Fall Semester 2019

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At the end of the summer, I thought, “Well, it might be time to update my head shots…” I’d grown in my gray AND my 80’s bangs (finally) Good thing I did; turned out that my <Domestic Violence Awareness Month> would last 16 weeks …

September 12 & 13 * Hobart & William Smith Colleges

September 18 * Niagara University, Dr. Dana Radatz, “Domestic Violence” Class

October 9 * University at Buffalo, Dr. Chris St Vil, “Theory of Human Behavior & Development”

October 18 * CAPPA Theatre, Robert H. Jackson Center, Jamestown, Judicial Conference

October 24 * Woodclif Hotel, Rochester, Judicial Conference

October 28 * Buffalo Historic Courthouse, Judicial Conference

October 29 * University at Buffalo, Dr. Rob Keefe, SW 505

November 3 * St. John the Baptist RC Church, RCIA Program, Teen Dating Violence Program

November 12 * University at Buffalo, Dr. Noelle St. Vil, SW 505

November 13 * Hamburg HS, 9/10 grade Health Classes, Teen Dating Violence Program

November 14 & 18 * ECC Law Enforcement Academy w/the Erie County DV High Risk Team, Continuing Education for Sworn Officers

November 21 * Global Concepts HS, GLOW Program, Teen Dating Violence Program

December 18 * NC Law Enforcement Academy, 73rd Class

December 19 * Buffalo Family Courthouse w/Erie County DV High Risk Team, DV Program for Assigned Counsel

I also signed on with the @ncadv Speaker’s Bureau and finished out the final six months of the Peer Mentoring/DV Program sponsored by the Niagara County Victims Assistance Unit in the Niagara County jail. To top off my very long semester and to celebrate the season, I decorated my first “Period Tree” – <Just Say “NO!” to Period Shaming!>

Looking forward to a far less busy Spring Semester and to finally getting the first draft of the new book into the hands of my First Readers by the end of March. Say a prayer for me, folks; editing is the worst ūüė¶

 

Public Presentation!

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Though I’ve done public presentations before, this will be my first in the Niagara Region! Please join me for this free event. Q & A and book signing to follow – bring your copy of Leaving Dorian¬†or purchase a paperback copy at the event! ($20 – cash only, please)

 

Never Say Never: “In Her Shoes”

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20171031_085032No matter how compassionate or understanding a person you think you are, at some point you’re going to be a little judge-y.

*shrug*

O.K.

Everybody scoffs. Everybody – everybody – shakes their head and screws up their mouth and (in a moment of weakness) decides that the way that someone else is choosing to conduct themselves is wrong. We look at someone’s life or their current situation or their reaction to a rough patch and think, “I would¬†never do that!” This is especially true of domestic violence. Comments like, “I would¬†never let a man put his hands on me!” or “I would¬†never put my children through that!” are incredibly common.

And so … maybe that’s actually the case. Maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe your reaction¬†would¬†be different than someone else’s. But then again, how can you be sure? The reality¬†is that until you’re in a given situation, you really¬†don’t know how you’d react.

Because I work with DV victims and survivors as well as those who serve them,¬†I was honestly of the opinion that I (mostly) understood the overall plight of the battered woman.¬†Fortunately for me, I live in a county where the local FCS (ours is Family & Children’s Service of Niagara) offers the¬†In Her Shoes¬†DV Awareness Program.

Published in 2000 by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, In Her Shoes is “…a¬†revolutionary community education tool,¬†designed for learning about domestic violence. Participants move, do, think and experience the lives of battered women.” Photo Courtesy of The Columbian, 2015.

I initially registered to attend because while I’ve worked with Family & Children’s Service of Niagara in the past, I was recently made aware that their Director of Passage House, Larissa Bachman, is using¬†Leaving Dorian as a supplemental read with their interns. It got me to thinking that while I know quite a bit about FCS, I know little about the inner workings of Passage House. I thought what a great opportunity to speak candidly with Larissa and her team and as a bonus maybe do a blog post about the¬†In Her Shoes¬†Program.

I was completely unprepared for the experience that followed.

Participants were brought into a mixed-use room where I’d worked previously, only this time instead of rows of chairs there were long tables with stacks of colorful note cards. Each table had a sign attached: “Social Services”, “Hospital”, “Employment”, etc. Attendees were then paired up and we were told to pick a person’s name from the starter table. After that the journey begins; you are to make choices for your person while reading their perspective (as well as their batterer’s perspective) from each side of the card.

Because I’m a survivor of DV and because I work with amazing DV professionals and ridiculously intelligent and well-read professors and because I, too, have chosen to be well-read on the topic, I walked into the exercise feeling confident that I could help my person to avoid the inevitable pitfalls. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be able to guide her into a healthy lifestyle well within the hour or so time frame we’d been given to complete the exercise.

Within minutes I realized that I was wrong.

