In the early 1990s, I was in the music business when I met Donna Ferrato, a photographer who was sent on the road with one of the bands I worked with – Def Leppard. Over the course of a couple of days traveling with the band, she told me that when not photographing rock stars, she was documenting domestic violence. She showed me her book, Living With the Enemy, and explained how she started a nonprofit organization – Domestic Abuse Awareness Project or DAAP – to draw people’s attention to the issues surrounding domestic violence.
Within a few weeks, I was traveling to her apartment after my day job to help her run DAAP. Our main activity was to provide displays of images from Donna’s book to battered women’s shelters and organizations addressing the issues of domestic violence to be used as the focus of a fundraising event. In the wake of the O.J. Simpson trials, Donna’s photographs appeared in national publications and on the cover of Time magazine because of her extensive archive of images bearing witness to the devastation of domestic violence.
I went from working within the heavy metal music industry that grossly objectified women as part of the entertainment to working with Donna educating people about the prevalence of domestic violence and the reality of the situations women and children find themselves in at the hands of abusers. We had the honor of working with then Mayor Giuliani and his team to produce New York City transit posters featuring Donna’s images as well as then Governor Cuomo and his wife Matilda Cuomo to create PSAs about domestic violence.
Meeting and working with Donna Ferrato changed my life. She infused me with the confidence that I had a voice, that I mattered, that I could make a different in the world. I admired her tenacity. She never took “No” for an answer because she knew her cause was worthy. I loved being witness to her artistic process and how she applied her vision and photographic talents to do good and to help others.
Donna and DAAP influenced me to focus on a mission in my life and work – to empower women. When I started my company Cybergrrl, Inc. in the mid-90s as well as Webgrrls International to educate women about the Internet, my main goal was to provide women with the tools, information and network they needed to succeed. All the books I’ve written are “how-to” books to share knowledge and the bulk of the work and writing I do now is to help inform, empower and inspire others.
If I hadn’t met Donna, I am certain my path would have been quite different. I attribute my desire to make a difference in the world through my own art – writing – to her. I’m excited to see how Donna continues to put out the tough questions and tough answers about domestic violence, and I wanted to share information about her latest project: “I Am Unbeatable.” “I Am Unbeatable–Documenting and Celebrating Stories of Empowerment: Photographs by Donna Ferrato,” will be on display at Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery Sept. 12 through Dec. 4. Her latest exhibit focuses on women who have left their abusers.
Here’s what Donna says about her project:
The “I Am Unbeatable” campaign is an appeal to young women and girls to know their rights: Their right to feel worthy, loved, and safe in any relationship. Their right to get away from an abusive relationship. Their right to have zero tolerance for any abuse. We must teach young women and girls not to feel sorry for the boyfriends, partners or husbands who are hurting them and trying to tear them down. Abusive partners must be stopped. Society must surround women and girls who are trying to escape intimate violence and defend their rights to an abuse-free love and abuse-free life.