Spring Semester 2018

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It was a looooooong semester!!

Staff Development program at Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, NY. ### Mt. St. Mary’s is part of the Western New York Catholic Health System, so there were Sisters in attendance. ### I’m well aware that Religious work at the hospital doing a variety of jobs. I *should have known* that there would be Religious in attendance … and yet … I didn’t even consider it. ***Sigh*** At various times during my presentation, I repeat off color words that were spoken to me :/ Awkward :/ But the Sisters took it all in stride, as did the entirety of the staff 🙂 I was happy to have everyone from administrators to nurses (still in their surgical scrubs!) in attendance, as well as reps from Neighborhood Legal Services in Buffalo and UB School of Social Work.

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Working with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Victims Assistance Unit inside the Niagara County jail, women’s facility. Half peer mentoring, half book club, the program involves an advocate and I going in and chatting with the women about tackling life after surviving domestic violence.

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I had a podium for this one 🙂 Woohoo!! I love it when I’m not just thrown into a room with a bunch of people, kinda just hangin’ out up there … notes in hand :/ Seriously, though, it was a small but important event and I was honored to be asked to speak.

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Making the paper (or two) is always interesting, because you can never be sure how the photos will turn out. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I feel comfortable speaking up if I’m unsure or uncomfortable with how a shot is being composed. When I asked veteran photographer Jim Neiss if he *really* thought that someone who wrote a book about being a victim should be standing in what looks like a power position while everyone else is sitting (including the Sheriff… which made me even MORE uncomfortable), he looked at me with a totally straight face and said, “I get the feeling you’re no shrinking flower… ” and continued to compose the shot. Well! *blush* Of course he was spot on, and the picture looked great 🙂 Thanks, Jim!

 

On Saturday, April 7, I spoke at the “Dress for What’s Next” event at the University at Buffalo School of Law. This free, all day event for survivors of domestic violence was put on by an all-volunteer team of UB Law School students. Daycare and lunch were provided for women and their children and there was even a therapy dog on site đź–¤ Meditation and self-defense classes were offered, support and referral information was provided and there was even an opportunity for the ladies to do a little “gently used” clothes shoppingđź‘—đź‘ đź‘ś Impressive from beginning to end and I was absolutely honored to be asked to be a part of it!

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“Purple is our color”

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Clothes Closet. Women could “shop” for business ans casual clothes. This is an incredibly important opportunity, as there are times that women lee an unsafe home with only the clothes on their backs. It’s also a fantastic way for them to access nearly new business attire. They will look great and feel confident when they venture out into the job market!

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Beautifully decorated for the ladies luncheon!

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Explaining the years of nonsense and difficulties I went through AFTER my divorce.

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Talking about the GIANT microwave I was gifted from a dear friend when I rented my first apartment after my divorce.

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“Leaving Dorian” is used as required text by the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy at Niagara University. Just like with any college level course, once the students read the book, I go in and spend a couple of hours answering their questions and fielding comments.

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I was happy to be invited to stay and watch the recruits of the 68th Police Academy run through some DV role play.

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Yes, it was “pretend”, but it was still unnerving to watch.

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The ladies of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Victim’s Assistance Unit were fantastic in acting out real life scenarios that the recruits will definitely be facing once they’re sworn and out in the field.

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There were points that I could feel myself wanting to cry. Silly, right? Nope, not when you’re sitting there and you realize what these recruits are actually signing up for.

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After watching those two hours of role play, I have an entirely different perspective on the unique position that officers are in every day. I will never forget this group. 

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I submitted it as an op-ed but ended up with a feature spot. Nice!

Spent a lengthy lunch hour talking DV and related topics with attorneys and advocates. These ladies (and one gentleman) had great questions and were a lot of fun to work with.

April is my anniversary month; eighteen years ago in April, I escaped my abusive husband. Spending the day in Hamburg (the town that I ran away to) delivering Dating Abuse Awareness classes to 9/10 grade and college credit Health classes at Hamburg High School was amazing. A full circle moment for me, to be sure!

“Recommended Read”!

