Q&A with Abigail Wexner

Kristen Schmidt
Abigail Wexner

For 18 years,the New Albany Classic and The Center for Family Safety & Healing have been a powerful pair. The top-rated annual equestrian competition and family-focused party at the Wexner home in New Albany drew 18,000 people last year and has raised $25 million for the center, which, along with advocacy and research, connects victims of family violence with social, legal and medical help. Abigail Wexner, founder of both the Classic and the center, talks about the delicate art of mixing fun and awareness and the role of bystanders in stopping family violence.

How do you keep an emphasis on the center and its causes amid the celebration and fun of the Classic?We wanted to create a day that emphasized a healthy approach to families, and hopefully it creates a recognition that it's not like that for everyone. The new campaign ("Where's the Line?") ties back to the center, and we can use that very openly at this event to send this message again. [The center] is embedded in the community; it's taken 20 years to do that, but that's a very gratifying thing. It's no longer as if we're doing something unusual. The community fully accepts these are things that can be discussed publicly, and resources are available.

The "Where's the Line?" ad campaign is direct and highly visible. Why the assertive, in-your-face approach?What we focused on here is the bystander. As a bystander, you're being asked to look into a private relationship. There is a line, and once it's crossed, the onus falls on someone. We see things in our daily lives that make us constantly question, "Where is that line?" even between discipline and abuse. We wanted to grab people and say, you're right if you feel that questioning, and it's best not to push it aside. These were meant to shock the awareness. But we've tried to not just raise awareness, but provide a number to call.

Family violence seems to be part of a bigger national conversation right now-people are still talking about the Ray Rice video. How can organizations like the center make the most of these conversations?It says to the whole community it's impossible to ignore. It does ask us some moral questions. Can you continue to admire an athlete if this is how they continue to behave? Hopefully, the answer is no. Particularly for young people, framed in the right way, this [conversation] can be useful. In young people, we're most concerned about teen dating relationships. We're seeing abuse perpetuated at younger ages.

How have you taught your own children to avoid abuse in their relationships?Your first instinct is the girls. You want to have a very direct conversation with them: You never accept any kind of demeaning behavior. It's unacceptable. And if you see it in your friends, you need to speak to someone. It starts in a very insidious way; things can happen in those tender years as kids are wanting to be accepted by their peers. It's just as important to speak to the boys about how important it is to be sensitive and respectful of their female friends and their interests, how to be good men. It's about respecting other people and, at the littlest kid level, how you treat your friends.