Denise Brown says she knows her sister Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered by her ex-husband O.J. Simpson, although a jury failed to convict him of the brutal 1994 crime.
"Deep down in my heart I know it," she said.
Brown has described herself as "just a mom from Laguna Beach" until that June day 14 years ago. After the murder Brown committed herself to raising awareness against domestic violence, which kills three women every day in the United States. She was the keynote speaker at Monday's 16th annual Rebuilding Lives Luncheon at the Concord Hilton, sponsored by Stand! Against Domestic Violence.
No one in her family had any idea that Nicole was being battered, Brown said in an interview before the luncheon. She remembered being in Nicole's bathroom with her one day and seeing a photo in a drawer of Nicole with a black eye.
"I said, 'My God, Nick, what is this?'" Brown recalled. "She said the makeup studio did it - he was making a movie then. And I said, 'It looks so real!' and put it back."
When Nicole was murdered, Brown told police there had been no violence in the Simpson marriage. Then she read Nicole's diary.
"She lived through 17 years of verbal, emotional and physical abuse," said Brown. "She lived a nightmare."
"It's not just us - there are a lot of families out there (who don't know what is happening)," she added.
Brown said she has found, after 13 years of speaking with women who have experienced abusive relationships, that they all have three things in common. "Hope - they hope things will be better - shame and fear."
They need to be educated to eliminate the shame, she said, explaining that the batterer chips away at their self esteem until the victims truly believe that no one can love them and they deserve the treatment they get.
For the batterer it's all about power and control, she noted.
"Girls need to be educated, 'You're the one who needs to walk away,'" she said. "The sad thing is women will jump into bed with a man after one week and then it's an emotional feeling. They sleep with them before they know who they are. Then - they think they can change them. But we can't change them."
Brown said she is hoping to start a national mural project, where artists would paint scenes on buildings to publicize the problem and the groups in the community that help.
"Nicole came to me in a dream," she said, explaining that this happened twice before, soon after her murder. This time Nicole told her to do murals.
"It could be a healing, empowering mural," said Brown. "The arts are healing." She thinks her Murals Around the World project could be done at little cost and provide important publicity for groups that help victims of domestic violence.
Stand! is doing wonderful work, she said, but the organization is not on the tip of everyone's tongue like other groups. This needs to change so women know how to get help instantly.
The Rebuilding Lives Luncheon also had a tribute to Catalina Torres, a Stand! success story who was murdered by her cousin's estranged ex-husband during a domestic violence dispute in September. He also fatally shot Martinez police Sgt. Paul Starzyk, who was recognized at the luncheon as well. Torres' tearful sisters addressed the crowd and told how important the organization had been in Catalina's life.
The annual Rollie Mullens Award went to the Contra Costa Office of Bay Area Legal Aid.
"Nicole focused the whole world's attention on domestic violence," Brown told the 500 people at the luncheon. "The two things I have learned in the last 13 years are, one, that I'm not alone in my loss; and, two, I'm not alone in my determination to eradicate domestic violence."
STOP THE VIOLENCE
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but the problem continues every day of every month.
Stand! Against Domestic Violence operates two shelters, which serve for emergency stays and for transitional housing after a woman has made the determination to remove herself from her violent situation. Due to a funding shortage only one of the shelters is currently open.
This confidential location is also where the organization's crisis line operates.
"We get 7,000 to 8,000 calls a year from victims," said Irit Umani, director of Intervention Services, adding that most calls come during the day. "They call when it's safe for them to call."
Training for the crisis line is 40-50 hours plus another 20 hours working alongside an experienced volunteer.
The 24-hour crisis line number is 1-888-215-5555. To volunteer, call 676-2945.