You may know Robin McGraw as the tough-love, advice-giving, right-hand-woman of Phil McGraw, of Dr. Phil show fame, but this mom and grandma is also a successful philanthropist, two-time No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, renowned public speaker and, to top it off, a domestic violence advocate. Robin founded the When Georgia Smiled: The Robin McGraw Revelation Foundation, in her words, “to create and advance programs that help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault live healthy, safe and joy-filled lives.” She recently shared with DomesticShelters.org more about her passion project.
DomesticShelters.org: Why did you decide to start the When Georgia Smiled Foundation, and how did it get its name?
Robin McGraw: It is infinitely powerful and inspiring to witness the stories of women and men who have not only found the strength to leave an abusive relationship, but to reach out to help other victims garner that strength as well. I have sat in the audience for every taping of the nearly 2,500 episodes of the Dr. Phil show and being witness to these stories made it clear that I could not just sit back and do nothing.
In 2010, we launched a nationwide “End the Silence on Domestic Violence” campaign. Enough funds were raised through this campaign to reopen the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition [in Grass Valley, California], which had been forced to eliminate shelter services as a result of state budget cuts. The incredible response the campaign received moved me to take action and dedicate the next chapter of my life to this cause and, in October 2013, I proudly launched my foundation, When Georgia Smiled.
I believe that I am the woman, the mother and the grandmother I am today because of my mother, Georgia, and it was in her honor that I named my foundation. While she was never the victim of domestic abuse, her path was challenging at times. She tackled every hardship with a smile on her face, and it was her strength and her compassion that allowed me to live in peace and know that I was loved. It is my hope that I can help to bring that same sense of peace and joy to those who are suffering because of domestic abuse.
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DS: Has domestic violence personally touched your life—your own friends or family—in any way?
McGraw: Since embracing this cause, I’ve been surprised by the number of women who have come forward to share their personal experiences of abuse with me, including some of the esteemed members of my advisory board. When you begin having the conversations, you realize exactly how far-reaching the problem is—and it’s occurring closer to home than most of us probably want to admit. The fact is that one in four women will fall victim to abuse before they reach the young age of 25, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled it an American epidemic, yet it’s the most underreported phenomenon in our society! Domestic violence truly is a silent epidemic, and one that doesn’t discriminate. Anyone—regardless of race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic status—can be a victim of domestic violence. It is a pervasive issue that affects all walks of life.
DS: How important do you feel it is for celebrities like yourself to speak out about ending domestic violence, especially in the wake of several professional sports stars seemingly getting a pass for incidents of domestic violence?
McGraw: Speaking out about this issue is of the utmost importance. Sadly, we seem to be bombarded lately by stories in the media about domestic violence, but these stories have sparked a much-needed national conversation. While no one would wish for the topic to be vaulted to the forefront of daily conversation in the way it has been, we, nonetheless, have an unprecedented opportunity to educate men and women, young and old, about boundaries and alternatives to violence. Breaking the silence about this ugly truth in our society is a critical part of the much-needed solution to this long-ignored problem.
DS: Why did you feel it important for When Georgia Smiled to partner with Male Survivor? Do you feel like male survivors of domestic violence are often overlooked, or treated differently by shelters and advocates?
McGraw: Male victims of domestic violence face a large number of obstacles, not the least of which is limited resources. Many shelters don’t have the capability to serve both women and men. Unless a shelter has the appropriate resources available, like separate bathroom facilities, it cannot accept adult males, or even families with teenage boys. It is important to acknowledge and address this gap in resources because everyone deserves safety and to live a life filled with peace and happiness. [Male Survivor is holding Weekends of Recovery throughout 2015, open to any male 18 or over who has been sexually victimized as a child or as an adult. Click the link for more information.]
DS: Can you tell me about your Aspire app? What does it offer and how is it helping survivors?
McGraw: Our Aspire News app is a breakthrough smartphone app designed to provide tools for those escaping abusive relationships. This app is the first of its kind, and a major development in domestic violence safety. It allows you to send a pretyped or a prerecorded audio message to multiple trusted, preselected contacts, or even 911. Once you press the go button, your phone will also start recording audio of everything that is going on in the room, so you have actual audio evidence of threats or abuse. Additionally, the app provides articles on domestic violence and other tools readily available to you at all times, including the Aspire curriculum.
The Aspire News app provides an invaluable, unmatched resource to provide safety to those who find themselves in danger. It is completely free and available for download in the iTunes store, through Google Play and at WhenGeorgiaSmiled.org.
I’m proud to share that the app has had nearly a quarter million downloads around the world including in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and India. I’m proud to share that it was recognized on Capitol Hill by the National Health Collaborative on Violence and Abuse as one of the two apps in 2014 most effective in the fight to end domestic violence.
DS: How can people get involved and help out with the When Georgia Smiled Foundation?
McGraw: A great first step is to get informed! I encourage everyone to download the Aspire News app and Aspire Initiative curriculum to educate and arm themselves with the tools to be a part of the solution towards ending this epidemic.
DS: What would you like to see the When Georgia Smiled Foundation accomplish next?
McGraw: Our work only has just begun! We are deeply committed to continuing to break the silence that allows so many to be victimized in our society. We will continue to bring more people into the conversation and work to remove the stigma of shame that surrounds the issue. Of course, as we did with our app, we will also continue to find new ways to support people where and when they need it most.
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