Cissie Swig, NCJW to tackle domestic abuse here

Back in 1991, when organizers of a billboard campaign decided to photograph Bay Area battered women and their abusers in local shelters, safe houses and jails, they asked Roselyne "Cissie" Swig where they could find the area's top fine-art photographers for the job.

When the campaign's sponsors decided to start a nonprofit to raise community awareness and funds to combat domestic violence, they again sought Swig's advice. This time she was asked to brainstorm about potential leaders for the organization — and she didn't have to look far.

"For 18 years, I had a fine-art consulting firm, an all-women company," recalled Swig. "We looked at each other and said, 'This is us, we should do it.' So we did it"

The result was Partners Ending Domestic Abuse, which she launched in 1992.

Swig, a longtime leader in Jewish and cultural affairs, both locally and nationally, confirms that she has never personally experienced domestic violence. But it's nonetheless a crisis she takes personally.

"As a woman who has always been very involved in the community, I have very strong feelings about making sure there's parity and women can feel empowered to step forward and do things that lead to their own development," said Swig. "The idea that domestic violence is pervasive is sort of an anathema to me."

And, despite what many would like to believe, said Swig, the Jewish community is by no means free of domestic violence.

In fact, domestic abuse occurs in 20-to-30 percent of Jewish households, nearly the same rate as in non-Jewish families, according to Sherry Brown-Ryther, co-coordinator of Shalom Bayit, the Bay Area Jewish women's domestic violence task force. Meanwhile, Jewish women tend to stay in abusive relationships twice as long as non-Jews, she added.

Swig will be speaking on the subject at a National Council of Jewish Women-sponsored seder lunch on Wednesday, April 11 at Lake Merced Golf and Country Club in Daly City.

"The issue of domestic violence is prevalent in the Jewish community, as it is pervasive in the country," Swig said. "With issues like this, which bring discomfort both psychic and in other ways, people don't want to deal with it, they go into denial. I think, to a great degree, that's occurred in the Jewish community."

While Partners Ending Domestic Abuse is not a direct service group for victims of domestic abuse, its fund-raising drives finance the activities of several such organizations. Last year the group raised almost $250,000.

Swig's organization also works to keep the battle against domestic violence in the news, and to let its victims know that help is available.

"You need to let women know that there's a support system out there. There are people out there on the other end of the telephone when they make their one and probably only call for help," said Swig, who is also a national vice president of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and a national board member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. "This is a crime, and we need to make people aware that it's not normal."

After all, it's a problem that affects us all.

"We have to remember that these women come from all social strata," said Swig. "It cuts across every boundary. Whether you're educated or not, rich or poor, it cuts right across."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.