A Moral Obligation

Kristy Eckert

One of Abigail Wexner's friends recently slipped and broke a couple of ribs. But when the woman's doting husband took her to the hospital, he had skeptics.

"They asked me three times whether I was there," he said.

Wexner wasn't put off; she was thrilled.

Convincing local medical personnel to identify potentially abusive situations-regardless of how people look or where they live-and compelling them to ask patients whether they feel safe at home is one of many successes in her battle against abuse.

"I think," she said, "we have begun to change the nature of the conversation."

Wexner, wife of Limited Brands founder Les Wexner, is the founder of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence. Since starting the nonprofit in 1998, she has raised more than $16 million for the cause, convinced powerful local leaders to get involved, and helped thousands of abuse victims.

"I can't overemphasize the huge awareness of the issue they've created with their work," said Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. "It's sort of put the issue in the forefront of the community."

Now Wexner is upping the ante.

The Coalition has primarily focused on raising awareness about abuse and directing victims to organizations that can help. Currently, though, it is merging with The Center for Child and Family Advocacy, a support center for victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The Coalition actually teamed with Nationwide Children's Hospital to form the center in 2005. But merging the organizations will, Wexner hopes, make them all the more powerful.

Under the new setup, abused women and children will essentially have a one-stop shop to get the support they need-legal, medical, emotional and otherwise. It streamlines a complicated process, sparing victims from going agency to agency answering the same questions, which can make them feel as though nobody believes them. (While it is not a shelter, the organization can direct victims to local shelters.)

"It's very natural, I think, to have a holistic approach," Wexner said. "But it really is different than what anyone else is doing."

They also hope to do more research, to think bigger picture. They want to figure out not just how to help those who have been hurt, but also how to stop the cycle.

"Strategic thinking is a luxury," said Coalition President Karen Days, who will oversee the newly merged organization. "I'm fortunate to be at the cusp of something new. Raising awareness only and not having an answer to it (isn't doing anything). We have to have a response."