When most of us think of domestic violence, we picture black and blue marks hidden under sleeves or cruel threats hurled over the dining room table. That’s something Kerry Washington is looking to change.
Yes, that Kerry Washington. The actress known best for her role as an ass-kicking fixer on ABC’s Scandal rescued her fictional best friend, Abby, from an abusive relationship on-screen, and now she has turned her sights on helping real women in similar situations. Her goal? To shine a light on an oft-ignored side to domestic violence: financial abuse.
The busy mom and actress has stepped up to be spokeswoman for the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, a fundraising campaign aimed at both increasing awareness of the financial factor of domestic abuse and providing victims with resources to escape. She sat down with SheKnows to explain what financial abuse really is, why she got involved and, of course, a little bit of Scandal:
SheKnows: Tell us how you got involved in the Purple Purse initiative.
Kerry Washington: They’d been doing this for a couple of years, and they were looking for somebody who could be an ambassador, who had some experience and passion around ending violence against women and girls, which I have been doing for years with an organization called VDay. They also wanted somebody who has somewhat of a fashion profile — you know, a real love of fashion — so they approached me.
Before that, I’d never really heard of financial abuse, although it makes so much sense when you hear it defined. I was really kind of blown away.
SK: Can you explain what the concern is with financial abuse?
KW: It’s the No. 1 reason women stay in abusive relationships — because they’re not able to take care of themselves financially. It’s also the No. 1 reason why women go back. Although I’ve been doing this work for a long time, and there are so many ways that we have to work to eradicate domestic violence and violence against women, this felt like such a tangible way to make a difference. It really is about unlocking the No. 1 thing that enables women to get away and stay away.
You’re able to make a real difference. If a woman’s able to step away financially, she’s able to begin to do all the other work.
When somebody shows up at your job and jeopardizes your job, yelling and screaming, that’s financial abuse. It threatens your ability to take care of yourself. Destroying someone’s credit. Limiting someone’s access to credit cards or cash, limiting access to transportationn. All of these are forms of control.
SK: Since you started working with domestic violence victims, what’s been that moment that’s moved you most?
KW: I really think seeing how someone can transform their [life]. From what I’ve been told, the scariest part of being part of a domestic abuse relationship is the idea that you cannot escape and you cannot get help, that feeling of being stuck.
Whenever I talk to survivors who have lived through that and are on the other side and their whole perspective on life is a complete 180, I’m just so inspired. I think all of us in our lives feel like we can’t make a difference or we can’t make a change or it’s too late or we’re too tired or we’re too scared. To meet somebody who’s able to harness the level of courage it takes to walk away and to choose your own life and your own health, the well-being of your family, is really inspiring.
SK: Our motto here at SheKnows is “women inspiring women.” What does that mean to you?
KW: It’s one of the reasons I love that we’re doing this work through the symbol of the purple purse. You know, it’s hard to talk about a black eye. It’s hard to talk about a stolen bank account. These are not easy to address, but women love to talk to other women about fashion. A lot of women; I don’t want to stereotype! A lot of women really enjoy that. It’s an easier entry to talk about the issue and not have to make it about the hard stuff at first, and really make it about the awareness through this really powerful symbol.
SK: Speaking of fashion, we have to ask. What’s been your favorite Scandal outfit?
KW: I have a few! I always go back to that very first white gown that I wore in Season 1, at the very first state dinner that we ever shot on the show. It was a Calvin Klein, right off the runway — we asked if we could borrow it for the show. It was our very first black-tie event that we shot, and it holds a special place in my heart.
SK: We take it you didn’t get to keep it?
KW: I didn’t! I did not get to keep it!
SK: Do you keep any of them?
KW: You know, I don’t. Her aesthetic is very different from mine, and it really helps differentiate myself from her — which is important that I don’t bring home every day! I try to keep our closets pretty separate.
And you know, we never want to do fashion for fashion’s sake on the show. We really have a very [big] closet for Olivia — a much bigger closet than I’ve ever had — but in each episode, we reuse at least one item that we’ve worn before, because we don’t want to give the idea that this woman is just wall-to-wall fashion. She rewears them like any of us do.
SK: Love the recent episode where Leo comes in and tells her she has to go to the galleria and get real clothes.
KW: That was one of my favorite lines so far this season! Get thee to the galleria!
A purple purse can’t be bought at the galleria, but it can be purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue for $350, with 25 percent of the proceeds going to the Purple Purse Foundation. Purple Purse charms are also available for $10. Donations to the Purple Purse Foundation are tax deductible.
If you need help due to domestic violence or need help because of financial abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.