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Giving Voice

Published

When Marlee Matlin became the youngest woman to receive the Best Actress Oscar for her debut film — and the only deaf actress to date — the victory was bittersweet. Clutching her Oscar in the limo after the awards ceremony, she says her co-star in Children of a Lesser God, belittled and berated her. She had fallen in love with her leading man while shooting the movie, but for them there would be no happy ending. “He had a temper,” she now says of their volatile and violent relationship. “Soon the screaming and hitting began.”

 

Back then, Matlin kept silent. She is silent no more. Speaking though her sign language interpreter, Matlin gave a moving talk at the recent 14th Annual “Tea & Tonic” at The Grand Del Mar, to benefit the Center for Community Solutions, the nonprofit that provides prevention and intervention for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and elder abuse. “Silence is not the answer,” she told the packed ballroom. “Silence is never the answer. Thank goodness, there is a voice here in San Diego — CCS.

 

Eventually, Matlin broke free from what she says was an abusive relationship, getting support from her friend and mentor, the actor Henry Winkler. Winkler had given her encouragement early on, when she was a budding 13-year-old actress. “Follow your heart and all your dreams will come true,” he told her. “Eight years later,” she says, “I was standing with an Oscar in my hand.”

 

Now married with four children, from 9 to 17, Matlin has a string of accolades and acting credits in film and television. An activist and author, her autobiography, I’ll Scream Later, is a candid look at her life behind the camera, her struggles with drug addiction, and her personal story of breaking the cycle of violence. She has a recurring role on the ABC Family series Switched at Birth, and will appear June 10 at 8pm when the show returns for the summer.

 

Tea & Tonic, chaired this year by Cyndi Benson, raises public awareness about domestic violence and honors volunteers and businesses for their support. Crystal Harris, a crime victims’ advocate, won this year’s “Courage Award.” Other “Community Hero” awards went to the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and Amy Rypins.

 

The Center for Community Solutions operates the only rape crisis center in San Diego, and offers a wide range of programs and services. (858.272.5777, www.ccssd.org)   ANDREA NAVERSEN

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