Why 150 women dressed like Audrey Hepburn to shed light on domestic abuse

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A seemingly fun, even quaint image — 150 women decked out in little black dresses, pearls, sunglasses and updos channeling Audrey Hepburn —is sending a serious message about domestic violence.

A Chicago-produced public service campaign, “Hidden Faces of Abuse,” wasin the works long before NFL football stars’ recent misdeeds launched the issue to the fore of public consciousness.The campaign aims to create a forum where Latina women and their supporters denounce domestic violence and work to end it.

The women, who gathered Sept. 8 at the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago to be videotaped for the TV segment of media campaign, took off their sunglasses to reveal black eyes, emphasizing how such abuse often stays hidden.

The producer, Chicago journalist and actor Leda Santodomingo, led the women in holding their index fingers to their lips to signify keeping quiet. Then, in unison, the women did a “wave” of sorts, moving their fingers down to show the silence had ended.

The voice-over says, “On the surface, they all look alike, but underneath they hide a gruesome truth … they are all victims of domestic abuse.”

“We have [gotten] the word out — we are the voice of the women who don’t have the voice” to speak out publicly, Santodomingo said, noting that the campaign will be featured on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, an email blast and other social media, in addition to traditional print and TV outlets.

Santodomingo, who celebrated her 61stbirthday at the taping, said her background as a reporter prompted her to focus on the issue. Shehosted and produced two highly rated television shows in her native Venezuela, “Alerta” and “En Exclusiva,” boosting her recognition to 70 percent of TV viewers at the time.

“Sometimes we don’t cover these kinds of stories until it is too late, or maybe when a woman dies,” she said.

Maria Pesqueira, head of Chicago-based human-services organization Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a partner in the campaign, told the Sun-Times that the event was a reminder that women can gather as “amigas” in celebration and to “talk over what’s really happening.”

The campaign taping doubled as a performance-art piece, Pesqueira said, reminding women that “we all play a part by speaking out against domestic violence.”

The public service announcement is expected to start running Sept. 24orSept. 26.

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