While there has been progress made in how we recognize and address domestic and sexual violence, the importance of staying vigilant for those most vulnerable among us continues. Heidi (pronounced Heydi) Figueroa-Vélez, bilingual family advocate and forensic interviewer with Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center, dedicates her time and effort to exactly that mission as a piece of Safe Harbor’s overall goal of helping children and those affected by abuse across many forms. This motivation has led Safe Harbor to collaborate with One Billion Rising to host a bilingual production of “The Vagina Monologues,” a play written by Eve Ensler in 1996 about a variety of issues that affect women and children, at the Barrymore Theatre tonight.
It’s a production that Figueroa-Vélez feels is as relevant as ever.
“Some of the monologues are hilarious and super funny,” said Figueroa-Vélez. “Some are very powerful because they’re interviews with different women, but those issues continue to happen. Those interviews that happened whenever she made the book continue to happen today in 2023. The same issues of sexual violence, using rape or sexual abuse as a model of war against women and children, and violence against transgender people are going to be part of this.”
These issues and their effects are not at all far away from the work Figueroa-Vélez and her colleagues engage with on a daily basis. The intentional choice of including Spanish language in the production recognizes another barrier many Spanish-speaking women and children face when looking for support around experiences of domestic and sexual violence. Figueroa-Vélez spoke to how important it is that the production will directly benefit their ability to provide resources around health, legal representation, and navigating new environments.
“At Safe Harbor, we’ve been getting more and more clients that are from South America,” Figueroa-Vélez said. “They came here to the United States with the hopes of having a better life. As we know, they are already vulnerable for the situations that they’re living in, in their country. Once they get here, that makes them easy targets to become victims of crimes again. So at Safe Harbor, we work with children, we provide forensic interviews for kids that have been victimized in some way, whether it’s sexual or physical abuse, witnesses of domestic violence, or any other crime. Also, we interview adults with developmental disabilities and intellectual disabilities.”
With additional support from organizations such as the Rape Crisis Center (RCC), UNIDOS, and Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), Safe Harbor and One Billion Rising are hoping that this production of The Vagina Monologues will speak to the community at large while still recognizing the diversity of women and children who experience abuse. There will also be art available to purchase at the Barrymore tonight. All proceeds from the artwork that was created at Vagina Workshops in the month leading up to the show will go to helping clients of Safe Harbor. Figueroa-Vélez is hoping mostly that this production will help people recognize how close to home these issues are, and help people realize that even if the issues are not at your front door, you can still be aware and help prevent them.
“I tell my friends and my boss and the people I work with, we really need to start acting already,” said Figueroa-Vélez. “Because we know what needs to happen, and we know the changes that need to be made. We know what needs to happen, we just need to do it. We need to start working as a community together. We need to stop talking about it, and we need to start doing the job. So hopefully, after the show, we get people to continue to talk about it, but please do something about it.”
Although it may not be often, the moments people are able to prevent or call attention to situations of sexual and domestic violence are crucial. This is especially meaningful at a time when backlash to progress around women’s rights and recognition of patriarchal oppression continues to undermine and attack that progress. While it is important to continue the work, it is similarly important to recognize and call out backlash as an effort to maintain or revert back to oppressive systems. While Figueroa-Vélez felt strongly about focusing on that aspect of the show, perhaps the most important part to her was in recognizing the resilience and strength it takes to continue on after experiences of sexual and domestic abuse.
“There is no shame in being victimized,” Figueroa-Vélez said. “There’s no shame in just wanting to love and be loved back. There’s no shame in that. There’s shame for those who abuse their power. Those are the only ones who need to feel ashamed for what they do or did. I want this event to be for people to continue to talk about these issues, and for people to act and finally do something about these issues, but also to empower women to finally let go of that pain and that shame that really doesn’t belong to them, because there’s no shame in that.”
The bilingual production of The Vagina Monologues hopes to continue raising awareness and calling people to action, while also serving as an empowering experience for those who may find themselves able to relate to the material itself. All their proceeds for the tickets go to help immigrant families to seek help at Safe Harbor.
To learn more about the bilingual production of The Vagina Monologues and purchase tickets, check out the event page on the Barrymore Theater website here.