WNC Artists Organize Benefit to Raise Awareness About Domestic and Sexual Abuse

written by Bill Kopp

With a stated goal of honoring the courage and strength of survivors, a new local initiative, Verbal Purple is mounting its first public event to raise funds and awareness, supporting those affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse. The gala music and arts event took place June 9 at One World Brewing West.

Verbal Purple isn't another agency; it's the grassroots awareness platform launched by singer-producer Allison "A.G." Hammond. "Verbal Purple is not really an organization," says Hammond. "It's more of an autonomous awareness promotional engine." Assisted by her good friend and local artist Jenna Jaffe, Hammond launched the initiative as part of her own efforts to support the work of local agencies like Helpmate and Our Voice.

Helpmate (helpmateonline.org) provides emergency shelter, counseling ans support for domestic violence (DV) survivors; Our VOICE (ourvoicenc.org) offers similar aid for victims of sexual abuse (SA). And Hammond has first-hand experience with the support provided by those agencies.

"When I first came to Asheville after I got away from my abusive ex of 25 years, I was very alone," she recalls. "I felt like I didn't have a voice; I had no one to go to." One day, a friend told her about Helpmate. "The first entity that helped me was Helpmate; I didn't have anything, so I went there and I got toiletries. I hadn't realized that they were there to help survivors." Despite her own personal experience, Hammond didn't then realize just how widespread incidents of SA and DV are in Buncombe County.

Cases on the increase
An assortment of statics helps to illustrate the magnitude of the problem. In 2013, Buncombe County's Child Protective Services reported 400 cases involving domestic violence. That same year, the county's 911 line received 7,230 calls involving domestic violence and nonprofit Pisgah Legal Services handled 882 legal cases to prevent domestic violence.

Another Buncombe County report found that between 2004 and 2011, 64 percent of female homicides were domestic violence related. The combined number of calls to crisis lines for domestic violence (Helpmate) and sexual assault (Our VOICE) in Buncombe County increased dramatically from 2013 (1,458 calls) to over 3,300 calls in 2017. For the same period, the number of survivors served by those agencies rose from 2,012 individuals to nearly 3,200.

More recently, as reported in the January 13, 2023 Mountain Xpress, "the number of callers referred to the county's lethality assessment program, which screens for domestic violence risk, has increased steadily since fiscal year 2018-19." The news item also noted an increase in the severity of those calls.

Both women have real-world experience working with those helping organizations. Jaffe was a volunteer at Our VOICE, helping with art and collage workshops. And Hammond worked with a Helpmate's "Still Standing" initiative. "We created a video to educate the police and sheriff deputies about the survivor's viewpoint," she says, "to help them do their jobs better." Verbal Purple provides a more structured means for Hammond and Jaffe to turn inspiration into action.

Purple and teal
The name of Hammond's initiative ties in with its mission. "Purple is the color of the domestic violence ribbon," she explains. "And in my experience, I view purple as an uplifting color." She says that Verbal Purple is an action-oriented entity designed to give survivors and victims a voice. "Because when you have action that shows victims and survivors that they're supported, they're not alone."

Teal is the color of the ribbon crated to increase awareness of sexual violence. Together, those two colors form part of the visual theme of the Verbal Purple event. "All of the fashion designs I'm creating [for the event] are purple and teal," says Jaffe. Describing herself as a survivor of SA, she notes that some of the models who will showcase those designs are survivors as well.

In addition to the fashion show, the Verbal Purple benefit featured a silent auction plus female-empowering visual art. And several speakers shared their personal perspectives. "I've heard from two friends," Jaffe says. "They both said, 'I want to speak at this event. I want to talk about my story.' And that's why Verbal Purple isn't just an event: it's a blanket for awareness."

Live music was a big part of the benefit as well. The entertainment lineup featured well known local and regional artists who support the initiative's work. Performers schedule to appear include Marisa Blake, Kim Butler, Reggie Headen, Kim Jade, John Allen Keck, Landers & Borthwick, Melissa McKinney and Ashli Rose.

A house band backed up many of those artists. "They include members from Empire Strikes Brass," says Hammond. "Nik Hope on drums and Lenny Pettinelli on keys, plus Jonathan Lloyd of the JLloyd MashUp and Tim Morgan on trumpet." Bassist Jade and guitarist Rahm Mandelkorn of Rahm Squad are also members of the house band.

"It will be very empowering and uplifting music," Jaffe said ahead of the event. "Feel-good, sing-alongs featuring covers and original music." Jaffe noted that both she and Hammond wouldl perform, too. In addition, Comedian Christian Lee Villanueva did standup in between music sets, and Leeda "Lyric" Jones DJ'd at the turntables. Drag performer Ganymede served as host.

"When a survivor walks in," Hammond says, "they're going to see the community there. They'll realize, 'Hey, they're here for me.'" While Verbal Purple's event is primarily an awareness raiser, fundraising is a goal as well. Hammond declines to share revenue projections for the gala. "We have no idea," she admits. "I just want to do it and let it be what it is."

Future initiatives
Even before Verbal Purple's inaugural public event took place, Hammond and Jaffe were already at work planning their next happening. "We're working on an event for October," Hammond says. "It's going to be more of a forum for the survivors to speak about their experience." They're also beginning the search for sponsorship, funding and volunteers for that event.

Hammond says that she has no plans to formalize Verbal Purple as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity. Instead, her "promotional engine" concept will continue to be applied to support the work of existing organizations. "We're not experts," Hammond readily admits; she says that anyone in need of help should reach out directly to Our VOICE and/or Helpmate.

She notes also that Verbal Purple does have a Memorandum of Agreement with the Reginald & Dionne Smith Foundation. "Verbal Purple will be doing future events with the RDSF concerning DV, SA, and mental health," Hammond says.

"I want people to know that they have a community, that they have resources," says Hammond. She emphasizes that domestic violence and sexual abuse are directed not only at women in heterosexual relationships. "It's all across the board: men are abused by their male partners, women are abused by female partners, people abuse each other, incest happens, and people are abused by priests." She says that Verbal Purple will empower people. "They can not only survive," she says, "but thrive, move on and heal."

Anyone wanting to help, done and/or volunteer for Verbal Purple can visit facebook.com/verbalpurple, email verbalpurple@gmail.com or phone 828-545-4215.

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