On November 19, 2010, a 20-year-old college student named Jenni-Lyn Watson was killed while she was home in New York for Thanksgiving break. Police arrested her 21-year-old ex-boyfriend, who they say was upset about Watson's wishes to end their relationship. Police say he had left her body in a park near her home, hidden under debris.
Jenni-Lyn's murder is a harsh reminder of the tragic reach of intimate partner violence in the United States. It also highlights the timeliness and urgency of a documentary called Telling Amy's Story. Produced by Penn State Broadcasting and funded by the Verizon Foundation, the film tells the story of Amy Homan-McGee, a 33-year-old mother of two who was killed by her husband in 2001 when she decided to leave him after suffering years of abuse. While Amy's four-year-old and seven-month-old sons waited in the car with her mother, Amy entered her home to retrieve some of her belongings. Her husband, Vincent McGee, was waiting for her and fatally shot her in the head.
By laying bare one woman's story and the many opportunities to alter its outcome, Telling Amy's Story has the power to educate, heal, empower and -- most importantly -- save lives. I had the great privilege of working on the film, and it has aired on nearly 300 public television stations, reaching markets covering 85 percent of the United States population.
Liz Claiborne Inc. is also in the process of releasing data from their 2010 College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll in conjunction with their groundbreaking "Its Time to Talk Day". The survey found that 41 percent of dating freshmen and seniors have experienced violence and abusive dating behaviors in their lifetime, with more than half of those surveyed saying they have difficulty identifying what constitutes dating abuse.
These statistics from Liz Claiborne Inc., a longtime leader in the fight to end domestic violence, add important new details to what we already know: One in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. More than 32 million Americans are affected by domestic violence each year. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States, with women aged 16-24 most vulnerable to intimate partner violence. And three women -- women from every walk of life, women like Amy Homan-McGee -- are murdered by their intimate partners every day.
I learned about domestic, intimate-partner and sexual violence when I started working on Law & Order: SVU. Viewers started sending me letters: "Hi, my name is Sarah. I'm 42 years old. My husband has been beating me for seven years, and I have never told anyone." In response to the realities these letters gave voice to, I started the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004. We have helped more than 5000 survivors find healing, education and empowerment through our retreat and wellness programs, and I am so proud that Joyful Heart is part of a movement that will change the way we talk about and behave around these epidemics.
Telling Amy's Story and Liz Claiborne's College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll are making important, bold and timely contributions to that movement. You have the power to do the same. Become the person in your community -- perhaps the first, hopefully the first among many -- who knows the signs of domestic and intimate partner violence, who knows how to respond to a victim with compassion and wisdom, and who knows how participate in creating a society where perpetrators will not be allowed to abuse with impunity and without consequence.
Learn more about intimate partner violence at LoveIsNotAbuse.com. Find airdates for "Telling Amy's Story" here. And, most importantly, if you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224, or go to TheHotline.org.
You have the power to save lives.
Follow Mariska Hargitay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@Mariska