Invisible Victims

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Closing remarks at the Welcome Reception for Surviving to Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art at The Castellani Art Museum, October 5, 2017

“So often in the media we see and hear sensational stories about battered women

Horrific descriptions of women being seriously injured, maimed and even killed

By the men who claim to love them 20171009_212828

And that is awful.

Each and every incident of battery, every life lost, is a tragedy.

But every single day 

There are also hundreds of thousands of women

Who aren’t killed by their partners

Who aren’t shot or stabbed or sent to the emergency room in critical condition

But are injured nonetheless.

Every single day hundreds of thousands of women

Endure cruelties and indignities that many people cannot even fathom.

Affronts to their dignity and to their humanity

Physical abuse that wounds their bodies

And verbal abuse that wounds their hearts and souls.

Yet these women quietly carry on.

They care for their children and they go to work

They go to lunch with friends and cheer their children at little league

They organize fundraisers and sew costumes for school plays

And they pray to their God at religious services, their families by their side

All the while carefully hiding the pain and shame that they live with every day.

Hiding their bruises and their embarrassment behind long sleeves and elaborate excuses.

And when they’ve had enough and they decide to move on and start their lives anew

They do so without fanfare or praise

Often times quietly enduring continued abuse long after the relationship has ended

And yet, they remain steadfast.

They stand and they fight for their right to live free from fear

Free from physical pain and sexual coercion and verbal and emotional battery

And they do all of this in the most private corners of their lives.

They do not tell their stories. They do not let outsiders in.

They carry their tragic history silently, and by themselves.

They are what I call Invisible Victims.

But they shouldn’t be.

Surviving to Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art

Brings the reality of these Invisible Victims to light.

They are our mothers and sisters and co-workers and friends.

They are your child’s school teacher and your real estate agent.

They are the cashier at your favorite coffee house and the lady who delivers your mail.

I commend each and every survivor who chose to take part in this exhibition.

To lay your pain and shame and embarrassment open for the world to judge is no small task

*I am well aware of that*

So I ask each and every one of you who will walk this floor tonight to please understand

What you’re viewing isn’t merely art, it’s strength.

It is courage and dignity and tenacity.

What these walls house tonight is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

God Bless these women

And God Bless the volunteers who took time out of their busy lives to facilitate this exhibition.

To recognize that no one should believe that it would be better to be Invisible.”

* Photo courtesy of Andrew Emmons, Niagara University

 

Summer 2017

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Family time at the Pittsburgh Zoo – 90+ degrees … we were melting!

It was a busy summer, to say the least; weddings, family road trips and lots of reading, because here in Western New York it did nothing but rain! On the up-side, I still found time to schedule three fantastic presentations with three distinctly different agencies. Each was unique and interesting in its own way and I feel lucky to have been asked by each group to spend some time with their employees, volunteers and clients.

 

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Oh, and there were cupcakes …

In late June I had the privilege of speaking with an amazing group of foster parents at KidsPeace. My presentation focused on childhood trauma and how that related to my own experience with domestic violence, but we covered so much more than that in the nearly three hours that I spent with them.

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… and a dog 🙂

 

 

KidsPeace, founded in 1882, is a private charity dedicated to serving the behavioral and mental health needs of children, families and communities. The organization was originally a home for children orphaned by a smallpox epidemic, but has grown over the years to meet the ever-changing needs of children and adolescents. KidsPeace offers services in Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Our continuum of care includes a psychiatric hospital; a comprehensive range of residential treatment programs; accredited educational services; and a variety of foster care and community-based treatment programs to help children and families in need transform their lives.”  www.kidspeace.org

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Honest conversations lead to change! So happy to be invited to speak to some of the tireless advocates who are working on behalf of women and children in Niagara County.

 

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With only about ten women in attendance, it was a completely different vibe than I’m accustomed to. Twenty minutes of intense learning – on everyone’s part 🙂

I’ve never delivered a presentation to a group comprised almost entirely of men, but that’s exactly where I unveiled my newest presentation – Domestic Violence & Being An Engaged Bystander – on August 2 at Starpoint Senior High School in Pendleton, NY. Nearly 350 youth football coaches and statisticians were in attendance at NEYSA’s All Coaches meeting. I opted to speak without a mic, because often times people talk “under” you when you use one. The vast majority of these gentlemen were just that – absolute gentlemen. Maybe a little disinterested at first? Sure. But as I talked they listened and quieted and (many) even set aside their phones. I watched their faces go from polite, required attention to, “…oh my god…that actually happened to you…? Are you serious? How could that have happened to you…?” The shock, sadness and disgust that washed over many of the attendees was palpable. Here’s hoping that if these coaches are faced with a family that’s in need of intervention, they’ll remember that feeling (and where they put the paperwork I provided!) and will feel confident in their ability to provide a shoulder and a referral to those in need.

