She is a strong, intelligent and loyal businesswoman from Glasgow, Scotland, who overcame many challenges in her life at a young age, including domestic violence. It’s true that Deborah Alessi was the victim of such violence in a previous relationship, but she has managed to move forward and embark on her own journey of healing. She traveled around the world while working in the field of private aviation, which brought her to the United States of America, where she met her current husband, Dr. David Alessi, who happens to be a plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in Los Angeles. Thus, they decided together to establish the non-profit association Face Forward that helps victims of violent crimes around the world, and what was just an idea 11 years ago has become an international and prestigious charity. Let’s discover together in this interview how this association helps women who have been subjected to domestic violence to move forward with their lives.
The Face Forward Association provides not only reconstructive surgery for victims of domestic violence or acts of violence , but also emotional support . Why is it important to provide a stimulating and emotional support system for victims?
For many of our patients, the emotional scars run deeper than the physical ones, so treatment with emotional support is a key factor in the healing process. We can help save on surgery all the time, but if the patient does not start working on healing the internal, ie the emotional, damage caused by her abuser, she will never be able to fully move forward with her life in a healthy and positive way. Emotional support is essential in helping victims break the cycle of violence and move beyond the event to become survivors rather than “victims”. At Face Forward, we want to empower our survivors to achieve fulfillment in their lives and help them move forward with healthy, positive lives, so that they can empower others as well.
The victims undergoing treatment are the ones who can barely afford it . Are there other conditions that must be met? Are they the ones communicating with you , or vice versa?
The patient must fall within the framework of our mission, that is, to be a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, or any other violent criminal act. Then she fills out an application that we review and informs us that she cannot afford her surgical treatment. She may contact us directly through our website or social media because she has looked for us online or read about us in magazines or other televised media interviews. We reach out to some of the victims’ advocates, friends, family members, or other charities. We constantly organize awareness campaigns to inform other associations around the world that deal with victims of violence that we are fully prepared to help through surgical support. The majority of groups that help victims of violence and human trafficking do not have enough budget to incur medical expenses, and here Face Forward plays its role by extending a helping hand.
Face Forward provides services to victims around the world . How did you communicate with the patients from the Middle East that you provided support to?
After leaving Scotland, I lived and worked in the Middle East. In addition, I travel with my husband a lot and we have been to the Middle East in particular a lot over the past years for work, he is interested in his medical practice and I am in my company for intravenous therapy Beverly Hills IV Therapy. When you travel the world, you discover that there are no limits to violence in all its forms. Everyone around the world is affected by it in some way. So we reach out to other charities around the world, including those in the Middle East that have put us in touch with our patients from the region in the past. To date, we have treated patients from 10 different countries around the world and this number continues to grow. As for the injuries, they vary, but they are not specific to a specific area.Some patients have been beaten, stabbed, shot, set on fire or subjected to acid spraying, and we have treated survivors in 5 different countries, including the United States of America, which indicates that these types of assaults cross all borders.
The process of healing a victim of violence is not easy at all . What is the procedure you follow to provide a safe, happy and healthy environment for the victims and help them to heal with a view to a better future ?
Healing through emotional support is most important, and we try to ensure that our patients are engaging with treatment before they come to Los Angeles for surgery. If these resources are not available to our patients for some reason, which sometimes happens in the international cases that we work on, the patient first arrives in the United States to undergo psychological treatment for several weeks before undergoing her first surgery. She must continue to interact with these treatments before and after the operation as long as she is still in the United States. We even encountered some cases where our therapists remained in contact with patients via telephone support for several weeks after they returned home. We also provided support to survivors through volunteers and individuals who dedicate their time to visit them, invite them to lunch, watch movies, and visit Los Angeles sights, these small actions reminding them that they have enough support even though they are far from their families or friends.Our Patient Advocacy Board is made up of survivors who have undergone or are undergoing surgical care and helps provide telephone or in-person support and makes patients more comfortable.
You founded Face Forward in 2007 knowing that you are a former victim of domestic violence . Are you trying through your association to provide the support you needed when you were exposed to violence?
