Abuse survivors give voice to art exhibit as officials urge victims to seek out resources

By Lori Basheda

The numbers are scary: In the last three years, the Anaheim Police Department has fielded 9,000 calls for domestic violence.

And not all of them were from the actual victims. Some came from the victim’s child, neighbor, friend.

“So we know that these numbers are extremely low,” says Anaheim Chief Raul Quezada. “There are many victims out there who are afraid to call.”

They need to know that they have a voice. And that there are people out there who will listen to them.

Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada participates in a panel discussion on domestic violence at the opening of the Voices exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada participates in a panel discussion on domestic violence at the opening of the “Voices’ exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

That is what “Voices” is all about. A traveling multi-media art installation, “Voices” is designed to immerse visitors in the world of domestic violence survivors.

“It’s easy to sit here in the OC and say it doesn’t happen here,” said Orange County United Way President Max Gardner. “Well, that’s bull. We need the county to wake up and understand that.”

Gardner and Quezada were part of a panel that spoke to a couple hundred people at the opening of the “Voices” exhibit recently in Costa Mesa. Artist Cat Del Buono flew in for the panel discussion.

“Growing up as a witness to abuse I wanted to do something on this topic,” she told the crowd.

Her exhibit, which runs through Saturday, Feb. 27, is chilling (visit here for info).

Panel discussion on domestic violence at the opening of the Voices exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Panel discussion on domestic violence at the opening of the “Voices” exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Walk into a room that is empty, save for 26 small video monitors hanging on the walls at eye level.

On each monitor, a woman’s mouth is speaking. You see only the lips moving. Everyone is talking at once, so from the center of the room it’s hard to make out what anyone is saying; just a word here, a word there.

But walk toward any of the monitors, and the closer you get, the more clearly you hear the voice.

“It’s a metaphor,” says the artist. “Until you get close to a person, you won’t know their story.”

And these are stories we need to know about.

“He dragged me out of the house, punching me, kicking me and telling me I was worthless…I was scared no one would ever love me,” one woman is saying.

Vivian Clecak, founder of Human Options, participates in a panel discussion of domestic violence at the opening of the Voices exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Vivian Clecak, founder of Human Options, participates in the panel discussion about domestic violence.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Walk a few steps left to the next monitor. “I don’t know if it was when he burned me with hot water, locked me in a closet for three days … or broke my face,” this woman is saying.

Three more steps and another woman, with another story… “I remember putting my face in a pillow and thinking this will be over in a little while.”

Del Buono found each of her survivors — rich and poor, brown and white, young and old — through shelters in various cities (two are from Orange County). A few women give their interviews in Spanish.

They try to explain to us, their listeners, why they stayed.

“I just thought it was all my fault,” says one woman.

Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada, left, Kelly Johnston, Vivian Clecak, founder of Human Options, Artist Cat Del Buono and Moderator & President Orange County United Way Max Gardner participate in a panel discussion of domestic violence at the opening of the Voices exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada, left, Kelly Johnston, Vivian Clecak, founder of Human Options, artist Cat Del Buono and moderator and president of the Orange County United Way Max Gardner participate in a panel discussion about domestic violence at the opening of the “Voices” exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Moving from monitor to monitor, leaning in to listen to the women tell their stories, is sobering, hair-raising, horrifying. But ultimately it is inspiring, because they all made it out alive.

“If you’re being abused…if someone has you feeling like a prisoner….then walk away,” one woman sobs. “Get help…You are not those things they say you are. You don’t deserve to think your’re nobody…Because you are somebody.”

Kelly Johnston, who has witnessed domestic abuse first hand and helped bring the exhibit here (it has also been in Chicago, Brooklyn, Miami and D.C.), says about 10,000 Orange County residents are victims of domestic abuse each year.

“For every call that police receive there are many, many women who are intimidated, isolated and cannot call,” she says. “It is a silent crime. It’s one crime in which the victim is blamed.”

Artist for the Voices exhibit Cat Del Buono, who grew up as a witness to abuse, participates in a panel discussion of domestic violence at the opening of the Voices exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Artist for the “Voices” exhibit Cat Del Buono, who grew up as a witness to abuse, participates in the panel discussion.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Vivian Clecak, founder of Human Options, sees shame. “People are more willing to say they’re an alcoholic,” she says.

Friends and family need to become more vocal, too.

“Not asking (if you suspect abuse) is in some ways to be a silent part of the problem,” Clecak says.

Half of the calls to hotlines are made by frightened children.

It’s time to step up, says Gardner.

“There are places right here, ready and willing to provide assistance,” he says. “You can be part of the solution.”

Don’t step up, and there will be consequences for the entire county.

Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada talks about the Orange County Family Justice Center and its roll in helping the victims of domestic violence during a panel discussion at the opening of the Voices exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada talks about the Orange County Family Justice Center and its role in helping victims of domestic violence.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“The impact is broad and deep,” says Johnston. “A lot of societal ills are manifested from the home.”

Quezada sees it first hand.

“Kids who see the violence, sometimes they perpetuate the violence,” he says.

He believes he has part of the solution: The Orange County Family Justice Center. Based in Anaheim, the center is a one-stop-shop for victims, offering support with shelter, finances, restraining orders and attorneys. It also has the Kids Creating Change program. Young kids are taught that abuse, whether physical or verbal, is not acceptable.

Human Options has a program that teaches young girls to see the signs of a potential abuser; boys who are disrespectful, who want to be with you every single minute, who are controlling.

“Often a relationship starts with romance and slowly there is a change, where suddenly the person who is supposed to love you starts to tear you down little by little,” Clecak says.

She implores OC residents to raise their voices.

“You are a person of influence. Invite us to come and speak, spread the word.”

Quezada got the biggest applause of the night.

“Every one of you has a voice. You have the ability to go to (your City Council) podium and say, ‘I want a Family Justice Center in my city. Stop spending money on pretty trees or pretty trash cans.’ Let’s put a Family Justice Center together and we will help you set it up.”

Gardner ended the night with this message: “The stigma continues. The conversation needs to go on. This is a problem that will not go away on its own.”

Event sponsored by the Randy Higbee Gallery, Orange County Community Foundation and Orange County United Way. Hosting the event is Community Service Programs (CSP), Human Options, Laura’s House, Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation, A Window Between Worlds, and Women’s Transitional Living Center.

Community members attend a panel discussion on domestic violence at the opening of the Voices exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Community members attend the panel discussion about domestic violence at the opening of the “Voices” exhibit at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC