Movie actor’s heart-rending story spotlights domestic violence

By Paul Archipley | Oct 11, 2017
Photo by: Paul Archipley Actor/author Victor Rivers shares his story of growing up in a family where his father abused the entire household, even the pets. But what easily could have been a road to generational cycles of violence took a profound, fortunate turn paved with love and hope.

A 12-year-old boy walked into his local police station, and stripped off all his clothes. Officers were aghast; his body was covered with bruises, welts and burns.

He said his father did that to him, and that he did the same thing to his mother, siblings, even the pets. He begged police to go to his house and arrest the man.

Although horrified, police said there was little they could do, because the terror that allegedly was going on behind closed doors was “a private family matter.”

The heart-breaking story was told by actor Victor Rivers, known to movie buffs for such films as “The Mask of Zorro” (1998), “Blood In, Blood Out” (1993) and “Hulk” (2003).

Rivers, a Cuban American who moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 2, was that boy.

Rivers shared his story of growing up with domestic violence at last week’s Hope Within Luncheon, an annual event sponsored by Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County to mark the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

Also an author, Rivers wrote a book in 2005 about that brutal upbringing, titled “A Private Family Matter.”

The title is apt; Rivers grew up at a time when people didn’t talk about the evil that hides behind closed doors. Consequently, he and his family suffered for years at the hands of a brutal, cruel man.

In those days, he said, “the only way the police would make an arrest was if he killed someone or if we killed him – and I came close.

“We lived in a constant state of fear,” Rivers said. “I was beaten, tied up and burned. He took great care not to hit us in the face or parts of our bodies that weren’t covered by clothing.”

His father was so demented that he even beat Rivers’ mother while she was pregnant. The beatings resulted in his little brother being born severely disabled; he spent his short life in special care, and died before his 10th birthday.

His mother collapsed in the street once, and spent several weeks in the hospital as a Jane Doe. She was afraid to give her name, because she knew her husband would come get her, and the beatings would resume.

Another time, his father decided Rivers was getting fat and put the boy on a starvation diet. He could only eat approved foods in front of his father, who worked a swing shift, so Rivers’ one meal a day was at 1 a.m. His eighth grade teacher, suspecting something was wrong, secretly bought Rivers a meal card so he could have lunch at school.

Finally, when Rivers was 15, he ran away, and began a new life with a series of foster families. A one-time gang member who just wanted somewhere to belong, he was the beneficiary of people who started steering him away from the cycle of violence he knew to a life of love and hope. Foster parents, teachers, coaches and others knew he wasn’t a hopeless case, and guided him to a better future. Today, he calls those people his “angels.”

By his senior year, Rivers was senior class president. He earned a four-year football scholarship to Florida State University. After graduating, he played briefly in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.

From there he went to Hollywood. Besides the movies listed above, he had parts in “The Lost City,” “Distinguished Gentleman” and “What’s Cooking,” as well as in multiple TV series, including “LIFE,” “Law & Order LA,” “CSI Miami,” “JAG,” and “Star Trek.”

But his main focus began in 1999 when he became the spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Speaking before more than 570 attendees at last week’s luncheon, Rivers praised the work DVS is doing, but lamented there is so much more that needs to be done.

“Domestic violence is the most under-reported crime in America,” he said. More than 75 percent of domestic violence incidents aren’t reported. Still, there’s a report of child abuse every 10 seconds in this country.

Urging the audience to step up, Rivers said, “For those who wonder if you can truly make a difference, there were those when I was 15 who said I was beyond hope.”

Vicci Hilty, director of DVS Snohomish County, piggy-backed on Rivers’ speech. Noting her wonder at the laws of physics, she said critical mass can set off a chain reaction in society to turn the tide against domestic violence.

“We can stop this violence,” Hilty said. “But we’re going to have to be warriors – warriors of love.”

Want to make a difference? Contact Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County at 425-259-2827. If you’re a victim of domestic violence, call their crisis hotline at 425-252-2873.

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