Bringing attention to domestic abuse

Usually, people are more inclined to pay attention to an issue or a cause when a celebrity gets involved. Recognizing this, Ben Atherton-Zeman created his one-man play, Voices of Men, in which he addresses the need for men to stand up and speak out against violence against women.

“Let’s see more celebrity males treating their partners with dignity and respect,” Atherton-Zeman said during his live acting and mixed-media presentation Thursday night at the FAD building. “Let’s see them do it publicly. Let’s see more celebrity males take on these issues as their issues.”

Taking on different “macho” personalities such as Rocky Balboa, Sean Connery’s James Bond, Mel Gibson and Austin Powers, Atherton-Zeman plays out how each man comes to his own realization that while their own macho behaviors may not be outright abusive toward women, they certainly don’t contribute to a culture of respecting women and promoting non-violence against them.

Atherton-Zeman said it was “intentional to show role models of men having an ‘a-ha’ moment, saying, ‘OK, I need to change my own behavior.’ Each man sort of gets a grasp of this particular violence in the world and wants to stand up in the world, but also gets a little picture on, ‘Oh, I guess I have contributed to this violence in some small way. I guess I need to be accountable personally as well as stand up publicly.'”

While Atherton-Zeman did a costume change for each character, the theater would go dark and stirring PSAs that depict violence against women, and men speaking out against violence against women were shown.

The program was created and conceptualized with Atherton-Zeman’s interactions with victims of domestic violence in mind.

“They let me know that very few men were raising their voice against this violence,” he said. “They let me know they wanted me to do something about it.”

Atherton-Zeman’s presentation was sponsored by the women’s studies department, the Harrell Center and The Spring of Tampa Bay Inc.

The Spring’s aim in bringing Voices of Men to USF was “to reach the campus population,” executive director at The Spring Linda Oberhaus said. “We do a program at The Spring, a teen dating violence program called ‘Peace In Action’ and ‘Love Shouldn’t Hurt,’ so we go in to the middle and high schools. But this is our first opportunity really to reach out to the campus.”

However, men can make changes in their everyday environments, Oberhaus said.

“There are all kinds of things men can do,” she said, “in locker rooms, on football teams, on college campuses, even out in the community to stop sexism and violence against women. I think until men take a stand, the violence won’t stop.”

Another thing men can do, Atherton-Zeman said, is to wear a white ribbon to signify they are taking a stand against violence committed against women.

Some students who attended the performance had experienced abuse in their families.

“I kind of grew up in those kind of situations with my mom,” junior psychology major Maria Dapolito said. “My dad and my stepdad both were abusive. My stepdad has changed big time. My dad passed away.”

Dapolito said the presentation was enlightening and entertaining.

“I had no idea the amount of abuse that actually was present. No clue,” she said. “He kept my attention the entire time.”

Esther Beck, a student at the Ybor campus of Hillsborough Community College, came to earn extra credit for a class. However, she also decided to come because she had experienced abuse at the hands of her father in the Philippines.

“I would have come even if it was not,” Beck said, “because, like I said, I know what it’s about.”

Beck said programs such as Atherton-Zeman’s are important.

“It’s good for everybody to learn about this,” Beck said. “They should have this in schools for children.”

The important thing is to move past fear of the abuser to stop abuse for future generations, Beck said.

“If you can get that fear out of you and go forward on it, you won’t be scared of them no more,” she said. “You know what steps to take. So it’s good for people to have these kind of places to step forward. I broke the cycle. My son don’t hit his kids either.”

Though Atherton-Zeman would like to see men speak out against violence against women and violence end altogether, he sees it as a day-by-day process.

“It would be nice to have big change happen now,” he said. “Every day we wait is a day that three more women are killed by their partners. Every day we wait, every 12 seconds we wait, every two minutes we wait is another woman to whom violence is committed against by men.

“I feel a great sense of urgency. Realistically, yeah, I think it’s going to be small steps.”

Atherton-Zeman said the work being done to enhance awareness at USF and in the Tampa Bay area moves him.

“To learn about the Advocacy Program here at USF and the work that they do on campus to change the culture – not just about physical rape, but about coercion or about men who, when a woman says no, will keep trying, keep trying, keep trying until she changes her mind, wear her down,” he said. “They talk to folks on campus about not just men who beat up their girlfriends, but about men who control their girlfriends.”

“It’s so impressive the work that is being done here on this campus and here with the The Spring and just in Florida.”

For more information, visit Atherton-Zeman’s Web site,, or The Spring’s Web site, or call The Spring’s help line at (813) 247-SAFE.