The headquarters of the office of Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of the New York City Council, is a quiet storefront on 116th Street in East Harlem—El Barrio to the majority Spanish-speaking residents who live there. One afternoon last week, she attended a community board meeting in the basement while a few employees sat in cubicles on the main floor; a mountain of bagged Halloween candy was piled on a conference-sized table, stash for the trick-or-treating event she hosted Monday at La Marqueta.
October was a momentous and, at times, difficult month for Mark-Viverito. As an elected official and in her past as a community organizer, she’s long been a fighter for women’s rights, and though she’s a generally private person, she has been open about some aspects of her personal life for greater social impact. In 2014, for instance, she announced that she was infected with HPV, in order to increase awareness about the common STI. And so in mid-October, shortly after Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood comments emerged, Mark-Viverito (a vocal Clinton supporter) announced on Twitter that his comments there and elsewhere had triggered her, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
When Jezebel visited Mark-Viverito at her office last week, she told us that she purposefully come forward on Twitter first, a medium she uses avidly because it allows her to be easily and rapidly engaged with her community and constituents. She held an emotional press conference the next day, explaining the circumstances of her abuse—by two different people between the ages of five and eight—and why she had decided to go public at that specific time, per the New York Times:
“When you have an individual who is boasting about violating, and taking from, a woman something without her consent, I just couldn’t anymore,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said, adding that her public role gave her a responsibility to speak out. “And to have someone laughing and goading it and enabling it is just, it was very painful for me and it triggered things that I hadn’t felt in a long time.”
Mark-Viverito grew up in Bayamón before moving to the city to attend college at Columbia Universiy, and is New York’s first citywide elected Latina and Puerto Rican official. Though she emphasized to us that she prefers to keep her personal life out of the headlines, she understands the responsibility she takes on as a community leader.
Mark-Viverito, a lifelong advocate for domestic violence awareness (last year she earmarked $6.6 million in spending for support services), initially spoke out when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman last year, when he was still under investigation for domestic violence. José Reyes of the Mets followed, as did the germ of what became her #NOTAFAN campaign; in June, she released a statement admonishing teams that ignore these histories in their hiring decisions. “It’s outrageous how little women’s lives seem to matter when someone can throw a baseball really hard, wins Super Bowls, or has a good jump shot,” the statement said. “Domestic violence kills thousands of women every year and it’s time professional sports actually takes it seriously. The Mets should be ashamed. We need to be better.”
A week after her press conference, Mark-Viverito’s #NOTAFAN campaign began airing on Taxi TV, bringing domestic violence awareness in the sports world to the back of yellow cabs across the city. The video spots star athletes from every major New York team except for the Jets and the Giants—Mark-Viverito asked them to be involved but both declined—and are geared towards fans who want to continue rooting for their teams but don’t want to support individual players who have histories of domestic violence.
The day before our visit with Mark-Viverito, the New York Giants finally distanced itself from Josh Brown, the placekicker who is charged with repeatedly abusing his wife physically, mentally and emotionally. Jezebel spoke with her about the sports industry’s blind eye to domestic violence, her courage and reasons for coming forward, and being an inspiration for young women.
Update 10 PM: Jeurys Familia, a participant from the Mets in the #NOTAFAN campaign, has been charged with domestic assault. Mark-Viverito’s statement, in English and Spanish:
“I am deeply disturbed by the allegations against Jeurys Familia and call on MLB to launch an immediate and thorough investigation. We created #NotAFan so fans can communicate that domestic violence is absolutely unacceptable and to give a voice to fans who didn’t have one before. I will be reaching out to the Mets and the Familia ads will be removed from the campaign. Last week it was Josh Brown this week it’s Familia. The problem is rampant. The solution is to confront it.”
“Me siento profundamente perturbada por las acusaciones en contra de Jeurys Familia y le pido a MLB que realice una investigación inmediata y rigurosa. Creamos la campaña #NotAFan para que los fanáticos puedan expresar que la violencia doméstica es absolutamente inaceptable y para darle voz a aquellos fanáticos que antes no tenían. Estaré en contacto con los Mets y los anuncios de Familia se eliminarán de la campaña. La semana pasada fue Josh Brown, esta semana es Familia. El problema pareciera estar fuera de nuestro control. La solución es enfrentarlo.”