Esta Soler
1,310,206 views • 11:10

I want you to imagine what a breakthrough this was for women who were victims of violence in the 1980s. They would come into the emergency room with what the police would call "a lovers' quarrel," and I would see a woman who was beaten, I would see a broken nose and a fractured wrist and swollen eyes. And as activists, we would take our Polaroid camera, we would take her picture, we would wait 90 seconds, and we would give her the photograph. And she would then have the evidence she needed to go to court. We were making what was invisible visible.

I've been doing this for 30 years. I've been part of a social movement that has been working on ending violence against women and children. And for all those years, I've had an absolutely passionate and sometimes not popular belief that this violence is not inevitable, that it is learned, and if it's learned, it can be un-learned, and it can be prevented. (Applause)

Why do I believe this? Because it's true. It is absolutely true. Between 1993 and 2010, domestic violence among adult women in the United States has gone down by 64 percent, and that is great news. (Applause)

Sixty-four percent. Now, how did we get there? Our eyes were wide open. Thirty years ago, women were beaten, they were stalked, they were raped, and no one talked about it. There was no justice. And as an activist, that was not good enough. And so step one on this journey is we organized, and we created this extraordinary underground network of amazing women who opened shelters, and if they didn't open a shelter, they opened their home so that women and children could be safe. And you know what else we did? We had bake sales, we had car washes, and we did everything we could do to fundraise, and then at one point we said, you know, it's time that we went to the federal government and asked them to pay for these extraordinary services that are saving people's lives. Right? (Applause)

And so, step number two, we knew we needed to change the laws. And so we went to Washington, and we lobbied for the first piece of legislation. And I remember walking through the halls of the U.S. Capitol, and I was in my 30s, and my life had purpose, and I couldn't imagine that anybody would ever challenge this important piece of legislation. I was probably 30 and naive. But I heard about a congressman who had a very, very different point of view. Do you know what he called this important piece of legislation? He called it the Take the Fun Out of Marriage Act. The Take the Fun Out of Marriage Act. Ladies and gentlemen, that was in 1984 in the United States, and I wish I had Twitter. (Laughter)

Ten years later, after lots of hard work, we finally passed the Violence Against Women Act, which is a life-changing act that has saved so many lives. (Applause) Thank you. I was proud to be part of that work, and it changed the laws and it put millions of dollars into local communities.

And you know what else it did? It collected data. And I have to tell you, I'm passionate about data. In fact, I am a data nerd. I'm sure there are a lot of data nerds here. I am a data nerd, and the reason for that is I want to make sure that if we spend a dollar, that the program works, and if it doesn't work, we should change the plan.

And I also want to say one other thing: We are not going to solve this problem by building more jails or by even building more shelters. It is about economic empowerment for women, it is about healing kids who are hurt, and it is about prevention with a capital P.

And so, step number three on this journey: We know, if we're going to keep making this progress, we're going to have to turn up the volume, we're going to have to increase the visibility, and we're going to have to engage the public. And so knowing that, we went to the Advertising Council, and we asked them to help us build a public education campaign. And we looked around the world to Canada and Australia and Brazil and parts of Africa, and we took this knowledge and we built the first national public education campaign called There's No Excuse for Domestic Violence. Take a look at one of our spots.

(Video) Man: Where's dinner?

Woman: Well, I thought you'd be home a couple hours ago, and I put everything away, so—

Man: What is this? Pizza. Woman: If you had just called me, I would have known—

Man: Dinner? Dinner ready is a pizza? Woman: Honey, please don't be so loud. Please don't—Let go of me!

Man: Get in the kitchen! Woman: No! Help!

Man: You want to see what hurts? (Slaps woman)

That's what hurts! That's what hurts! (Breaking glass)

Woman: Help me!

["Children have to sit by and watch. What's your excuse?"]

Esta Soler: As we were in the process of releasing this campaign, O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of his wife and her friend. We learned that he had a long history of domestic violence. The media became fixated. The story of domestic violence went from the back page, but actually from the no-page, to the front page. Our ads blanketed the airwaves, and women, for the first time, started to tell their stories. Movements are about moments, and we seized this moment. And let me just put this in context. Before 1980, do you have any idea how many articles were in The New York Times on domestic violence? I'll tell you: 158. And in the 2000s, over 7,000. We were obviously making a difference.

But we were still missing a critical element. So, step four: We needed to engage men. We couldn't solve this problem with 50 percent of the population on the sidelines. And I already told you I'm a data nerd. National polling told us that men felt indicted and not invited into this conversation. So we wondered, how can we include men? How can we get men to talk about violence against women and girls? And a male friend of mine pulled me aside and he said, "You want men to talk about violence against women and girls. Men don't talk." (Laughter) I apologize to the men in the audience. I know you do. But he said, "Do you know what they do do? They do talk to their kids. They talk to their kids as parents, as coaches." And that's what we did. We met men where they were at and we built a program. And then we had this one event that stays in my heart forever where a basketball coach was talking to a room filled with male athletes and men from all walks of life. And he was talking about the importance of coaching boys into men and changing the culture of the locker room and giving men the tools to have healthy relationships. And all of a sudden, he looked at the back of the room, and he saw his daughter, and he called out his daughter's name, Michaela, and he said, "Michaela, come up here." And she's nine years old, and she was kind of shy, and she got up there, and he said, "Sit down next to me." She sat right down next to him. He gave her this big hug, and he said, "People ask me why I do this work. I do this work because I'm her dad, and I don't want anyone ever to hurt her." And as a parent, I get it. I get it, knowing that there are so many sexual assaults on college campuses that are so widespread and so under-reported. We've done a lot for adult women. We've got to do a better job for our kids. We just do. We have to. (Applause)

We've come a long way since the days of the Polaroid. Technology has been our friend. The mobile phone is a global game changer for the empowerment of women, and Facebook and Twitter and Google and YouTube and all the social media helps us organize and tell our story in a powerful way. And so those of you in this audience who have helped build those applications and those platforms, as an organizer, I say, thank you very much. Really. I clap for you. (Applause)

I'm the daughter of a man who joined one club in his life, the Optimist Club. You can't make that one up. And it is his spirit and his optimism that is in my DNA. I have been doing this work for over 30 years, and I am convinced, now more than ever, in the capacity of human beings to change. I believe we can bend the arc of human history toward compassion and equality, and I also fundamentally believe and passionately believe that this violence does not have to be part of the human condition. And I ask you, stand with us as we create futures without violence for women and girls and men and boys everywhere.

Thank you very much.