Denise Brown shines spotlight on domestic violence

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“Educate yourself, educate your friends, get the awareness out there to everybody so we can stop the cycle of violence.”

This message was spoken by Denise Brown, sister of Nicole Brown-Simpson, whose murder in 1994 sparked the infamous O.J. Simpson trial. Brown’s message of domestic violence awareness was given to a full house Monday at Penn State’s Heritage Hall.

“I truly believe zero tolerance is the way to go,” she said. “It’s got to be zero tolerance. You can’t go out there and start pushing someone around and thinking that’s OK.”

Brown told her story of growing up with Nicole, from their birth in Germany to coming to the U.S. at an early age. Being immigrants and not knowing how to speak English, the sisters had a strong bond and were protective of each other.

Twenty years ago, Nicole was taken from her. “It still kills me every time I say it,” she said.

After Nicole’s death, her family found her diaries and notes detailing the abuse she suffered by her husband. Brown started reading the diaries, asking herself why her sister didn‘t say anything, why she didn’t tell her family that was happening in her life.

“Because it was a dirty little secret that nobody talks about, that nobody wants to talk about,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to talk about.”

After that tragedy, she said, she made a commitment to her sister to do whatever she could to help.

“That’s why I travel,” she said. “That’s why I go to shelters.”

Domestic violence was a cycle Brown knew nothing about, she said. So she learned. She talked to victims and survivors. She learned that domestic violence was a cycle of power and control.

She said she travels the world, doing the best she can to bring awareness to communities and teaching people what they can do to implement different programs.

Brown does a lot of traveling in October, because it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she said. Penn State was her first stop.

Domestic violence is everyone’s business, she said. Too often, people are willing to look the other way, an attitude that may cost a life. But Brown encouraged those in the audience to do whatever they could.

“That’s not something you want,” she said. “That’s not something you want on your conscience, ‘If I just would have called.’ ”

Sarah Jane DeHaas, of Altoona, asked Brown how she’s dealt with the anger of losing her sister. Brown admitted she was angry for about 14 years afterward.

She hated to be in the spotlight, she said. “That kind of put me out here into speaking about domestic violence,” she said, “and put me out here trying to educate people and myself.”

She also praised the efforts of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, commending their “amazing staff.”

Jennifer Pencek, program coordinator for the Center for Women Students at Penn State, said she wanted to do a big event that highlighted domestic violence awareness month.

“I want students to think about it, because I don’t think it’s something they really walk about and don’t consider some of the impacts,” she said. “Everyone knows someone who’s been impacted by this, even if they don’t know they know someone.”

Prior to Brown’s presentation, Ryan Locaitis, strategic associate director with Verizon Wireless, presented a $25,000 check to Penn State for the work it’s done in domestic violence over the years.

The check was presented in part of Verizon’s Hopeline Program, which provides donated, refurbished phones to victims and survivors of domestic violence.