“Time to Talk” Day, the Interviews Part I with Peter Hermann

Last Thursday, I was honored to attend Liz Claiborne’s “Time to Talk” day concerning Domestic Violence Awareness. Many different groups, individuals, companies and celebrities came together to talk about domestic violence. When I was initially invited, I didn’t really know what to expect. I am not used to talking about domestic violence, and I am most certainly not used to being face to face with it. I would think that many of you aren’t used to it either, but the statistic is that one in three women will experience, or know someone who experienced, some type of domestic abuse in their lifetime. You read that right. One in three. So why isn’t it talked about more? If this blog ever serves any purpose for the greater good, I truly hope that it touches one of you out there as it did me. Speaking with a mother whose daughter was murdered by her boyfriend last year touched me, moved me, rocked me to my core and reduced me to tears. It made me remember an unhealthy relationship that I was in that I hadn’t revisited since, and I sat, stunned, realizing that I was the statistic. I was one of the “lucky” ones.

Fortunately for future generations there are people, movements and organizations that work every day to bring this issue out into the open. By removing the stigma and being able to talk about what’s going on, victims will feel more comfortable discussing their situation and ultimately remove themselves from it.

Peter Hermann in an actor (Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson-coming soon, Cashmere Mafia, Law and Order), and is the co-founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation with his wife, Mariska Hargitay. The Joyful Heart Foundation runs retreat programs for survivors of sexual assault and child abuse. We initially started talking about our children, he has a son that is very close to Bubba’s age. “You know, it’s strange when you have a kid, and then you start to think of how you want the world to look when he’s 5, 10, 15 so you want to plant the seeds so that they will bear fruit in 5 or 10 years in a positive way. My wife and I were at a dinner in Washington DC earlier this year, it was a Cancer event, and this woman sat down and said ‘Nice to meet you I’m so and so, and I’m a 30 year cancer survivor’. That wasn’t all that she was, but that was simply part of what she had gone through and that’s why she was there. Our vision is that is that someday someone will someday be able to sit down at a table and say ‘I’m a survivor of sexual abuse; I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse; I’m a survivor of rape’, and not have the needle skip off the record and have the person sitting across from them not know what to say. Because it’s not what defines them, it’s simply something that happened to them and it’s not their fault and they don’t need to carry the shame. It’s an unjust stigma in the sense that the shame belongs to the perpetrator and not the victim.”

I took that cue and brought up Violence Unsilenced, a blog started by dear Maggie that offers an online forum, anonymous or not, where victims can share their stories, and find their voice. “We who are active in the blogosphere have a responsibility to listen to our friends and to spread the word, so that we can strip abusers of this critical power. I also believe very, very strongly in the cathartic power of writing”. When I explained this blog to Peter, stating clearly that while I have nothing to do with that blog, per say, I believe that it offers a great place for readers and victims to tell their story. He agreed wholeheartedly, and shared the story of how his wife came to start the JHF. “My wife, Mariska Hargitay, works on a TV show. She plays detective Benson on Law and Order Special Victims Unit and she started getting these letters. She’s gotten tons of fan mail before on others shows saying ‘I like your work, I like your show’ etc., can you send me a head shot, can you send me an autograph’. She plays detective in a sex crimes unit (on this show) and she started getting letters. ‘My name is Emily, I’m 16 years old, and my father’s been raping me since I was 12′. The letters just started coming in, coming in, coming in, coming in. Tons, all the time”. In response to these letters, she started the JHF. “It’s interesting because the motto of the police is to ‘protect and to serve’, and that was her way of protecting and serving. I think that it showed to what degree that the community out there is so desperate to be heard, and they saw an advocate on television and they said ‘That is who I’m going to tell my story to.”

This is where Peter Hermann sat. I forgot to take a picture of him. Of course.

This is what he really looks like. Now you know why I forgot I even had a camera.

In addition to helping survivors of abuse, the foundation also goes deeper into the roots of the system. “The Joyful Heart Foundation runs retreat and community programs for survivors, and one of them is called “Heal the Healers”. The therapists, hot line advocates, emergency room workers, ambulance drivers, policemen/women, forensic doctors and psychiatrists, all the people that serve this population are so tired and are so infused with secondary trauma that they just need a break. And no one is going to them and saying ‘you need to step off the playing field and you need to recover’ especially because 70% of that population gets into that work because of their own trauma. They are led into it in an incredible and beautiful way, because part of their journey also includes some abuse. So they have that in their past and hear this stuff day in and day out, so we’re running programs for that population. We just did a retreat program in Austin Texas for the Leadership of the National Domestic Violence Hotline where they get to recover and that’s been a very fruitful area that we are going into. We serve this therapist who serves his population of however many and the influence spreads exponentially.”

If you would like more information about the Joyful Heart Foundation, you can find them here: http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org

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