Dependence on a partner for financial support is the main reason why domestic violence victims fail to leave unhealthy relationships. To help resolve this problem, actress Rosario Dawson has joined forces with the Allstate Foundation to promote the Purple Purse campaign. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, more than a thousand purple purses have been exchanged physically and digitally nationwide to encourage public dialogue on the symbolic connection of female financial power. This year, the campaign gives $5 for each purse that has been passed along and is donating up to $320,000 to the YWCA.
Dawson, who has starred in films such as Sin City, Men in Black II and Seven Pounds, takes center stage in working to inspire others to break the silence and end the cycle of abuse. Read on to find out how domestic violence has become an issue that’s close to her heart and why she thinks women should put their needs first when dating.
ESSENCE.COM: Why is this particular issue so important to you?
ROSARIO DAWSON: The cyclical violence that I came into contact growing up on the Lower East Side of New York is just so rampant that it’s normal, especially in impoverished areas. That’s one of the reasons why I’m on the board of the Lower East Side Girls Club. I grew up there where you called the police and they never showed up. It’s an honor to be able to come back into my community and to be able to speak. I work in Congo and I work all around the world, but also to be doing it here nationally and say, this is happening right in our backyards. Violence is not something that happens super far away. If it doesn’t get nipped in the bud, if these women and these families are not helped, it passes on to their children and they continue it.
ESSENCE.COM: Is domestic violence something that you see even in Hollywood, a place that’s as glamorous as that?
DAWSON: We have it all in our tabloids now. We heard it with Ike and Tina. It’s something that we kind of almost accept to a certain degree. The reality is a lot of these people stay or will go back to an abusive relationship. When you need to eat, you need a roof over your head, you’re thinking you’re trading some type of discomfort or you’re sacrificing something for yourself for the sake of your children. What you’re really compromising, these kids cannot participate in class, they’re distracted, they’re becoming violent themselves. I’m so excited to be a part of this campaign, to be bringing attention to this because we’re the majority sex on the planet. Enough is enough. A lot of times with domestic violence, people keep quiet. It’s not a sexy issue and people feel like it’s a very personal thing. It devastates entire communities when we don’t speak up and do something.
ESSENCE.COM: You mention the fact that this is not a sexy issue, but it’s something that you’ve aligned yourself with. How has your activism impacted you as an artist?
DAWSON: I grew up with so many remarkable activists and people like my mom that inspired me so for me, it feels like an absolute privilege to be able to do something I grew up with. It’s been almost 20 years now that I’m in this industry. I started at 15. It was much more difficult to have alliances with big corporations and difficult to get celebrities to speak up. Now I think that that barrier has been broken.
ESSENCE.COM: Domestic violence affects people across different racial backgrounds and across different levels of socioeconomic status, but how does it impact black women and the black community?
DAWSON: When violence like this is in the home, it inevitably spills outside of it. You get picked up and you get put in jail and you go into the system. There’s so much against these women and why they stay silent and why they continue to stay in these situations that they’re in because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. They’re afraid of losing their homes. You’ve got a lot of latched-key kids who are out there on their own, who are completely vulnerable than to gangs and other situations. It’s one of the things that I’m working on right now. Harry Belafonte—we’re really trying to combat that prison industrial complex. When we get a momentum behind this—that’s how VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] got re-passed—it’s the way that we end up empowering our legislators to stand up for women as well and make sure that there are laws across the board that can be helpful.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you have any tips for women who are dating to make themselves less vulnerable to domestic abuse?
DAWSON: Date yourself. Don’t be dependent on someone. You get caught up in some idea of well at least I’m in a relationship. If you’re not honoring yourself and it doesn’t honor you, then this relationship isn’t going anywhere and you should never walk out of any relationship worse. You should always have come out growing and learning. I think it’s very sweet, this idea of, you know, you complete me. But you should complete yourself. Knowing what the signs are, you can stop it from happening before you get too attached, before there’s a child involved or you’re stuck with sort of a financial situation where they’re controlling the bank account and all that kind of stuff and you’re too enmeshed.
For more information about the Purple Purse campaign, visit Purplepurse.com and Facebook.com/PurplePurse.