Knight In Shining Armor

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IMG_20170810_095455_451Be very careful how much credit you take when discussing your role in helping a battered woman to turn her life around. In the end, if a woman can successfully transition from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’, it’s because she did the work. Because she had the strength, courage and conviction to stand her ground and say, “No more.” Yes, friends and loved ones may have helped ~ emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, financially ~ but in the end, a successful re-start is achieved because a battered woman did the heavy lifting. For herself, by herself.

What Is Financial Abuse?

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  • Forbidding the victim to work
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts, taking bad credit loans
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine
  • Hiding assets
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property or inheritance
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits”
  • Filing false insurance claims
  • Refusing to pay  or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets

Excerpted from nnedv.org

What Is Coercive Control?

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“Coercive control is a term developed by Evan Stark to help us understand domestic abuse as more than a ‘fight’. It is a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self. It is not just women’s bodily integrity which is violated but also their human rights.”
Read the book: Evan Stark, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (2002)

What Is Gaslighting?

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“Gaslighting is a colloquial term that describes a type of psychological abuse in which the abuser denies the victim’s reality, causing him/her to question him/herself, his/her memory, or his/her perceptions. The term gaslighting is also sometimes used to apply to the use of inflammatory behavior or language that provokes someone to behave in an uncharacteristic way. Gaslighting is often used an abusive tactic by those with narcissistic and psychopathic personalities. The aim of the abuse is to make the victim doubt his/her perception of reality, and gaslighting tactics can be entirely verbal or emotional.

Often, victims of this abuse may start out by challenging the perpetrator, who then turns the situation around by gaslighting them. In doing so, he or she causes the victim to question themselves and in doing so, draws attention away from the abuse. For example, someone might claim that his or her partner engaged in name-calling, yelling, or breaking of that person’s possessions. The partner might avoid taking the blame with gaslighting techniques such as denying that the events ever took place, or pointing out that other person’s transgressions were at fault.

An individual may gaslight another by:

  • Refusing to listen to any concerns or pretending not to understand them.
  • Questioning his or her memory, denying that events occurred in the way the victim (accurately) remembers.
  • Changing the subject to divert the victim’s attention from a topic, trivializing their concerns.
  • Pretending to forget things that have happened to further discredit the victim.
  • Denying events have taken place, claiming that the victim is making them up”

Excerpted from http://www.goodtherapy.org

 

What Is Stalking?

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The kinds of acts that make up stalking include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Following or surveillance
  • Inappropriate approaches and confrontations
  • Repeated, uninvited appearances at work or residence
  • Unwanted telephone calls or texts
  • Threatening the victim
  • Threatening the victim’s family and friends
  • Unwanted letters, e-mails, gifts
  • Repeatedly sending unwanted emails or texts to the victim
  • Using online social media inappropriately
  • Damaging the victim’s property
  • Physical assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Assaulting or killing the victim’s pet
  • Spreading false rumors
  • Filing false charges

Excerpted from Los Angeles College Consortium and usc.edu

What Is Emotional Abuse?

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Any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity or self-worth. Some examples are: yelling or swearing; name calling, insults or mocking; threats and intimidation; isolation; humiliation; denial of the abuse and blaming the victim.

Excerpted from http://www.healthyplace.com

Spring 2017

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20170610_090715January to May of 2017 was fun; a “mixed bag” of new experiences, new students and lots of travel! I added workshops to my list of “Things That I Do”, working with everyone from Human Resource professionals to High School students. And I read; oh, boy, did I read! Stacks of books on domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and gender equality. I read scholarly articles online and went over the NYS OPDV website with a fine-tooth comb. I also watched endless videos and TED talks.  It was near the end of last semester that I realized that if I didn’t educate myself beyond my own narrow experience, my usefulness to students and the general public alike would be extremely limited. There’s always more to learn!

