It can be an unspeakable subject, one that many might want to keep hidden, but a Venice-based organization is hoping that a new billboard sign displayed on a popular street in Venice will influence child abuse victims to talk.
Project Nightlight, a nonprofit organization that teaches children to recognize abuse and aims to inspire them to report incidents of abuse, has helped get a new sign on a billboard installed in the community to increase awareness of child abuse and help more victims reach out.
The sign, which was put up Sunday, July 15th, at Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Westminster Avenue, near the Westminster Elementary School in Venice, features the child abuse hotline phone number next to a cartoon-like drawing by Venice artist LeeAnn Goya.
“We want children and teens to get awareness because sometimes they’re afraid to speak out,” said Kathy Leonardo, a spokeswoman for Project Nightlight.
The Venice organization hopes the new sign will boost awareness not only for youngsters but adults as well, who may have knowledge of incidents of abuse occurring, Leonardo said.
Adults might not report abuse because they don’t want to offend the person committing the abuse, who could be a neighbor, friend, co-worker or relative, Leonardo said.
“We also need to make adults in the area more aware of what’s going on,” she said.
The hotline phone number for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, (800) 540-4000, is anonymous, which Project Nightlight representatives hope will encourage youngsters to speak out if they’ve been abused.
“If adults see it and suspect abuse, they might think back to the billboard and call the number,” said Stacia Oemig, a Venice resident and former child-abuse victim who founded Project Nightlight in 2003.
“If a child sees it, hopefully they’ll have enough strength to call, because it’s anonymous.”
Project Nightlight offers several awareness programs for children and teenagers in Los Angeles County and each activity is based on film, fashion, music or extreme sports, such as skateboarding.
Leonardo said the organization offers programs for children and teens recovering from abuse that help provide lessons for them in an area of their interest.
In the four years since Project Nightlight was started, the organization has created six public service announcements, posted 500 signs advertising the child abuse hotline and helped hundreds of children throughout Los Angeles, Leonardo said.
The group collaborated with Goya to design the new sign on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Beneath the Goya drawing on the billboard is the saying, “The light in a child is love,” a message meant to signify hope for the young victims, Leonardo said.
“We’re trying to put out a message of hope — that you can change your situation,” Leonardo said.
The message can also inspire people in the community to “keep the light on” for the youths by reporting suspected incidents of abuse, she added.
With the new billboard displayed on Abbot Kinney, Project Nightlight representatives say they are hoping to attract the attention of pedestrians on the popular street, as well as children attending summer activities at the nearby Westminster Elementary School.
The Venice site was a fitting location to display the first posting of the sign, initiated by both a Venice organization and a Venice artist, Oemig said.
“Venice is very community-oriented,” Oemig said. “I live in Venice and it was my dream to have a billboard on Abbot Kinney.”
The sign was installed by Vista Media, the company which has installed other Project Nightlight displays in the city. While the Abbot Kinney billboard is currently the only one of its type, Project Nightlight is looking to get other displays up sometime this year.
In addition to increasing awareness, the signs are intended to catch the eye of potential volunteers for Project Nightlight, Oemig said.
Information on volunteer and donation opportunities, www.proj ectnightlight.org/.
Oemig, who was a victim of abuse as a child, says her work with Project Nightlight in helping to teach the community about the importance of reporting abuse has made her “a lot more comfortable with my past.”
Signs like the one on Abbot Kinney can not only motivate people to fight their fear and report abuse but also tell them that help exists, Oemig said.
“There are people that can help you,” she said.