IOWA CITY — When Maria Salazar’s husband killed her in West Virginia in 1931, he nearly killed her story, as well. No one in the family spoke of her until decades later, when granddaughter Marcella Goheen began asking questions.
That ensuing dialogue has given voice to a young woman silenced at age 26. Her story was first told in “The Maria Project,” her granddaughter’s one-woman off-Broadway show that debuted in New York in 2012. Other projects have followed, from an education summit to shelter-based curriculum and “Living Voices,” a collection of survivors’ stories.
The latest awareness vehicle, “Maria’s Voice,” is a performance piece featuring poetry, music and the percussive rhythms of internationally renowned tap dancer Savion Glover.
Iowa City is one of just 10 cities nationwide hosting the Hope Tour, designed to give voice and peace to the Marias of the world. It will be presented at the Englert Theatre Sunday night (10/12) as a benefit for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP), serving Johnson, Iowa, Cedar, Des Moines, Henry, Lee, Van Buren and Washington counties.
“As I hope through all of my work, I hope the listener finds education through the dance, that they would be uplifted through the words being spoken,” Glover, 40, said by phone from Newark, N.J., where lives and runs a tap dance academy. “We want to bring awareness to this issue and hopefully it can remain a part of the conversation.”
It’s a conversation no one really had until the O.J. Simpson slow-speed chase and subsequent murder trial captured media attention 20 years ago.
That was a “historically pivotal point in understanding domestic violence,” DVIP Executive Director Kristie Fortmann-Doser said. “It created an opportunity to really start to look at the behaviors of batterers.”
Before that, society tended to blame the victim or question why that person — female or male — didn’t just leave.
“Violence is not a natural consequence for anything in an intimate relationship,” Fortmann-Doser said. “Previous to that trial, you couldn’t say that and have people accept it.”
Domestic violence continues to make headlines as more high-profile cases come to light from the worlds of pop culture and pro sports. Viral videos, however, can work both for and against the cause, Fortmann-Doser said.
“In the last 10 years, as domestic violence, as awareness, as the media has started to take look at what happens — I think we’re in danger of becoming numb to it,” she said, “because the violence is getting so glamorized in the media to some extent, that we’re ignoring how batterers maintain control in an intimate relationship and how devastating that is. How it literally cuts victims off at the knees.”
But there’s no denying the impact of the February video showing Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice knocking out the woman he married six weeks later.
“It puts it in your face in a way that there is no argument,” Fortmann-Doser said. “The media around this is the first time I’ve heard people hesitate to ask the question, ‘Why does she stay?’”
The answer to that can be found in the enormous pressure victims feel to stay in the relationship, and especially when the abuser is a celebrity or hometown hero, not to tarnish that golden public image, Fortmann-Doser said.
And just as non-violent relationships build and decline over time, so do violent relationships, she said. Both take time to end. Violent relationships can end, however, and the victims can rebuild their lives, but it’s never as simple as packing a bag and driving away into a new tomorrow.
Wanting to end any kind of relationship “doesn’t mean your feelings have evaporated,” Fortmann-Doser said.
Other factors include worrying how others will respond, the relationships you’ll lose, concerns about kids, property and jobs.
“Those make it complex to end any relationship under any circumstances. Now try to imagine all of the behaviors batterers use and the trauma they cause.”
Battering escalates over time, eroding the victim’s confidence and often isolating that person from people and services that can help.
Fortmann-Doser has worked in victim assistance since the 1980s and the DVIP in particular since 1993. She continues to see how services from such organizations really can help victims find a path toward healing.
“The reason I stay in this work ... the thing that’s so stunning to me and always engages me is how resilient and how strong and how creative victims are. That’s the piece that I get to witness, and is really empowering and exciting to me — just witnessing how incredible victims are.
“Domestic violence is all about pushing that person down, and is all about confining that individual and taking away their identity. When you say to somebody, ‘I believe you and it wasn’t your fault,’ you see that little light and you see somebody start to regain. We’re not doing anything special, we’re just creating an environment that reaffirms who this person always was.
“That’s what I think is so incredible and why I do this work. We as a society need to create space for victims to recapture and to nurture who they’ve always been, that somebody’s tried to take away from them.
“That’s the thing I’m so excited about with ‘Maria’s Voice.’ That’s really what it’s about,” Fortmann-Doser said.
FYI “Maria’s Voice”
WHAT: “Maria’s Voice,” featuring Savion Glover
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday (10/12)
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
TICKETS: $15 to $60, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org
WEBSITES: Themariaproject.com and Dvipiowa.org/marias-voice