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Videos/Educational

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Miss Representation: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See  A Documentary Film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Tough Guise: Violence, Media & The Crisis in Masculinity  with Jackson Katz

Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood & American Culture  featuring Jackson Katz

The Mask You Live In: Is American Masculinity Harming Our Boys, Men & Society at Large?  A Film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Feminists: What Were They Thinking? A Documentary Film by Johanna Demetrakas

The Bystander Moment: Transforming Rape Culture at its Roots featuring Jackson Katz

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.

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)

One In Five

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As hilarious as it is terrible – the thought processes that keep men inadvertently (and sometimes deliberately) supporting rape culture are so brilliantly articulated that even with the seriously funny spin, I still end up crying at the end no matter how many times I watch it.

The Strongest Person You Know

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Dear Victim of Domestic Violence,

You are the strongest person you know. In fact, you might be the strongest person you’ll ever know.

If you have lived through even one day when you were physically injured or emotionally battered by someone that claimed to love you, you are the strongest person you know. If you took the hit, physically or emotionally, and didn’t completely shut down on the spot from the hurt, shame, shock, grief, anger, humiliation, horror, disgust, and confusion that you felt, you are the strongest person you know. If you got up the next day and tried life again – took care of your kids, went to work, cooked and cleaned and saw friends, family and co-workers and went about daily life like your very soul hadn’t been dinged – you are the strongest person you know.

What’s ironic is that because of all of this, you probably think that you’re the weakest person you know. You think that it’s your fault or maybe some sort or failure on your part. You look at your kids and you worry because there’s a chance that they might have witnessed or heard the abuse that was wrought upon you. You don’t want friends or family to find out because maybe they would judge you. Worst of all is that you ‘blinked’; when your partner hurt you, you didn’t immediately rise up and end the relationship, like every *kick ’em to the curb* girl-anthem/pop song says that an independent, strong woman does. Maybe you fought back and maybe you didn’t but ultimately, you stayed. And you let him stay. You let things cool down. You told yourself that it would never happen again. You bet on the hope that deep down, he’s a better man than his actions say that he is.

That’s not a bet I’d be willing to take.

Domestic violence escalates quickly and can be fatal. You feel weak because your soul has been dinged, but believe me when I tell you that you’re the strongest person you know because if you managed to live through even one instance of battery and still got up the next day, put feet on the floor and tried life again, you possess a strength that can never be compromised. Not by your partner. Not by anyone.

If you leave, are things going to be weird for a while? Are you going to have to live somewhere unfamiliar? Will you have to change jobs, email addresses and your cell phone number? Will you have to stay away from social media? Will you have to trade in your car for a different model to ensure yourself a good amount of privacy and anonymity? Will your children be confused and scared and require extra patience while you work through keeping yourself safe? Will loved ones, lawyers, co-workers and others ask you prying, silly or uninformed questions like, Why did you stay for so long?, Why didn’t you call the police? or Why did you have another baby with him? All or some of these things might happen, but you will handle it all and you will handle it well, because you are the strongest person you know.

How can I be so sure? Because I know this: If you were strong enough to have lived through even one instance of physical and/or emotional battery with your partner, you’re damn sure strong enough to live without him.

Love,

A Survivor

Presentation Reviews

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20161228_090617“I have been talking to my class as well as to folks who attended your evening presentation.  Everyone has shared thoughts that contained words like ‘amazing’, ‘incredible’ and ‘powerful’.  It is clear to me that your visit made an important contribution to their learning.” – Dr. James Sutton, Professor of Sociology, Hobart & William Smith Colleges

“I really appreciated how you were able to talk about such difficult material in an honest and down-to-earth manner. The Skype session with you was clearly the stand-out class period of the semester. It’s certainly not every day that college students can speak directly to the author of one of their reading assignments! You both reinforced and enhanced our collective understanding of the dynamics involved with intimate partner violence. We admire and respect you greatly.” – Dr. Angie Moe, Professor of Sociology, Western Michigan University

