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
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."
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
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
'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
"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
"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."
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.