TrèsSugar: What's the importance of focusing on young people?
Ali Torre: For every one woman that goes into the shelter, two or three children go with her. When we first started the foundation, we did a lot of research into what was being done out and there were not a lot of children programs out there. And we felt that was needed to end the cycle of violence. We decided that schools would be the way to go. Since 2005, we've opened in 10 schools. We focus on children that deal directly with domestic violence in their homes. We provide master-levels counselors to help comfort the kids, be there for the kids, and help develop research about how domestic violence effects children so we can be a leader in the field.
It's called Margaret's Place in honor of Joe's mother. And another reason we chose education was because his mother, who was a victim of domestic violence, always wanted to be a teacher. And we felt this would be a great way to honor her. Her life was dedicated to her children, and education was a big priority for her. Our mission is to really tell children that it's not their fault, that they're not alone, and we're there if they want our help.
TS: Can you tell me more about Joe's experience?
AT: Joe has had a very successful career baseball wise, but has struggled personally with self-esteem and self-worth. He hasn't had your ideal perfect life. He hid in baseball and kept all this shame and embarrassment to himself for many, many years. It did have an effect on his life. He had two failed marriages. We've struggled personally over the years. It's not always related to domestic, but I think if he looks back it definitely impacts your life. Getting help, reaching out and being able to talk about it, that's the first step. Like he said, it helped him connect the dots. He was missing some things in his life and didn't feel so great about himself and some of the choices he made. And he's not blaming anybody, he's just understanding it.
TS: What is the message you try to send young people?
AT: You really have to define the problem to both children and adults. We find that so many young people don't even know what respect is because they're living in an environment of domestic violence, or gang violence, or bullying, or cyber bullying. Our goal is to get the word out and teach young people about the basics of respect and what a healthy relationship is. And we give them the information that they need. For example, we teach them how a perpetrator would operate — sometimes it's very subtle, like a boyfriend who would be texting his girlfriend all the time, and telling her that she cannot be with her friends, and kind of isolating her. That can be the beginning stages and sometimes it's so subtle that a victim really does not know that they're being surrounded and sucked in.
Another big thing is the deescalation of anger. Anger management is very important in school to prevent a potential perpetrator by intervening when you see a child who is acting out in school, who is getting in fights, who's not being a successful student. Our philosophy is that before you punish them or suspend them, why not have someone listen to them and find out what's going on in their lives. I would say so many times it's because they're dealing with some sort of domestic violence in their lives. Either witnessing it, or experience child abuse, or bullying.
TS: What's the most frustrating thing about being an activist in this field?
AT: There's a large level of denial. Even with the victim, and the victim's family, and the perpetrator. For example, when police go to intervene in a domestic violence situation, generally it's six or seven times before the victim gets help and it's usually after the perpetrator goes after the children. So that's the most frustrating. And also, in my mind, I wonder how do innocent children grow up to become perpetrators of abuse?
TS: In addition to working with kids, what can we do on a larger scale?
AT: There needs to be a national awareness campaign, and not just over six months. It needs to be planned out over a period of five to 10 years. It's a behavioral change, similar to wearing seat belts or a non-smoking campaign. My dream is to really collaborate with organizations and create that campaign and have it implemented over the next five of 10 years. And I was in a meeting with the Justice Department today and they agree. We need to make it a national health issue, and one of justice and safety.