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Exhibit lets visitors stand in the shoes of domestic violence victims

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE (ADDS VIDEO) | 03 de octubre de 2019

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

New York, Oct 3 (efe-epa).- An interactive exhibit is giving people the chance to put themselves into the shoes of those suffering from domestic violence, with special attention to what can occur in an abusive home, where obsessive control and even violence can transform one's home into a nightmare from which, oftentimes, victims cannot escape.

"In Someone Else's Shoes" - created for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October - is a big interactive experience conceived and directed by artist Annie Saunders, who has constructed a replica of a single-family US home in the Oculus building at New York's World Trade Center.

As one takes the 12-minute tour of the various rooms within the home, one hears fragments of conversations, songs and sounds, steadily immersing oneself in the experiences of women who have suffered physical violence and whose lives - just like in Saunders' artificial house - transform themselves from the idyllic into a recurring nightmare.

"This is about building a house to raise awareness (about domestic violence) but it specifically responds to the question about why you just don't leave, which is a question that people always pose in cases of domestic violence," Saunders told EFE.

From the outside it looks like a "normal house," but inside this normality is transformed into "a labyrinth, to give a type of physical experience to the public about the great difficulty in finding a way out" of these types of situations.

"We've created a house that starts with a series of rooms and when you move through there are certain surprising threats like doors that close and some that don't have doorknobs. There's no way to go back" the way you have come either, she said.

The project is being sponsored by Spain's Banco Santander, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), Santander spokesperson Maria Veltre told EFE, adding that it is designed to emphasize how financial dependence and abuse is the dual main reason that women cannot extricate themselves from toxic relationships.

"From the NGOs we're working with, we're finding that 99 percent of the people bound into violent relationships remain in them due to financial abuse. It's not that easy to flee," Veltre said.

Thus, on Thursday and Friday people visiting the Oculus building will have the chance to immerse themselves in this experience, wearing headphones and starting on the porch of the house, where they will hear a dog barking, a car going by and the question "Why don't women get out?"

Down a hallway with childhood and family photos, many donated by women who have survived abusive relationships, one enters a bedroom with books, show tickets and jewelry on a dresser while hearing the song "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."

With the melody in the background, one next begins hearing the testimonials of abused women recalling the first exciting moments of their relationships with their partners.

But little by little the love and wonder they initially experienced shifts, the door to the room closes and visitors find that it has no knob, and there's no window through which they can get out either.

Then, progressively as the tour continues, one begins hearing the women's voices saying things like "Nothing you say is right," "He told me how horrible I was," "He took away my telephone" before a question emerges: "How did I get here?"

The aim starting at that point - Saunders said - is for visitors to feel disoriented amid the gray, undecorated rooms that could be like hospital rooms or museum halls and where the wall of one bears the imprint of a fist.

Then, there are three showcases - one with mobile phones, keys, billfolds and credit cards: the items that abusers confiscate from their victims to deprive them of their freedom and ensure that they don't - or can't - leave the relationship.

Another showcase holds a knife, a remote control, a tennis racket and a book: daily objects that abusers sometimes use to attack their partners.

And then, there's also a case with the items victims use to record the violence perpetrated against them: mobile phones, cameras and tape recorders.

The walls are covered with police reports and legal documents, news clippings of domestic abuse cases and bags of criminal evidence.

The last room is an interview or interrogation room, where tour-goers can see new visitors entering the labyrinth through one-way glass, the same mirror they themselves had viewed when they were on the house's porch.

And upon leaving the house, visitors have the chance to meet in person some of the women whose voices they have heard on the tour and who have managed to get out of their toxic relationships.

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