There’s no way that you can prepare yourself to be given the opportunity to make every choice from beginning to end and still “fail”. There’s no way to prepare yourself to walk through nearly forty-five minutes with a person (yes, a person written on paper, but one that you slowly and inadvertently invest yourself in) just to get to the last card and have it say “Funeral Home”.

I couldn’t believe it. Tears started to well in my eyes.¬†I stood there trying to figure it out; why was the end result so hard to take? I mean, I thought I had it. I thought I knew. I am the “Her” in “In Her Shoes”, after all! I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And even beyond my own experience – as an author who’s made myself extremely accessible on social media – I routinely hear the most sad, perplexing and gut wrenching stories from victims and survivors alike.¬†I thought nothing could surprise or shock me. And yet, tears.

I was seriously under the weather and probably should have stayed home that day, so I immediately wanted to blame it on that; I simply wasn’t feeling well. But the young woman that I was paired with didn’t like the ending either. I said, “Let’s go back…” So we did. Our character was young; not even eighteen. We had her go home. And yet, three cards in, she was right back in a tough spot. I suggested we go back even further, maybe right back to the second card that we read.

I was shaken. That couldn’t be her ending. I refused to finish the exercise. I simply would not walk over to the wall marker that said “Funeral Home”. There was nothing but an empty table in front of it. No more cards. It was left empty for reflection, but I didn’t want to reflect. I dried my eyes as the group sat down for debriefing.

I was happy to find out that not every story ended as tragically as ours. Other groups did manage to successfully maneuver their people into new lives. It’s worth noting, though, that at times these groups had to make choices for their person that weren’t always in line with their real-life belief systems. Again, an incredibly important lesson: You cannot impose your value system on someone else. Hard to hear? Sometimes, yes. But a necessary message? Absolutely.

Of course Ms. Bachman and her team were excellent facilitators and I’d like to believe that every attendee walked out that afternoon with all of their questions answered and with a deeper appreciation of the level of strength, courage, creativity and (sometimes) blind faith that victims routinely have to possess in order to safely and successfully re-start their lives. I know that I did. It was a humbling experience that I will carry with me; one that will necessarily be reflected in every presentation and classroom discussion that I participate in from now on.

I’m incredibly proud to be able to say that Family & Children’s Service of Niagara is my hometown service provider and that the staff there is offering unique, high-quality community education programs like¬†In Her Shoes. Programs like these (offered in house or off-site) are exactly what HR professionals are looking for when putting together sensitivity training for Staff Development Days. Their utilization can only heighten awareness and bring about much needed change in our thought processes (and eventually, our behavior toward) victims of domestic violence.

If you are in Western New York, you can contact FCS of Niagara to schedule an In Her Shoes program experience at http://www.niagarafamily.org or by phone: (716) 285-6984

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and is need of assistance, FCS of Niagara 24/7 Emergency Hotline is: (716) 299-0909

To purchase the In Her Shoes program please contact http://www.wscadv.org

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Reading List

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Linda Dynel, Leaving Dorian, (2014)

Susan G.S. McGee, 20 Reasons Why She Stays: A Guide For Those Who Want to Help Battered Women, (2005) ‚Äď This paper can be viewed an downloaded at: www.stopviolence.com/domviol/whytheystay.htm

Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (2002)

Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help (2006)

Michael Kimmel, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, Understanding the Critical Years Between 16 and 26 (2008)

Jody Raphael, Saving Bernice: Battered Women, Welfare and Poverty (2000)

Michael P. Johnson, A Typology of Domestic Violence, (2008)

Robbin S. Ogle & Susan Jacobs, Self-Defense and Battered Women Who Kill (2002)

Evan Stark, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (2002)

C.J. Pascoe,¬†Dude, You’re A Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality In High School (2012)

Jody Raphael, Listening to Olivia: Violence, Poverty & Prostitution (2004)

Michael Kimmel, Angry White Men (2013)

Natalie J. Sokoloff, Domestic Violence at the Margins (2005)

Michelle Kaminsky, Reflections of a Domestic Violence Prosecutor: Suggestions for Reform (2011)

Gavin DeBecker, The Gift of Fear (1997)

Erin Pizzey, Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear (1974)

**Please also see my blog posts under Domestic Violence and “Think About It” Thursdays

Fall Semester, 2016

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20161211_121241Five schools, hundreds of students. I remember their faces and many of their names. More than once this semester I looked out at them looking back at me and thought, “This is crazy; how in the world did I get here?”

Well, I’m here primarily because while I thought that typing “The End” was the end, there’s a growing body of professors and helping professionals who have decided that¬†Leaving Dorian¬†is only a beginning.

When asked the first time if I would speak to a group of college students – as a sort of companion piece to the book – I was extremely hesitant. I didn’t think I had anything left to offer. I remember asking my husband, “I’ve already exposed my soul on paper; what else is there?” Turns out there are volumes that remain unwritten and there are students who are eager to read each and every page.

