Christopher Lee is the Public Affairs Officer for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, he was assigned to create a public service in partnership with San Bernardino-based Option House, Inc. and Project Fighting Chance. This is his first-person account.
A few weeks ago, I was approached by our Bureau of Victim Services Chief Flerida Alarcon who asked me to meet an 11-year-old survivor of domestic violence. Her name was Faith. By now, you may have already heard her story, or viewed her PSA. Over the course of the last week, our office has been sharing information to raise awareness about the dangers of domestic violence. Judging by the positive comments on social media and the feedback we have received related to Faith’s video, her story has inspired so many people—adults and children alike.
In a perfect world, I would have filmed an in-depth segment about Faith, but we were on a tight schedule. At that time, Domestic Violence Awareness Month was only a few weeks away, so we all decided that a public service announcement would be the best vehicle to share Faith’s story and raise awareness about the resources available to victims.
It was a huge honor to work with such a strong-willed, compassionate young girl focused on empowering victims of domestic violence—particularly children her own age. There were so many moments throughout the filming process that will always stick with me, but I wanted to take a few moments to share a few of my favorite memories.
At the very beginning, I made it clear to Faith that this was her story, and that all throughout the process, she was in charge. The PSA does have some scripted content, but those words came out of our conversations that occurred prior to filming. As to the interview in the actual field (where she’s wearing a shirt that says, “Fearless”), that was Faith, unplugged. So much of her “field” interview was powerful, but unfortunately, didn’t make the final cut due to time constraints.
Midway through the film, you’ll notice a shot in which she rings the bell. That was all Faith’s idea, as is the shot of her running her fingers along the books in the library. We had originally planned on filming Faith drawing a picture at the San Bernardino Public Library. When it came time to hold up her drawing, though, it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to visually convey the power of the drawing in a such a short amount of time, especially since it included words and phrases that would be hard for the viewer to read. So we quickly rewrote the script on site—with only 15 minutes left to film—and decided to show her reading books about domestic violence. In the end, I think it was just as powerful.
As we left the library, I still wanted to do something with Faith’s drawing, so I asked her to write about it in her own words. Here is what she told me:
To me, the picture means how my life was before. The before was very scary. I saw my mom get beat, cry and hurt. The house was very messy and also filled with cockroaches. And there was barely stuff to eat. But the after shows my mom off of the drugs and out of the abuse. Now we have our own amazing house and food. We are happy and free.
One part of the story that didn’t make it into the film nearly broke my heart. When I was scouting locations to film Faith’s interview, I came across several locations in San Bernardino. Ultimately, I decided this particular field visually conveyed the emptiness and sadness that Faith had endured. Little did I know that this field had far more significance. As the two of us walked from the car to the field, with camera gear in tow, I noticed that there was feces scattered all over the field.
I quickly told Faith to watch her step and stay on the trail because there was “dog poop” everywhere. Without hesitation, she said, that isn’t “dog poop, that’s human poop where the homeless people go to the bathroom. I know because I used to live in this field when we were homeless and I had to go to the bathroom right there.”
I don’t tell this story for shock value or to make the reader feel sorry for Faith, but to show just how damaging the effects of domestic violence can sometimes be for everybody involved. When Faith told me the story, I told her: “Now look where you are. You’re ready to take on the world and achieve your dreams!”
In essence, I was pointing out the overall theme of this entire campaign which is “Breaking the Cycle” of domestic violence. I’ll admit, when she told me that story in the field, I didn’t know what to say. My heart hurt. All I knew was that this film had to be made, had to be shared. I was there for a reason. Faith is a symbol of hope for so many others who are struggling. She and her mother made it out of an abusive relationship, and now they both are taking the necessary steps to be advocates. As Faith said at one point (and her picture points out): “I’m in a good place now.”
Not much has been said about Faith’s mother, Tracy—beyond the brief and endearing line Faith says in the film. Tracy is quiet, but strong. She is a proud mother. When you see Tracy and Faith together, there is an obvious love and close-knit bond they share. They both are in a good place right now, a better place, and I was fortunate to document this part of the story. If I’m lucky, I’ll be there to capture the next chapter in Faith’s life.