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Lisa Gay Hamilton Acts To End Violence Against Women

By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

On The Practice, Lisa Gay Hamilton played an attorney dedicated to defending people's rights. As a woman, Hamilton is fighting to defend fellow women from becoming victims of physical and sexual violence.

"The UN has estimated that one out of every three women will raped or beaten in her lifetime," says Hamilton, who has been performing The Vagina Monologues for several years. "We are talking about a problem that is both shocking and epidemic."

Hamilton became active in helping stop violence against women after watching playwright Eve Ensler perform her one-woman show of the Monologues.

"It had a tremendous impact that it changed my life," Hamilton says. "I had never experienced this kind of open dialogue about my womanhood before. Eve speaks to women of all colors and ages and I felt because her message was not exclusionary she was personally talking to me."

Many women describe feeling the exact same way says Ensler.

"The Monologues has been a huge vagina miracle," says Ensler. "What is clear is women are responding to this dialogue with our vaginas. There are so many women who approach me after performances to share their stories. I wish I could say they were great stories of sexual fulfillment, fabulous orgasms and great relationship but the vast majority of stories are about battering and rape."

The onslaught of stories became "daunting" for Ensler and in 1997 she decided to use the show to help stop violence against women by creating Vagina Day or V-Day. In 2003, more than 1,000 V-Day events were held around the world to educate people about stopping violence against women.

Hamilton is one of these advocates.

Shortly after seeing the play, Hamilton began performing the Monologues in the three-person show with Calista Flockhart and Linda Ellerbee. But as open a dialogue as the provocative show invited, Hamilton began noticing that many women were not hearing Ensler's message of female empowerment.

"Most of the performances I participated in were an all white female audience," Hamilton notes. "I found that a little distressing because Eve's work is so inclusive of all women. I felt I wanted to really outreach into my community to involve more women of color. So I asked Eve and the V-Day organization if we could bring the Monologues to the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem."

Vagina power

The event was produced by Hamilton, Ensler and actress Rosie Perez and featured actresses of Asian, African and Latin heritage. The performance was filmed along with four other segments depicting V-Day events around the world for the documentary Until the Violence Stops. The one hour film premieres on Lifetime Television Tuesday February 17 at 10:00 PM ET/PT as part of the network's long-standing commitment to make a positive difference in women's lives.

Hamilton believes that the documentary and the Vagina Monologues are important because they allow women the freedom to come together and talk.

"For many of these women this is the first time that they have ever acknowledged their experience," Hamilton states. "That's why the Monologues and V-Days are so important - it allows women to speak. Being able to see that you're not alone allows you to join in a community and begin the journey to real healing."

And Ensler understands the great need for healing all too well.

"Being a survivor of violence myself I can tell you as a child my entire childhood was basically determined by violence," Ensler says. "I am a consequence of violence. Violence has a legacy. If you have been beaten or raped and you haven't dealt with it, then you will pass that on in some form or another to your children - either by being a perpetrator yourself or by being terrified and instilling terror in your children."

While approximately one-third of women will experience violence firsthand in their lifetimes, only about 16% of women who are victims of violence ever tell anyone or report it. This means that the Department of Justice estimates that in 2001 more than 588,000 women experienced attacks by an intimate partner could likely be five times higher.

The consequences of violence and the ensuing silence are devastating to individuals, families and communities. The harm is both physical and emotional.

One of the most important steps is getting the victim medical attention as soon as possible.

"The acute health problems are physical injuries as a result of violence and the possibility of the transmission of infection," reports Karen Coleman, a registered nurse as well as a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). "The possibility of a pregnancy is also serious as well as the possibility of HIV infection."


Following a rape, Coleman says she typically discusses the use of three groups of medications with rape victims. The first group is antibiotics to prevent the commonly known STDs like syphilis, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, hepatitis B and others.

The second group of medications is called emergency contraceptives. These are birth control pills that can be given up to 120 hours following a sexual assault that can prevent the victim from becoming pregnant.

"This is not the abortion pill," explains Coleman, who is the coordinator of the Westchester County SANE program. "Ideally, this medication is given within hours of the assault to prevent ovulation. If a woman doesn't ovulate, she cannot get pregnant. Since the pregnancy thus never actually starts, it is not an abortion."

Oral contraceptive pills, Prevent and Plan B also inhibit the ability of the egg and sperm to come together and can inhibit fertilization of the egg. If it is given later on, it inhibits the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

'The third group that we administer in New York State is called HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis," Coleman says. "If initiated within 36 hours of the sexual assault, they can possibly prevent the rape victim from getting HIV." These prophylactic measures are antiviral drugs usually given to people with HIV infection or AIDS.

But Coleman says the most common injury that examiners see following a rape is no injury at all.

"There's a myth out there that there has to be significant injury or genital injury in order for a woman to have been raped," Coleman notes. "My experience in over 200 exams is that most of the women have no visible injury to the naked eye. Of those who do have visible injuries, most have what we call non-genital injuries to the face, arms, legs and back."

Coleman believes the Lifetime documentary as well as the Vagina Monologues help promote a safer environment for women to seek medical attention.

"My hope is that women who have been victims of sexual assault or rape will seek medical attention," Coleman says. "Women need to not be afraid to talk about their experience and the public has to believe women when they do talk about it."

"To be able to ask for help is vitally important to victims of violence," Hamilton states. "The more we can talk about this in an open and supportive environment the greater chance we have to affect real change and healing."

Ensler believes that V-Days offer the opportunity to end violence once and for all.

"I want people to know that the violence has to stop," Ensler says. "It is the central issue impacting every human being on this planet. When women are safe and free, all of us get to be safe and free."

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 2/22/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 2/22/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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