Within weeks of joining the Los Angeles Police Department, Robert Martin witnessed a murder he has never been able to forget. When responding to a call, he saw a man sitting on a woman's chest, gouging her eyes out with a knife.
Martin has since devoted his career to preventing domestic violence and helping victims. One of those ways is being a founding member and board chair of the Operation for HOPE Foundation, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization devoted to raising public awareness about domestic violence and founded by Powegian Kimberly Weisz.
“The overall issue of family violence is so prevalent,” said Martin, who founded the LAPD’s Threat Management Unit, the first of its kind in the nation, during his 28-year career with the department. “There’s no one approach that’s going to solve the issue. It’s just too complex to say this is the program. What we try to do is be a part of the solution.”
One of Operation for HOPE Foundation’s goals is to make others aware of domestic violence. Because April was National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the nonprofit launched two public service announcements and campaigns.
“Unless you’re in an abusive relationship, it’s hard to believe that people really do that to each other,” Martin said. “If you’re there, you know how terrifying it can be.”
The “I am with love” campaign helped raise awareness of confidential resources available to help prevent and respond to abuse. The “I will not be invisible” campaign was a part of a social media campaign targeting individuals between the ages of 13-24. It supported online resources that provide information to prevent, respond, recover and stop the cycle of violence. The nonprofit encouraged the public to re-post the “I will not be invisible” message.
Both campaigns were an effort to inform the public about the National Teen Dating Helpline, a 24-hour resource that can be accessed by phone and online.
Weisz, who serves as the president of the nonprofit, said public campaigns like these are crucial for the public.
“Unfortunately, domestic violence is a silent issue,” she said. “It thrives in silence, and it continues unless the silence is broken. Unfortunately, often, the silence isn’t broken because it is a very ugly subject.”
Domestic violence doesn’t just affect the couple involved, Operation for HOPE Foundation Board Secretary Judi Adams explained. If children are present, she said, it is really family violence, which is why the recent campaigns targeted youth.
“If we’re not protecting our mothers, then we can’t protect our children,” Adams said. “If you’ve got mothers being hurt in the home, and you’ve got children witnessing this, then you have another generation of family violence that’s probably going to roll out there.
“Operation for Hope is about trying to be yet another piece of the puzzle to help break that generational chain of family violence.”
According to loveisrespect.org, one in four adolescents report verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse each year. Child abuse occurs in 30-50 percent of households where domestic violence is present, according to loveisrespect.org.
“We’re really trying, in so many different ways, to start that conversation,” Weisz said. “Domestic violence, family violence is not an easy issue. It’s very complex, multifaceted, multilayered and multidirectional.
In addition to educating the public about domestic violence and resources, the Operation for HOPE Foundation provides direct services.
This year, the nonprofit launched the HOPE Fund, which provides short-term microloans to those in a violent situation.
Adams explained that there are often resources available to help victims with emergency housing and food, but not other essentials such as car payments.
“Some of these women are caught in situations because of economic issues,” Adams said. “Sometimes it’s a down payment on an apartment that can make the difference between whether you have to leave or stay in a battering or abusive situation.
“We ask them to pay it back when they’re ready to pay it back, and they know that the money goes right back into the fund to help another victim.”
The nonprofit also outreaches to adults and youth with various programs.
In May, for example, the nonprofit is partnering with RaceLegal to provide Racing 4 Hope, a program that will offer an evening of entertainment to selected youth and help prevent illegal street racing.
“A lot of times when you have an opportunity in which somebody gives you one day or one experience and they believe in you and they’re not asking and they deliver on a promise, it makes you think you’re worthy. Unfortunately, even in America’s Finest City, we have kids that are not safe at home, that are not safe walking to school, because they’re afraid,” Weisz said. “By giving kids these experiences and giving them examples by modeling healthy behaviors, we do impact their lives.”
Weisz began developing the Operation for HOPE Foundation in 2005, and it became a nonprofit in 2007.
She became an advocate after she helped search for 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam, who was kidnapped and murdered by David Westerfield.
Weisz reached out to Martin and asked him to speak at a gathering that honored Van Dam on her birthday after her remains were found. In addition to his career as a police office, Martin is known for working for Gavin de Becker, the author of the renowned self-help book The Gift of Fear.
“From that relationship and from that experience, it really did drive home for me the great need in our community to give back,” she said. “It’s really important for me to engage with the community.”
Weisz encourages others to not stay silent about domestic and family abuse by getting involved with the Operation for HOPE Foundation.
“If you want to get involved or feel there’s a way that you want to contribute, contact Operation for HOPE with your ideas,” she said.
“When you have one in four women in their lifetime directly impacted by domestic violence, then you know that it touches all of us—directly or indirectly, it impacts us all,” Weisz said.
If you or someone you love is being hurt, call 1-866-331-9474 or visit loveisrespect.org.
For more information about the Operation for HOPE Foundation, visit operationforhope.org
Upcoming Operation for HOPE Foundation events:
- Racing 4 HOPE—May 20, 2011
- Handbags 4 HOPE—June 11, 2011
- Ready to Take Diamond and Strike-Out Domestic Violence—Sept. 17, 2011