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Actor speaks out against domestic violence

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Victor Rivers

Angela Cain/Eyewitness News

Domestic violence impacts people from all walks of life. A Hollywood actor who was affected by it is leading a national crusade against domestic abuse.

On the big screen, Victor Rivers sometimes plays a tough guy. He played Antonio Banderas's brother in the Mask of Zorro. But the Cuban-American actor says true machismo isn't about being tough and controlling.

"A true macho, a real manly man is a man who joins the movement to end violence against women," Rivers said.

Rivers, with more than two dozen films on his resume, is most passionate about a role he tackles off screen.

"Domestic Violence continues to be the most underreported crime in America," he said.

For seven years, Victor Rivers has served as the Spokesperson for the National Network To End Domestic Violence. "Domestic Violence should be everyone's issue."

He recently spoke to an Indiana Conference for the Latino Coalition Against Domestic And Sexual Violence, telling the crowd that his crusade against domestic abuse is personal.

"First and foremost I wanted to honor my mother for everything that she went through to protect her children," he said.

Rivers says his father brutally beat his mother for years. "It wasn't just words and weapons. He used his hands and his feet and I saw her being choked, being karate-chopped in the neck and she lost her voice for a month."

But the most horrifying blow he saw: "My mother was battered viciously when she was pregnant with my brother Robert. I was six, almost seven years old when I witnessed my father drop-kicking my mother in her stomach, in her ninth month. When my brother was born, he was developmentally disabled to such a degree that he was immediately institutionalized."

Victor Rivers calls his brother a prenatal victim of his father's beatings. He died at age nine. But Rivers talks of yet another boy who fueled his passion to speak out against abuse - a young boy who ran to police for help years ago.

"And he took off all of his clothes in front of a room of police officers and as the boy stood there naked, the officers were horrified that this boy's body was covered in bruises, welts and burns. The boy told the police that his father was doing this to him, his siblings and to his mother and then he pleaded with them, 'please go to my house and arrest him and get him out of there for good.'"

That boy was Victor Rivers, another victim of his father's abuse. But he was afraid to fill out a police complaint form as a child, when police wouldn't guarantee they would arrest his dad. He remembers crying out.

"No, no, no no, wait a minute. You don't seem to understand. If I do that and you don't arrest him when you leave, he's gonna kill me. And the police said there was nothing more that they could do, that it was a private family matter."

Those words struck Victor Rivers so deeply that he wrote a book about his family's abuse. It's called "A Private Family Matter." But it's a matter he refuses to keep private and he urges other men to speak out with him.

"Most men are good men but we stand by silently when we know that our brothers, our uncles, our teammates, our co-workers are committing these acts of violence and it's really time for us to stand up and say this is unacceptable behavior," he said. "We would have a less violent world if we did."

This actor urges the whole community to stand up against domestic abuse. He says "angels" in his Miami Florida community - foster families and school leaders - sheltered him from the storm of abuse. He was a lost, troubled and enraged teenager.

"I had a community take me in in high school and take me in from a 6' 2", 220-pound homicidal, suicidal gang member in two and a half short years into president of the school, winning awards for citizenship, getting a full scholarship to college. That's what a community can do."

Victor Rivers is now a success on the movie screen and the speaking circuit. He is full of hope that we can shatter the silence and save our families.

Victor Rivers urges all families facing abuse to get help. His father died years ago. His mother found her freedom from the abuse.

If you are a woman or man in an abusive relationship, call 926-HELP. If you're afraid to leave, find out how to make a safety plan. You can also learn more about how to shatter the silence here.