Column: Why the San Diego Convention Center is turning purple this week


On Thursday night, the sails of the San Diego Convention Center’s Sails Pavilion will be bathed in purple light in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The light will be gone by morning, but local advocates hope that this symbolic gesture will lead to real conversations about a subject that can’t afford to be out of the spotlight for even a minute.

“Purple is the official color of domestic violence awareness because purple is the color of royalty and dignity and honor,” said Casey Gwinn, president of Alliance for HOPE International, a San Diego-based advocacy organization for survivors of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We would love for people to ask, ‘Why are those sails purple?,’ and then we can talk about how people in intimate relationships should be treating each other like royalty. No one has ever called 911 to say, ‘My partner is treating me with too much honor and respect. I need the police to come and help me.’”

But people do call 911 to say, “My partner is threatening me.” Or, “My partner is hurting me.” Or, “My partner is trying to kill me.” Or just, “Help.”

If the color of domestic violence awareness is purple, the color of domestic violence itself is red. The red of sirens and fear and blood. The red of behavioral “stop” signs that are ignored.

The red that says, “Emergency.” Because domestic violence is an emergency.

In the United States, more than one in three women and one in seven men aged 18 and older have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. On a typical day, more than 20,000 domestic-violence related calls are made to 911 and hotlines nationwide.

One in three female murder victims and one in 20 male murder victims are killed by an intimate partner.

“Violence against women — and with domestic violence, it is primarily women who are the victims— is still at almost epidemic proportions in the United States,” said Gwinn, who was the San Diego City Attorney before co-founding the Alliance.

“These are just massive numbers. If one in three people in this country experienced some sort of health problem, this would be considered an epidemic. But when it’s domestic violence, we seem to be desensitized.”

Every October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month rolls around to remind the public that domestic violence is a huge problem with a massive ripple effect and a high victim count.

Eighty-one percent of women and 35 percent of men who experienced rape, stalking or physical violence by an intimate partner reported short- or long-term repercussions such as post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. More than 15 million children in the United States live in homes where domestic violence has happened at least once.

A boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.

So when people see the Sails Pavilion looking even more gorgeous than ever when it is lit up on Thursday night, Gwinn hopes they will take a moment to find out why. And then he hopes they will look deeper.

If you type “Domestic Violence Month” into your favorite search engine, you will find web sites for such essential organizations as the YWCA of San Diego County, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), and Alliance for HOPE International, whose programs include the Family Justice Center Alliance, the VOICES Survivor Network and Camp HOPE America for children who have been exposed to domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

If you are living with domestic violence, these websites can help. If you are not a victim of domestic violence, the information can help you understand people who are. One immediate step you can take is making sure your congressional representative supports the renewal of the landmark Violence Against Women Act, which could expire was extended through Dec. 7.

“The challenge we have is that people don’t understand the issue, and victims often think they are all alone, because their abusers have convinced them that no one will help them and no one will believe them,” Gwinn said. “From my perspective, the big message for survivors is, ‘Help is available.’”

Awareness matters. Because awareness leads to action, and action leads to change. Domestic Violence Awareness Month ends on Oct. 31, but the journey to our national recovery has a long way to go.

Twitter: @karla_peterson