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Out of the Shadows

By: Katie Morell

Just before 6 o’clock on a Tuesday in September, Nicole Kidman stepped out of a car and onto a pink carpet in San Francisco’s Presidio. After smiling for photos, she walked into 100 Montgomery Street to be the guest of honor at a benefit dubbed Big Little Night, put on by Futures Without Violence, one of the nation’s leading charities working to end violence against women and children.

Two days before, Kidman won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of a victim of domestic abuse in the Monterey-set HBO series Big Little Lies, which she executive-produced. The superstar, taking the stage in conversation with ABC News’ Deborah Roberts, reflected on her victory, calling it “meaningful and deeply emotional. But I wanted to stand up there and say something.”

Kidman is a longtime ally of Futures Without Violence, which was founded by Esta Soler in the early 1980s as a grassroots effort to help women and children in violent home situations. The amount of growth and influence it has achieved in that time frame cannot be understated. While headquarters is in the Presidio, the group has offices in Boston and Washington, and has been instrumental in passing landmark 1994 legislation including the Violence Against Women Act—the latter making critical funding available and improving the criminal justice response to domestic violence.

Today, the charity’s impact is wide-reaching and incorporates training for educators and parents, including a 12-week program for high school coaches called “Coaching Boys Into Men” that’s been adopted by several San Francisco schools.

Recently, Futures Without Violence helped to produce the critically acclaimed Netflix documentary Audrie & Daisy, which details the lives of two young girls from different parts of the country who were sexually assaulted in high school and endured public bullying associated with their assaults.

“Sixty percent of children are exposed to violence,” says Rachael Smith Fals, senior vice president of public engagement and corporate relations for Futures Without Violence. “And this issue knows no bounds. People think it happens in ‘those neighborhoods’ and to ‘those people,’ but we are deconstructing that myth. This happens everywhere and everyone is part of the solution. It is happening next door right now.”

Patti Lee-Hoffman is proof. Now a high-powered entrepreneur who lives just south of San Francisco, it’s impossible to see upon meeting that she is a domestic abuse survivor. Her story is relatable to many women. When she was 17 years old, she lived with an abusive partner, and that person beat her for four straight years.

“He was the state wrestling champion—I never had a chance,” she says. “The minute I got my first paycheck after college, I hired an attorney and put a restraining order against him.”

Several years ago, a friend and fellow abuse survivor introduced Lee-Hoffman to Futures Without Violence, and she’s been a supporter ever since. She also shared her story at Kidman’s Big Little Night. “It was the first time I went public and I got very emotional, which was surprising after all this time,” she recalls. “I’m now 61 and I didn’t know it was still so close to the surface.”

Among its many initiatives and policy work, Futures Without Violence plans to open a permanent interactive learning center at 100 Montgomery to teach the public about the intricacies of violence and trauma and debunk many myths.

“We want to expose how things happen and get to the root of it,” says Smith Fals of the center, slated to be unveiled in late 2018–early 2019. “There is a lot of talk about bullying and ‘problem children,’ but there is a deeper story about why this happens. We want this learning center to be on the must-visit list for everyone who lives in and comes through San Francisco.”

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