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December 01, 2009

Industry with Heart

The Power in Speaking Out: Avon Aims to Help Break the Cycle of Domestic Violence

by J.M. Emmert


The bruises would alert you, but they may be hidden beneath her clothes. The psychological and emotional abuse may be disguised in the smile she greets you with each day. The sexual assault may be waiting for her after you hug her goodbye.

Empowerment Bracelet

Someone you know is or has been a victim of domestic violence. Statistics show that one in three women today has been beaten, assaulted or coerced into sex during her lifetime, most often by a family member. Every nine seconds, a woman is beaten in the United States. By day’s end, three of those women will have been murdered by their husband or boyfriend. The cycle will repeat itself tomorrow, and the next day and the following day.

Domestic violence has long been a taboo subject, hidden behind the curtains of the family home, with the telltale signs explained as acts of clumsiness or freak accidents. Victims have been hesitant to share their stories due to fear, shame, embarrassment or a lack of awareness about what is really happening to them, allowing the cycle of abuse to continue.

The Avon Foundation, along with Avon’s 6 million independent sales representatives, is taking a stand against this tragic epidemic. Through its Speak Out Against Domestic Violence Campaign, it is supporting awareness, education, prevention and direct service programs to break the cycle of domestic violence for future generations.

‘We Have the Power’

Since its inception in 1955, the Avon Foundation has been committed to being a champion for the health and well-being of women. Through philanthropic efforts, the foundation and Avon Products Inc. have raised and awarded more than $660 million to breast cancer, domestic violence and women’s empowerment causes, becoming the largest corporate-affiliated philanthropy for women in the world.

In 2004, the foundation put the full force of its worldwide reach behind eradicating domestic and intimate partner violence. “We wanted to take a look at what we could do in addition to our Breast Cancer Crusade,” says Carol Kurzig, President of the Avon Foundation. “An independent survey showed that domestic violence was a significant issue, and we felt that by raising our voices as a global company—a direct selling army of women around the globe—that we could take hold of this issue.”

Andrea Jung and Reese Witherspoon

The Speak Out Against Domestic Violence Campaign has a clear message: We have the power to break the cycle of domestic violence. During the past five years, that power has manifested itself by the award of more than $12 million in grants to 400 domestic violence agencies in the United States—including 120 organizations that help children of domestic violence—through the Not Seen, Not Heard: Helping Children of Domestic Violence program, the m.powerment campaign chaired by Lauren Conrad, the Need for Speed Relay Against Domestic Violence, Walk the Course Against Domestic Violence and various regional and local programs in the United States and worldwide.

In 2008, the foundation created the Avon Empowerment Fund to raise awareness of the need to speak out against violence affecting women around the world. Its first global fundraising product, the Women’s Empowerment Bracelet, was unveiled by the foundation’s honorary chairman, Academy Award®-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, at Avon’s 2008 Global Summit for a Better Tomorrow, which was held at the United Nations in partnership with UNIFEM, the UN Development Fund for Women. The first $500,000 in sales of the bracelet was matched by the Avon Foundation and awarded to the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.

Witherspoon explains her commitment to the foundation by noting, “Approximately one in three women worldwide will experience some type of violence in her lifetime—that’s nearly a billion women affected. When you hear statistics like that, it’s impossible not to feel motivated to do something. As a woman, and as a mother, I am proud to support Avon’s effort.”

Avon's Empowerment necklaceAvon’s second product, the Women’s Empowerment Necklace, was launched at the Global Forum for Women and Justice in Washington, D.C., this past March.

The foundation has also funded a free educational DVD that educates viewers on the signs of abuse and offers critical referral information, and free domestic violence resource guides distributed to raise awareness. It is awareness, and the speaking out, that is critical to breaking the cycle.

Bringing a Message of Hope

On Sept. 26, 1999, Gladys Ricart was handing out bouquets to her bridesmaids when a former abusive boyfriend burst into her home and shot her three times. Since 2001, the Brides’ March, an event held to honor Gladys and other victims, has been held annually in New York City to raise the awareness of domestic violence and its effects on families.

Years ago, many people did not understand that providing assistance to victims of domestic violence was a complex system of meetings and filings. Women had to seek out shelter, legal and financial support, and health care for their children, and the treks from one organization to another could be daunting and complicated.

