D.C. Activists Tell Crime Museum: Domestic Violence Isn’t Sexy, Even On Valentine’s Day
by Amanda Kloer
February 14, 2011
The National Crime and Punishment Museum in Washington, D.C. — like many businesses today — is running a Valentine’s Day special. But their special exhibit, advertised as “Crimes of Passion” features photographs of O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown and is marketed to couples as romantic and sexy. The idea that domestic violence, and especially domestic violence that ends in the murder of one partner, can be sexy appalled two local activists. So they launched a campaign on Change.org asking the museum to stop advertising for the exhibit. And the museum is listening.
Chai Shenoy and Shannon Lynberg are Co-Founders of Holla Back DC!, a grassroots, community-based organization aiming to empower the D.C. metro area to build communities free from public sexual harassment and assault. They manage an online platform where people can submit their experiences of public sexual harassment and conduct local workshops addressing street harassment. Sexual harassment and domestic violence are both part of the same spectrum of gender-based violence (which includes sex trafficking ), so domestic violence was important to Shenoy and Lynberg as individuals and to Holla Back DC! as an organization. That’s why when they saw the National Crime and Punishment Museum mocking a serious domestic violence fatality and marketing it as “sexy” and “passionate,” they knew they had to act.
“To have an exhibit and a museum that touts crime and punishment, making light of domestic violence as ‘a crime of passion,’ is senseless.” says Shenoy.
So Shenoy and Lynberg launched a campaign on Change.org asking the museum not to showcase this exhibit again. And, if they do, not to put crimes of domestic violence in the exhibit. So far the museum is still running the exhibit, and won’t say whether or not they’ll bring it back next year. However, Shenoy and Lynberg, working with local domestic violence advocacy organizations, did convince the museum to change their marketing materials and give domestic violence resources to individuals that attend the exhibit. It’s a step in the right direction, but advocates want a firm commitment from the museum that this sort of exhibit won’t be coming back in the future.
“We would like to see the museum stop marketing this event as a “Crime of Passion” event and as something special couples can do on a holiday that is supposed to be filled with romance and passion,” says Lynberg. “There is nothing sexy or romantic about the O.J. and Nicole Simpson case. This exhibit normalizes intimate partner violence and exploits victims of high profile cases by turning their murder into a ‘romantic evening’.”
Shenoy and Lynberg both feel encouraged by the community support in D.C. and around the nation and the success their campaign has had so far. The media coverage of the exhibit and their protest have contributed to changing the discourse about labeling domestic violence as what it is — a crime of control, manipulation, and jealousy, not passion. According to Lynberg,
“Some folks who have signed the petition have shared their own survivor experiences or dedicated their signature to someone that they knew who was murdered as a result of IPV. To me, that exemplifies just how important it is that the museum takes this seriously.”
You can support the activists behind Holla Back DC! by sending the National Museum of Crime and Punishment a message: Fuzzy handcuffs on Valentine’s Day are sexy, domestic violence fatalities are not.