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Mother and daughter duo advocate for domestic violence survivors

Photo by Amna Shams Carmella Marrone (left), Veronica (center) and Martha Zupanic (right) coordinate the question and answer session at the Oct. 24 event.
Photo by Amna Shams
Carmella Marrone (left), Veronica (center) and Martha Zupanic (right) coordinate the question and answer session at the Oct. 24 event.

For years, Martha Zupanic, did not know how to escape her physically and emotionally abusive husband. After decades of a marriage full of pain and suffering, broken bones, hospital stays and fragile children, one day, she decided enough was enough.

“I didn’t want this man in my house anymore — it’s mine; my family, not his,” Zupanic said.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, on Oct. 24, Women and Work — a Queens College-based job and life-skills training program for women — hosted a panel and discussion on domestic violence victims and survivors.

“We’re here to break the silence,” Carmella Marrone, executive director and founder of Women and Work said. “We want to tell everyone out there that there is hope.”

Assuming the name of “Hope” — a tradition honored by Women and Work for all their annual guest speakers — Martha and her 23-year-old daughter Veronica, discussed the years of pain and turmoil they suffered and how they overcame it.

Proudly wearing purple — representing courage, survival and honor — Martha, who graduated from Women and Work in 2011, was funny, sharp and confident as she spoke.

“I’m a lady, so I’m not going to tell you my age,” she said. “Just say I’m…middle-aged!”

Her speech began after Marrone gave a presentation on domestic violence, what she calls “domestic terrorism.”

Every year, in New York City alone, 257,813 domestic violence incidents are reported; this averages to over 700 per day, according to Marrone. Despite this, there are only 2,208 emergency shelter beds available to women and their children citywide.

Martha says attending classes at Women and Work gave her the support she needed to end her cycle of abuse. She began devising a plan for herself and her son and daughter.

“I realized that this chain of misery needed to stop, and that’s when I realized that everything comes to you,” she said. “The doors are open. Just stop being afraid.”

Unfortunately, the chain of misery she refers to is her own daughter’s violently abusive relationship as a teenager. Veronica says that the controlling household she grew up in very much shaped her relationships as she became older.

By age 10, Veronica was suicidal and had low self-esteem. It wasn’t until her mother enrolled in the program and received help did she become better. She says, the strong support system showed her what was possible.

Martha now works as a real estate agent and works with many domestic violence organizations, as well as the mayor’s task force on examining domestic violence fatalities in New York City. Veronica is a spokesperson for children who suffer as silent victims and witnesses. She also works at General Oil Inc., as their first ever, female executive vice president.

Marrone — whom Martha calls her “shining star” — believes domestic violence is a pandemic, but it is not treated as such.

“If this were any other disease, everyone would be asking for a vaccine. ‘Where is the vaccine? Let me have it!’” Marrone said.

As of May 2012, Women and Work’s, White Ribbon Campaign — a campaign devoted to finding long term solutions to ending violence against women in which people are asked to pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent — came to a close. Since then, they have brainstormed a new campaign: The Prism Project.

“We’re calling it ‘The Prism Project’ because our last campaign dealt with the color white, and all the colors are filtered through a prism,” Marrone said.

The project is expected to begin in spring 2013.

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