“I was 16 when he stole from me. Stole my virginity, my dignity and my self-esteem. I want it back!”
This short but powerful saying is written on a life-size black silhouette cutout of a person in the lobby of the Arts & Humanities Residential College at Parkside.
But this cutout is not alone. Along with many other silhouettes around campus, this simple shape helps represent Domestic Violence Awareness Week, a weeklong series of programs sponsored by the Center for Women and Men that ends Friday.
Sheetal Chib, the center’s program coordinator, said the center felt it would be beneficial to “educate and bring awareness [of domestic violence] to the USC community.”
Though a national Domestic Violence Month has existed since 1987, the Domestic Violence Awareness Week at USC is only in its fourth year.
Still, over four years, more than just the programming during the week has changed. The biggest transformation, according to Chib, has taken place in student involvement.
She said that in the first year the program existed, the center was the force behind the events, but now there are student organizations wishing to co-sponsor events.
On Wednesday, the Latina-oriented sorority Omega Phi Beta co-sponsored the “Purple Ribbon Campaign.”
Supporters of the campaign, including members of Omega Phi Beta, handed out purple ribbons, which represent domestic violence awareness.
Omega Phi Beta’s part coincides with its national philanthropy: Raising Awareness of Violence Against Women.
Since Oct. 17, the sorority has also hosted a Facebook group called “These Hands Don’t Hurt,” which encourages students to post pictures of their hands with positive messages raising awareness against domestic violence, Omega Phi Beta President Nancy Talamantes said.
“This is our sorority’s cause,” Talamantes said. “And it’s a cause I personally hold close to my heart.”
According to Chib, handing out ribbons and spreading awareness on campus are ways members of the USC community can “show their support for survivors as an ally, friend or family member.”
Another sorority participating heavily in the week, Alpha Chi Omega, organized and held a candlelight vigil Thursday night.
The ceremony, which Chib said is one of the biggest events during the week, presents speakers from all different fields who have connections to domestic violence.
Alpha Chi Omega’s philanthropy is Domestic Violence Awareness which, according to Vice President of Philanthropy Christina Welch, directly ties into the sorority’s involvement in Domestic Violence Awareness week.
According to Welch, the money is raised for the Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women and Children — a center dedicated to helping women and their children who have been victims of domestic abuse better their lives.
The sorority is also involved with Linda’s Voice, a program developed to stop domestic abuse. Created by three girls whose mother was murdered by their step father, the group’s mission is to help women find the strength to leave abusive relationships and lead productive and fulfilling lives.
At the vigil, a speaker from the Good Shepherd Center talked about the shelter and representatives of Linda’s Voice talked about their story and how it is used to empower people.
Though they’ve been planning the event since September, Alpha Chi Omega’s dedication to spreading awareness of domestic violence has gone on much longer. According to Welch, domestic violence “may not be talked about as much as other issues.”
Welch said Alpha Chi Omega’s goal is to inform students about on-campus resources for victims of domestic violence, a sentiment that Chib agrees with.
“We’re highlighting to the greater community that it’s an issue we feel is important and needs to be stopped from happening in our community,” Chib said.
Other members of the sorority said that though they were previously unaware of the extent of domestic violence, their philanthropy has helped them learn how important it is to prevent.
“Every year we have speakers come to our candlelight vigil because people don’t know how domestic violence can affect people. Sometimes it is physical, sometimes it is verbal,” said Shea Horn, a senior majoring in business administration. “It helps people to know what to do if they or one of their friends is experiencing abuse.”
For Chib, the biggest value of this program is seeing the response from victims of domestic violence.
“Often [domestic violence victims] feel ashamed and isolated and alone in their experience and unable to seek out help,” she said. “This brings broader awareness in the community and makes survivors feel not alone.”
According to Todd Henneman, the assistant director of the Center for Women and Men, this program is part of a national initiative to remember those injured or killed in acts of domestic violence.
In fact, Henneman said that’s what the silhouettes, featuring personal stories contributed anonymously by survivors of domestic violence, statistics about domestic violence or quotations by famous Americans denouncing domestic violence, are meant to represent.
“We know that our Trojan Family includes survivors of domestic violence, and we hope that these silhouettes provide a gentle reminder to them that they are not alone,” Henneman said.
An additional aspect of this program is helping people have a “fun and safe and healthy experience here during their time as students,” Chib said.
But the domestic violence awareness campaign does not end this week for the Center of Women and Men. In April, the organization will sponsor the Clothesline Project, which will display T-shirts in Alumni Park to memorialize survivors of domestic violence.
Omega Phi Beta also has a weeklong event in March to raise awareness of violence against women.