Even women in showbiz are not immune to the reality of violence against women. Oprah Winfrey, who is candid about abuse she suffered as a child, is reliving it again — this time from within the walls of her own Leadership Academy for Girls.
Located just south of Johannesburg, the Academy opened earlier this year in an effort to help the young girls of South Africa rise above their otherwise dire circumstances. Now a school matron is accused of sexually abusing at least one of the girls.
Winfrey’s unfortunate situation is hot-off-the-press proof of playwright Eve Ensler’s view that “violence against women is a global problem. Your address doesn’t keep you safe.”
Indeed, the statistics are grim. “According to the United Nations, one in three women are raped, assaulted or abused at some point in their life,” Ensler says. “That includes the one in three women reading this article. You have to kind of take a moment and think about the scope of that. Girls and women are not safe anywhere.”
Whether it’s genital mutilation in regions of Africa and the Middle East, the physical persecution of women who are critical of Islamic law or instances of rape and incest in the U.S., violence against women takes many forms.
Staring down this omnipresent problem is a cadre of women in entertainment who have heard the victims’ cries and are doing what they can to help:
- Christina Ricci is national spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (Rainn), the nation’s largest antisexual assault organization.
- Mira Sorvino is official ambassador for Amnesty Intl.’s “Stop Violence Against Women” program.
- Ensler, creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” is the founder of V-Day, an organization dedicated to stopping violence against women and girls worldwide; soon to be celebrating its 10th anniversary, it is active in 112 countries. Actresses who have come out in support of Ensler’s work include Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Salma Hayek, Rosario Dawson, Glenn Close and Isabella Rossellini, to name but a few.
“Acting is a great career,” Ricci says. “But the work that I do for Rainn, that is what’s important and that’s what I am most proud of. Putting my celebrity to good use, doing something to help — that is my priority.”
As the mother of two young children, Sorvino is equally committed to her work for Amnesty Intl. “I cannot not do it,” she says. “When I learned about what was happening in Darfur, I had to lend my voice, however small. The unspeakable horror must be spoken. As Elie Wiesel has said, silence never helps the victims, only the perpetrators.”