That’s why, in 2004, New York City officials decided to launch Family Justice Centers, a national model of one-stop service centers that brought together government agencies—such as the district attorney’s office, police, probation, public assistance and housing assistance—as well as nonprofit organizations throughout the city all under one roof to make it easier for victims to get help.

“For our Family Justice Centers, we needed a private/public partnership,” says Commissioner Yolanda Jimenez of the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence. “And in seeking out private support, Avon really stepped up to the plate.”

Funding for the first Family Justice Center in Brooklyn, which opened in 2005, was made possible in part through a grant from Avon. In the past four years, more than 36,000 clients have been seen at the center, which provides on-staff case managers, police, probation officers, lawyers and counselors from the district attorney’s office. Services include therapeutic counseling, elder abuse services and children’s services. A second center recently opened in Queens, and a third is slated to open in the Bronx next year.

“Equally as important as the funding Avon has provided us is the campaign that it has embarked on—the Speak Out Campaign,” Jimenez says. “Their reps have the opportunity to go into homes not only with great products, but also with the message of hope, especially if someone in that home is in this situation. Many women don’t even realize they are victims. So Avon’s materials and their reach have helped us by letting people know that they are victims, and where to go to get help. It’s tremendous what Avon is doing, as that is the way we are going to break the cycle.”

A New Course of Action

Amy Wilson has long known of Avon’s efforts to help eradicate breast cancer: Her aunt has been an “Avon lady” for 25 years. When she was looking for a partner to help fulfill a wish for beauty products for one of her association’s charities, she turned to Avon.

Amy is the wife of PGA player Mark Wilson and president of the PGA TOUR Wives Association (PTWA), a not-for-profit organization based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Established in 1988 by the wives of professional golfers, the PTWA offers assistance to needy children and their families through volunteer service projects, fundraising and monetary contributions to child-related charities.

When Amy spoke with Carol Kurzig about the PTWA’s needs, the two brainstormed ideas for a new event that would follow in the footsteps of the successful Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. The result was the first Walk the Course Against Domestic Violence, a fundraising event held at the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C., that would allow participants to raise money to support local domestic violence agencies.

On April 28, more than 900 walkers showed up to walk the Quail Hollow course. The event raised more than $100,000, and proceeds were disbursed to five organizations in North Carolina, jointly agreed upon by the Avon Foundation and the PTWA, including the United Family Services Shelter for Battered Women and The Shelter of Gaston County.

“It was a huge success,” Wilson says. “It was the first time it had been done, and we weren’t sure how it was going to go. And it was incredible. We [PTWA] are a group of women with a mission to support other women and their families, and to partner with an organization like the Avon Foundation, with its rich history and tradition of being a company for women, is very powerful. The women who work with and for Avon, both on staff and as volunteers, are an incredible group. On tour, we are blessed with many things, and it really wouldn’t be worth it if we didn’t spend our time giving back; the Avon Foundation feels the same way about needing to give back and lift others up.”

The PTWA and Avon plan to return to Quail Hollow in the coming years, as well as add one new Walk the Course Against Domestic Violence event in 2011. Wilson notes that the critical aspect of the event is not so much the money as it is spreading the awareness that women are being suppressed, and that what is happening to them is not right.

“It’s really an important message to get out,” Wilson says. “It’s something that’s not talked about. So having a platform like the PGA TOUR and the Avon Foundation to partner with is just wonderful.”

Reaching Out to Future Generations

What previously was not talked about much—but is now of paramount concern to all—is the effect that domestic violence has on children. That’s why part of Avon’s Speak Out Campaign specifically focuses on children and teens to try to break the cycle for future generations.

“It is estimated that from 30 to 60 percent of children in an abusive household may themselves be abused,” says Commissioner Jimenez. “There’s clearly an impact that witnessing violence can have on a child—no matter what age. The post-traumatic stress can lead to that child becoming aggressive, and the likelihood that he or she will be an abuser.”