When we launched Face Forward it was just an idea, but on some occasions my husband offered his services to help victims of violence by providing free surgical care when they could not afford it, such as repairing a broken nose, for example. I was thinking at the time about what would happen to them if they returned to their abusers and remained in a dangerous situation and the incident happened again, or if they were given help to move forward in a healthy and positive way. On a personal level, I was able to leave those who abused me before they hurt me more on the physical level, but not all of us are lucky. And one of the things we are determined to find out from patients is whether the abuser has left. If this has not happened yet, we contact partner associations to help them move to safe housing and provide them with support services.
To give patients another chance to live a dignified life , you work with your husband , the eminent physician in reconstructive surgery , David Alessi , who has a background in supporting charities . How do you feel about working with him to support a cause where domestic violence cases between spouses are common ?
My husband and I have different strengths in our careers, he’s a brilliant surgeon and I’m a successful marketer and business developer, so we find the perfect balance between the two. Of course, working with the husband comes with challenges, but we have been a great team for 11 years and have developed Face Forward together in addition to other organizations. Domestic violence affects not only women but also men.
They plan to open a branch of Face Forward in the United Arab Emirates . Do you think the region needs similar non – profit organizations ?
Our goal is to spread our branches around the world, as every region needs support from organizations like ours. Although many countries have great medical resources, most of them face many patients with many different medical problems. They may just medicate them to return to their normal physical condition, but patients will face daily pain from scars that remind them of him and their abuser. If more doctors collaborated with associations like us and provided treatment for at least one case annually, imagine the impact we would have. This is another reason we are reaching out to other charities as we are constantly looking for new surgeons to join us in our cause.
Moral violence and emotional violence are two of the most common forms of violence , and may or may not include physical violence . As a survivor of domestic violence , what advice would you give women who have experienced a similar type of violence?
They should seek help immediately and trust a close friend or family member to support them. Feeling lonely in this case is one of the most difficult things, because abusers are trying to control all aspects of your life. Sometimes, it is difficult for a survivor to share what she is going through because of the shame and lack of self-confidence felt by her abuser. So she has to hope to escape this violence and surround herself with a support system that helps her feel safe and move forward towards a better future.
Live testimonies from survivors from the Middle East
The first survivor : Sarah *
Sarah*, an Afghani woman, was disfigured in her face due to the domestic violence that her husband had inflicted on her for 4 years. She underwent surgery before resorting to Face Forward, but unfortunately she was still severely disfigured and was barely eating and breathing. Sarah shares with us her testimony that she did not undergo four surgeries and spent several months in psychiatric treatment while she was in the United States:
“After my husband’s many assaults, a group of women in my country helped me to undergo surgery on my face. Then they discovered the Face Forward Association, so they helped me obtain a visa to travel and undergo surgery, and they also paid for the travel ticket. I had to put my daughters in an orphanage where they were taken care of But I was so afraid for their safety.When I traveled to California, Face Forward secured me a place to stay with some women from Afghanistan who treated me like one of their own, and the association also provided me with a therapist who could speak my language.After I got home,I reunited with my daughters and I still am today I am receiving support from the women’s group that is helping me to move forward in my life. I am learning to read and acquiring new skills to get a job soon.”
I would like to say to all women who are in a situation like mine: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help because there are people who can. I was so scared and lonely after being assaulted and didn’t trust anyone. Then I realized that finding people who are willing to help a complete stranger from a spot Being different from the world is not easy, so I am so grateful for the kindness shown by Face Forward and all of its doctors.
The second survivor : Munira *
Munira* is a Sudanese woman who has been living in the United States since 2012. Her story began in October 2008 when she refused to marry her fiancé because they were in constant disagreement, so he attacked her with acid, which led to burning her face, neck, chest, back, and arms, and she lost her sight. I agonized for a long time. She stayed in the hospital in her country for almost 4 years without receiving any useful medical treatment until a benevolent sponsor helped her travel to the United States to receive the necessary treatment. This is how she shared her story with us:
“I turned to Face Forward through another non-profit group after I lost hope of receiving treatment for two more years because my sponsor stopped paying for medical expenses. Face Forward gave me hope again and I am very grateful and thankful to everyone who works in this association. I had an experience “Wonderful and to this day I am still receiving more medical treatments. I say to everyone who is going through the same experience: be patient and be strong and enthusiastic. I lost hope before but quickly regained it. Appreciate the aid you receive no matter how big it is.”