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Willow Domestic Violence Center Making the private, public

Domestic violence feeds on silence. The often-necessary silence of survivors is understandable. But not the silence of the community nor the silence of the legal system. Why? Why do we choose to be silent about something that’s criminal?

The word “domestic” is where the silence begins. “Domestic” feels soft. It doesn’t communicate the severity of the abuse committed by perpetrators. Worse, it has a personal feel to it, connected as it is to the idea of home. Of privacy. And society says, “What happens in the home, stays in the home.” Making violence that is “domestic” seem as if it’s not our business nor our concern. Reality is, the acts of domestic violence that happen in homes in our neighborhoods are criminal acts. And criminal acts are public problems.

Taking domestic violence from a private, family matter to a public crisis

To challenge people to see domestic violence for what it truly is, we replaced the word “domestic” with vivid, truer descriptions of the criminal acts that perpetrators commit to maintain power and control over survivors.The truth is, though, that for a goal this ambitious, public service announcements simply weren’t enough.

Leaning in to the cultural zeitgeist

In October 2019, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we hijacked the month’s scariest holiday to expose a scarier reality. By taking a fun, seasonal attraction and turning it on its head, the Real Haunted House of Monroe County gave our community a firsthand look at the abuse that haunts survivors year-round. Held in the most public of places—the Rochester Public Market—we turned an old bakery into an immersive, one-day, pop-up experience. While picture-perfect with a picket fence on the outside, the inside told a truer reality of power, control, manipulation and coercion—a reality that represents thousands of homes possessed by domestic violence in our community.

Taking domestic violence from a private, family matter to a public crisis


media impressions


visitors (nearly one per minute)



Our most important results:

Three individuals disclosed for the first time that they’re in violent relationships and seeking safety and support from Willow Domestic Violence Center.

Ending domestic violence before it starts

If we really want to end domestic violence, we need to stop the cycle before it begins. This starts with educating teens on the realities they face—that 1 in 3 teens will experience dating violence—and then empowering them to do something about it.

Turning Gen Z into Generation Zero

Research shows that Gen Z is the generation that is getting it done. When it comes to social issues, they have an impeccable filter for deciding which ones matter most and will go above and beyond to get involved. From this insight, Generation Zero was born— a movement to end dating violence for good. Because if any generation is going to make 1 in 3, zero, it’s Gen Z.


of Monroe County teens experienced the campaign


click-through rate from social ads

Giving teens real educational tools

To make sure teens have the right resources to help them in this movement, we turned an unexpected weapon for dating violence, a cellphone, into a tool that gives teens a firsthand experience of what dating violence can look like and feel like. This evidence-based, dating-violence text simulation lasts three days and takes teens through a relationship that starts off seemingly normal, only for it to become more and more abusive. Littered with red flags, threats, manipulation and coercion, this helps teens understand what dating abuse is and how it can feel.

In partnership with educators and counselors, this experience is building awareness and empathy, and giving teens real tools so they’ll have the power to end dating violence for good … and domestic violence before it begins.

Willow: Generation Zero - Text Message Simulation Video

If this was real, I’d be losing my mind.”

— 2019 Student User

More Work

Ready to make bold moves? So are we.