Because each class is learning about intimate partner violence from a different perspective, what I’ve set out to do is to become a living research project, of sorts. I encourage the students to poke around – to take a good look around my mind and heart and see for themselves what abuse looks like from the inside out. The goal is to see if they can connect the dots from my experience to what they’ve learned about in class.

The opportunity that I offer them isn’t an easy one; it takes real courage to look someone in the eye as you’re cutting them open, even when they’re the one who handed you the scalpel. But these young adults rise to the challenge; they take that scalpel and they cut and try and peel back the layers. They poke around and try and find the answers that they’ve read about but have not seen with their own eyes. Sometimes they find what they’re looking for easily and we build on their enthusiasm by cutting a little more, digging a little deeper. Other times I don’t have the answer; I don’t know exactly what they’re looking for (sometimes they don’t really know, either) and I ask them to try again. Cut again, I encourage them. Keep digging. Here, I’ll help you. They cut here and see what’s under there; they dig and I encourage them and their professors guide them and we, as a collective, try to extract the answers.

I’ve received stacks of glowing student evaluations this semester, most of which describe me as “brave”, “courageous” and “inspirational”. It’s heartening to know that the students view me in this way, but I have to admit that I would describe them in exactly those same terms; studying to be a helping professional isn’t for the faint of heart.

Fall semester 2016 was fantastic and I’m looking forward to revisiting new students in these courses again during the Fall of 2017!

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The Niagara University campus was WINDY that evening, though my frazzled appearance might also have something to do with the fact that I spent three hours hashing it out with these students from Dr. Dana Radatz CRJ 585 Domestic Violence class. I have real affection for this group, as I still see many of them when I visit the NU campus for other DV related events.

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You just never know what you’re walking into when you visit a campus for the first time. Nazareth’s Health Center brought me in for an evening presentation in support of DV Awareness Month. The podium was unlike any I’d used before (short!) and I couldn’t see my notes, even with my readers on. I tried to remedy the situation by kicking off my heels about ten minutes in but as it turned out, shorter wasn’t better. So… I ended up delivering the entire presentation sans shoes, notes and readers ūüôā

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Because it was a campus-wide event, there were faculty and students from many different disciplines in attendance. Such great questions for me and interesting discussion afterward! I also loved that I was able to spend extra time with students who wanted to speak with me one-on-one long after the scheduled presentation time had come and gone.

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Presented to me by the Health Center interns: “Thank you so much for sharing your story with Nazareth College students and staff. We appreciate you taking the time to be with us.”

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Two day event in the Finger Lakes region for Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

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The room filled up with students and professors pretty quickly (past and present – some even brought their parents!) but there were folks from the community in attendance, as well.

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Talking about Emily Carson, a young mother of three who was murdered in downtown Geneva in February of 2016. She was shot twice by her boyfriend before he turned the gun on himself. It all happened one quiet Sunday morning while dozens of innocent bystanders became unintentional witnesses. His family was quoted afterward as saying that he “…wasn’t a violent guy.” I talk about how quickly an emotionally abusive relationship can turn violent, especially once a victim leaves or tries to leave.

 

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And this is how we do it – taking questions from Dr. Jim Sutton’s undergraduate Social Deviance class, Hobart & William Smith Colleges.

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Book signing ūüôā By the end of the class, many of the students are comfortable enough to share their own stories with me. Honestly, this is my favorite part of any presentation – meeting the students one-on-one!

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I wish my own children were as enthusiastic about having their picture taken with me as my students are! About half of the class is pictured here.

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I always take a very relaxed approach to presentations because the material can get extremely graphic and emotional. Reactions run the gamut; there are students who spend the entire class period furiously scribbling notes while others will cringe, get visibly agitated or need to leave the room to compose themselves. There are always survivors of violence in the room – always – and Dr. Noelle St. Vil’s Social Work class at the University at Buffalo was no different.

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It was very early on in this “public speaking” thing that I realized that I was going to need to sprinkle in a little levity here and there. When I smile, the students smile. When I poke fun, they laugh. It’s an essential element to making sure that the students can “hear” me. Yes, I tell them, what I lived through is terrible and no, it wasn’t fair and yes, I bear the scars of it –¬†but¬†– my life continues to move on and here are some of the dozens of silly, crazy, ridiculous stopping blocks I’ve had to overcome in the years since I left.

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Many graduate students are already working in the field; staffing shelters, working at local help centers or with law enforcement. Their timely, real-world anecdotes are helpful in generating discussion that goes beyond my experience and what they’ve learned about in class.

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I’d never Skyped a class before, so I was more that a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to gain the emotional momentum needed to connect with the students. Happily, within minutes I realized that it wasn’t going to be an impediment; the students in Dr. Angie Moe’s SOC 4950 Family Violence Class at Western Michigan University made the best of the unusual set-up and filled the hour with really thoughtful, specific questions.