When celebrities speak, people tend to listen. And when the topic is domestic violence, it not only sends a clear message to the general public, but a declaration of support to survivors, as well.
That is where Brooke Shields, Ali Wentworth, Amy Ziering, Alan Alda, Joy Behar and Jaret Martino come in. At this year’s “All Against Abuse” virtual benefit on Saturday night, they will lend their voices to help end the cycle of abuse — as well as assist The Retreat in its most critical fundraiser of the year.
“It gets the dialogue going,” explained Loretta Davis, executive director of the East Hampton-based safe haven for domestic abuse victims. “Here we have this COVID epidemic and then we have the abuse and violence epidemic that happens in every community, and still, not everyone feels comfortable talking about it.
“I think when you have a whole event about it, and you have an agency that does this work, you see how prevalent it is.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one out of every three women and one out of every four men will experience abuse in their lifetimes — which can range from physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse to domestic violence.
During the pandemic, local agencies have reported surges in their 24-hour hotline activity, including The Retreat, which fields about 3,400 calls per year, or 10 per day. At this time last year, their numbers had doubled.
“It’s a lot. It’s still happening and it’s still happening right here in this community,” Ms. Davis said, noting that The Retreat’s hotline call volume has returned to pre-pandemic numbers. “It’s here. It’s in every community. It doesn’t discriminate, and there’s help.”
With a mission to provide safety and support for victims of domestic abuse, The Retreat offers many services outside of its residential shelter and crisis hotline, which also includes an online chat. The agency also hosts individual and group counseling, legal advocacy, and violence prevention and education programs for children and teenagers taught in local schools.
Education efforts for adults include the Long Island Safer Bars Initiative, which trains nightlife staff on how to recognize behavioral red flags, identify sexual violence, and intervene in potentially violent scenarios, while the Suffolk County Fatherhood Initiative addresses economic stability, responsible parenting and healthy relationships for at-risk dads, explained Benefit Chair Ellie Kurrus.
“We have struggled for 30 years to explain to people that we are not just an emergency shelter with beds in it to save people who have to leave their relationships in the middle of the night,” Ms. Kurrus said. “We are a comprehensive organization trying to prevent abuse of all types — and we really, truly do need the support. That’s how we’re able to do everything we do.”
All services are available for every gender and age — from newborns to nonagenarians — free of charge, in part through funds raised during The Retreat’s annual benefit. This year, the goal is at least $200,000, Ms. Davis said.
“I think a lot of people want to support us, but they don’t want to sit and watch these shows of people who have been oppressed and abused. It’s a hard thing for people to watch and see,” Ms. Kurrus said. “So our benefit lends itself to being a great one, virtually, because it informs people about all the good work we do, but on the other hand, it doesn’t subject them to a difficult night of a very heavy subject.”
Starting at 6 p.m., speakers will share stories of survival, compassion and the ongoing challenges that the community faces in stopping abuse. Mr. Alda will relive a frighting experience from his childhood that has stayed with him, and Ms. Shields and Ms. Wentworth will discuss growing up in “the business,” and how that manifests in their relationships with their children.
“I have two teenage daughters and have fears and concerns about what the landscape looks like,” Ms. Wentworth said. “If we don’t give our girls and boys armor when they go into the world, we are doing them a disservice. It is time to stamp out abuse. The Retreat is there to help break the cycle of abuse and ensure survivors have a life free of fear and violence.”
By involving big names in the benefit, it shows survivors that they are not alone, encourages them to speak up and helps the general public learn more about domestic violence, Ms. Davis said, all while celebrating the work of The Retreat.
“There is someone that you know — it could be your sister, your father-in-law, someone you work with — where something’s going on in their home life or in a relationship that they have,” Ms. Davis said. “If they talk to you about it, believe them, and tell them there’s help and there’s hope, because it is so pervasive.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Everybody knows a situation where something has happened,” she continued. “It goes on behind closed doors, but it also goes on in broad daylight. So why not talk about it? It can only help.”
Anyone who needs help should call The Retreat’s 24-hour multilingual hotline at 631-329-2200, or use the online chat service at allagainstabuse.org. Free reservations for “All Against Abuse,” to be held virtually on Saturday, June 5, at 6 p.m., can also be made on the website, or by texting “AAA” to 91999.