Esta Soler (KNFP 11) Founder/President of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, San Francisco.
This article was originally published in the January 2009 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
From its inception, Esta Soler has been at the forefront of the campaign to prevent violence against women and children. Her vision and leadership have resulted in better care and services for victims of violence, and changes in social norms to make such acts unacceptable, both nationally and internationally. Esta's involvement in the issue began in 1980. As part of a coalition to help battered women and children, she wrote a federal grant that provided $1 million to create services for victims of abuse in San Francisco, and to make associated reforms within the healthcare and justice systems.
"The grant led to my start in this work, and from that initial experience I built the Family Violence Prevention Fund. It was a confluence of luck, motivation, and activism," she reflects. "I wanted to reduce a problem that was keeping women from realizing their full potential. I landed in a place where I could build an organization that helped build a movement." Describing how the violence prevention movement evolved, Esta recounts, "For the first 10 years, we looked at building community-based programs and assistance efforts to help victims. As part of that effort, in 1983-'84, we worked with Senator Biden and wrote the Violence Against Women Act. It was a major reform of the criminal and justice system, so that when people called for help, they were given the help they needed."
With systems in place to help victims and to stop perpetrators, the movement began to branch into prevention efforts. "For the last 18 years, we've been trying to continuously improve the safety net, but also change the social norms so that society no longer tolerates violence against women and children," explains Esta.
The organization's public education campaigns, including "There's No Excuse for Domestic Violence," and "Coaching Boys into Men," in partnership with the Ad Council, the Ford Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are among these prevention efforts. Esta reports, "Over the course of the last several years, we have begun to see a reduction in violence against adult women. We haven't seen as much progress against women ages 16 to 24. We're really focusing now on the younger population, as well as building programs for teachers, parents, and others who engage with youth."
Esta is vigilant in making certain the Family Violence Prevention Fund's activities are effective. She says she consciously pushes herself "beyond the place of comfort to look at the harsh reality in order to see if our initiatives are making a difference. We need to keep asking ourselves, 'Why are we doing this? Are we reducing the problem? Are we making life better for kids and families?'" She acknowledges that, "Ultimately, we have moved an issue from the back page to the front page," but emphasizes, "Whatever you do in your leadership capacity, you have to hold yourself to the high standards of making a difference."