“I assigned ‘Leaving Dorian’ to my graduate level Domestic Violence course. From the very start, my students were enthralled and invested in her story. This was not only apparent in our class discussions, but also when Linda visited my class as a guest speaker; the three-hour time frame for the one-day per week course seemed to pass within minutes rather than hours, as we sat in a circle informally discussing her book. Linda’s visit was invaluable, not only to my students, but also to me. So much of what Linda shared in her visit with students aligned with my course material. Linda’s name frequently arose in classes after her visit, as many of the students (as well as myself) referenced Linda in subsequent classes. The ability to use examples from Linda’s book and her class visit was incredibly beneficial when teaching challenging concepts and driving home important points. Also, I find it important to note that at the end of the semester, when I asked for informal feedback on the course, every one of my students mentioned that Linda’s book and her visit were “absolute musts” for my future classes. Without a doubt, I firmly believe Linda positively impacted my students’ understanding of domestic violence, and cannot wait to have her visit Niagara University in future semesters!” – Dr. Dana Radatz, Professor of Criminology, Niagara University

From Student Evaluations Administered After Presentations:

The one thing I found most helpful about this presentation was:  “The openness of the conversation. We were allowed to ask whatever questions we were wondering.” – “How honest and understanding she was.” – “The statistics she gave were eye-opening and I really loved that she gave out packets of data, as well. She made her story so open and honest to us; it made it so real and incredibly motivating.” – “It was more of a discussion and not a strict lecture. She was very personable, funny and friendly.” – “The open discussion format. I liked the different directions that the presentation went in due to our ability to ask questions continuously.”  – “Her candor and honesty about a very difficult topic.” – “How open and honest she encouraged us to be.”

Other comments: “I love your style of presentation. Amazing experience!”  – “I really enjoyed your presentation and conversation we had!” – “I think your current role in the world is very important. Everyone needs to hear your story and other stories like it so we may be one step closer to implementing change.” – “I am so very thankful for Linda Dynel and strong individuals like herself who so bravely share their stories to educate and help complete strangers. It is because of people like her that brings bursts of light to those who feel they are alone in the dark.” – “Emotional and wonderful experience. Painful but cathartic.” – “So awesome! This book should be required by all colleges for their students to read!” – “This was an amazing presentation and I felt like it improved me as a person and as a social worker.” 

J-E-R-K

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Do you know a J-E-R-K?

“J” is for JUSTIFICATION. This person believes that everything they do, say, think and believe is right and beyond reproach. This person is literally never wrong. If you dare point out a flaw in their actions, words, thought process or belief system, you immediately become the enemy and are accused of trying to hurt them, tear them down psychologically or emotionally or (the most egregious of all sins) embarrass them.

“E” is for ENTITLEMENT. This person believes that it is their right to do with you whatever they like. Every part of you, from the most intimate pieces of yourself (your body, self-concept, self-esteem, value system, ideology) to those things that you cherish outside of yourself (relationships with family members, friends, pets; even your belongings) are theirs to criticize, manipulate, diminish or destroy.

“R” is for REALITY. This person believes that they, alone, are allowed define and judge the way in which you experience every situation. Your opinion doesn’t matter. How you feel doesn’t matter. They will tell you what you experienced and how you ought to feel about it and if you refuse to see things their way, you are deemed wrong, stupid, obtuse, phony, crazy, etc.

“K” is for KNOWLEDGE. At times, this person will try to convince you that they are so in love/angry/drunk/overwhelmed that they lose control of themselves. Other times they’ll want you to believe that the controlling, hurtful way that they treat you is for your own good or that you bring it upon yourself. This person tries to cut friends, family members, work mates and neighbors out of your life under the guise of “loyalty” to them or to the relationship, because they understand that knowledge is power. They don’t want you to know anyone else’s opinion of the relationship.

There’s another word that perfectly describes someone who’s a “J-E-R-K”. Seven letters, starts with an “A” and ends with an “E”. (No; not that word – but good guess and accurate description nonetheless!) The word I’m talking about is “A-B-U-S-I-V-E”. If your significant other fits even one of the descriptions above, it might be time to sit down and talk to someone. There are help centers available in every city as well as online (www.ncadv.org, www.nomore.org, www.safehorizonorg ). No one deserves to be treated the way that the J-E-R-K in your life is treating you. You deserve better than that. Please reach out for confidential help and please don’t wait. Life is too short to waste hanging out with a J-E-R-K.