get it,” said Loar.  “In Indian River County alone, we responded to 345 cases of domestic violence.  It gives me chills to think about how many were not reported.”

SafeSpace provides services to victims of domestic violence in the tri-county area, from immediate safety, counseling and legal advocacy to encouraging people to take action.

The SafeSpace hotline is 800-500-1119.

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