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March 21 – “Because You’re a Girl: A Discussion on Gender Equality” workshop delivered to “The Big Eagle-Little Eagle Mentoring Program” at Niagara University. Niagara Falls High School students are paired with grad and undergrad students for academic support and general guidance.

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They took the “Building a Budget” Activity (meant to show cost of living and pay disparity) VERY seriously. At one point the group that was trying to work out the woman’s budget complained, “But this doesn’t work, no matter how we do it; we always come up short at the end of the month…!” Ah, yes… we’re learning! 🙂

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Discussing “Because You’re a Girl”, a blog post I wrote on sexual assault and how the sexual assault of women effects men. One student wrote on the eval: “The story at the end helped me to realize that things like this are real and can happen to anyone. It helped me to understand that sexual assault is never a joke.”

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Mr. Eric Rigg, Grad Student Extraordinaire and founder of “The Big Eagle-Little Eagle Mentoring Program” and HIS mentor, Ms. Averl Harbin

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When your mom is a DV advocate, your lessons about gender equality are more than just situational – Every fourteen year old boy could benefit from an hour or so with Jackson Katz. Watching Tough Guise, after which he looked at his dad and I and proclaimed, “I think some guys take this hyper-masculinity thing just a little too far!” Out of the mouths of babes :0

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Gratuitous shot of my “Office Assistant” watching a Michael Kimmel TED talk with me 🙂

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Had to stop by the African-American Student Union table at Niagara University’s “Take Back the Night” on March 30 – two of these lovely ladies attended my gender equality workshop and it was great to see them working so hard and standing up for women of color!

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Mentors aren’t just for kids – “Biz Women Mentoring Mondays”  sponsored by Buffalo Business First at RiverWorks. It turned out to be a study in how uncomfortable the average person is when confronted in even the smallest way with the topic of domestic violence.

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And another new workshop! “Beyond Leaving Dorian, A Culture of Caring: Addressing Domestic Violence in the Workplace”.

 

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Twitter is a fantastic exercise in “keeping it succinct”. LOVE it!

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I was so inspired after the mountains of reading I did in order to prepare for the gender equality workshop, my husband and I decided that a day trip to the very SEAT of the movement would be in order!

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He is one of my personal heroes – ugly cried the entire time I stood there.

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None of what I do is easy. Much of the time it feels like I’m shouting into a black hole. Every single day, women are still dying at the hands of men who claim to love them. “Tell me, Susan, how did you do it? You spent your life fighting and didn’t even live to see the goal met.” And the wind carried what sounded like an answer – “Persist.”

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May 30 – DV Awareness presentation at Fredonia BOCES

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Cosmetology and Health Careers Students. Don’t ever assume that you don’t need to talk to your kids about healthy relationships or boundaries. One student remarked on her eval: “The most important thing that I learned was that it’s not o.k. to be grabbed or hit.” Another remarked, “The presentation gave me hope that some day I will get out of the relationship I’m in.” Education is the key.

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Law Enforcement students. These kids arrived dressed in full uniform, filed-in in what was akin to military formation and took the entire presentation very seriously. And yet their reflection letters to me said things like, “I was touched by your presentation. You opened my eyes. We are grateful for your strength.” Again…ugly cry.

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Jennie Alessi – NYS Certified Police Officer, Professor of Criminal Justice at Hilbert College and Criminal Justice Instructor at Fredonia BOCES. She is tiny but she is badass. Extremely honored that she extended me the invitation to come and speak.

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Now, let’s take a moment, shall we, to note this extremely bad picture of me… What the… ? I often post the less than flattering shots because, well… sometimes that’s all I get and I have to have a picture to post. But this one … wow … I look chunky AND grumpy … and I’m neither! Well, ok, to be fair … I’m probably grumpy … a lot … but geez! There’s still plenty of time left, but I’m hoping that this goes down as my “Least Flattering Pic of 2017” 😉

 

 

What Is Domestic Violence?

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Intimate Terrorism is violence deployed in the service of (gaining) general control over one’s partner.

Violent Resistance is when a victim of Intimate Terrorism fights back physically.

Situational Couple Violence is when one or both partners are violent but neither is using violence in an attempt to exert general control over the other. Unlike Intimate Terrorism, violence is not usually a central part of the couple’s relationship.

 

(Excerpted from: A Typology of Domestic Violence, Michael P. Johnson; globalrightsforwomen.org)