In 2008, Avon partnered with Lauren Conrad on the mark’s girls’ m.powerment campaign, which helps educate young women about dating violence. “Their m.powerment grant allowed us to expand our Healthy Relationship Training Academy,” Jimenez says. “It is our effort to reach young women and young men at a very early age to discuss not just what an abusive or unhealthy relationship looks like, but, more important, what constitutes a healthy relationship. It’s really an eye-opener for the young people. You can see the faces of some of these young women who clearly identify with what is being said.”

Avon has also helped fund the teen dating abuse program at Hope’s Door, a Pleasantville, N.Y.-based shelter that has been helping victims heal from the trauma of domestic abuse since 1980.

The program, called Love Shouldn’t Hurt, encourages teens to break the silence on abuse and be leaders in their schools and communities. With the help and support of Avon, Hope’s Door was able to expand the Peer Leadership component of the program from two to seven chapters, and see significant changes in its baseline data.

“It was really quite extraordinary,” says CarlLa Horton, Executive Director of the shelter. “When we started collecting the data, one kid in four—25 percent—would tell no one about the abuse; those numbers have dropped to 16 percent. One in four would tell a parent; that number is now up to 41 percent. But the real crux of the study was our understanding that young people do talk to other young people. When we started, 66 percent would tell a friend; that number has now grown to 84 percent.”

Avon’s support has meant a world of difference to Hope’s Door, which serves 500–600 victims a year. “It allows us to meet the basic needs of what we are doing,” Horton says. “But, more important, it allows us to try some new methods and new strategies to help these kids.”

Avon's Walk to raise awareness

More than 900 walkers and volunteers turned out in April for the first Walk the Course Against Domestic Violence event, which was co-sponsored by the Avon Foundation and the PGA TOUR Wives Association.

From Victim to Survivor to Thriver

It can be a long journey from victim to survivor. Years of physical, psychological and emotional abuse can leave lasting scars, and the healing process must include some type of empowerment that will allow one to move on. CarlLa Horton believes Avon has provided that empowerment with its Speak Out Against Domestic Violence video.

“Avon doing that video is as, or more, valuable to us than any cash award they ever could give us,” Horton says. “It goes back to the empowerment of victims and what we call their evolution from victim to survivor to thriver. The video gave victims and survivors the opportunity to give back, and that is truly extraordinary—and empowering for them.”

What the Avon video did, Horton explains, is elevate them to say: “I’m so not a victim.” “I am so someone who can help.” “I can speak out.” “I can encourage someone else.” “I’ve gotten this far, and you can, too.” “You don’t have to go through this alone.”

“That was so empowering—to the people who were in the video and the ones who were shown it,” Horton says. “That video shows people what they might be able to do.”

What they have the power to do—speak out against domestic violence.

 


The Avon Foundation:

Since its inception in 1955, the Avon Foundation and Avon philanthropy around the world have raised more than $725 million for programs and organizations that focus on empowering women. The foundation’s goal is to donate $1 billion by 2012.

Avon Breast Cancer Crusade

The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade was launched in 1992 and has since helped women in more than 50 countries cope with the devastating effects of breast cancer. More than $640 million has been raised to fund awareness and education; screening and diagnosis; support services; access to treatment; and medical research for the prevention, cause, treatment and cure of the disease.

The crusade’s largest fundraising initiative, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, is held in nine cities from April to October each year. The two-day event, which offers the choice of walking 26 or 39 miles, brings together hundreds of thousands of donors, volunteers and walkers in an effort to raise significunt funds and awareness of the disease. From 2003 through 2009, the Avon Walks have raised more than $300 million. In 2005, the Walk Around the World for Breast Cancer was launched, and is now held annually in 51 countries.

Emergency & Disaster Relief

Since 2001, the Avon Foundation has raised more than $17 million to support women in rebuilding their lives after emergencies and disasters. Avon sales representatives have responded quickly to national and international relief efforts through fundraisers, product donations and volunteering.

Heart of America Fund

$7 million was raised for the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Yellow Ribbon Fund

$3 million was raised to assist the families of military personnel killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tsunami Relief

$1.2 million was raised to assist in the recovery and rebuilding efforts after the December 2004 tsunami devastated Southeast Asia.

Hurricane Katrina

$1 million was raised to support relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

China Earthquake Support

$5.5 million in assistance was committed to help the 15 million people displaced by the May 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province that killed 70,000 people.