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

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.

To Tell or Not To Tell

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20170225_072244If you knew that a male friend or family member had stalked, harassed or abused his former partners (either because you witnessed the behavior or because he confided the information to you) would you feel morally obligated to tell his current partner? Are you a busy-body if you get involved? Do you only tell if she asks? Do you assume that he will be honest and tell her eventually? If you stay silent and he injures his current partner, would you feel partially responsible because you were aware that there was a potential for danger and said nothing? Are we responsible for other people’s safety?

2016 NEYSA Coaches Meeting

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Great to finally meet Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour

“If we’re ever going to end domestic violence, it’s going to have to start with the way that we raise our sons.” – Linda Dynel

This quote was included in the literature that was given to over three hundred youth football coaches yesterday evening at the Niagara Erie Youth Sports Associations’s annual coaches meeting. With sixteen member organizations, NEYSA is Western New York’s largest youth football league. I was happy to be able to help Ray Turpin, President of NEYSA, put together a program that would make a lasting impression on all of the attendees. 

I’m pictured here with Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour who spoke to the packed auditorium about topics like being a good role model and the lasting impact that coaches have on their players. Sheriff Voutour asked thought provoking questions like, “Are you going to be successful or significant?” and tried to impress upon the crowd of mostly men that they have a “golden opportunity” to teach each and every young person that steps onto their field to be respectful, decent and thoughtful young men (and women) by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:”There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.” Addressing the topic of domestic violence, he encouraged the group to speak up if they thought that something was amiss with one of their player’s families. “If you see something, say something.”

Sheriff Voutour ended his presentation by suggesting that the group practice standing at attention with their players for one minute at the end of each practice, as sometimes children have a hard time standing still and paying close attention during our national anthem. “If you teach respect for our country,” he told them, “everything else will follow.” 

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet Sheriff Voutour and to help make the 2016 NEYSA coaches meeting one that  don’t think any of the attendees will soon forget. 

Shelter From The Storm

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pettodvshelterThat’s the ratio in America today between animal shelters and battered women’s shelters.

I know…that’s crazy, isn’t it? How can that statistic possibly be correct?

But I’ve done the math and the research. I’ve hunted for weeks for information that would lead me to a different number, yet even if I figure in transitional housing for homeless women (because domestic violence is the number one cause of homelessness in America for women and their children) the number only drops slightly, down to 8:1.

More than twenty years ago,”The Senate Judiciary committee noted in its 1992 report that there are about 1,200 known shelters in the US serving thousands of women and children each year…”* Thinking that there had to be hundreds, even thousands, more shelters in operation since that statistic was published, I looked it up.

These are the facts: The ASPCA reports that, “There are about 13,600 independent community animal shelters nationwide.” Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel states that, “There are 1500 emergency battered women shelters in the US.” I’ve found other networks and agencies that work with battered women to have slightly different totals, but none that I’ve found exceed 1600.

I know that I get the math wrong a lot in my day to day life (and I mean, a lot…seriously….I’m terrible at even the simplest task when it comes to numbers!) but 13600 divided by 1500 is roughly 9:1. It’s math, not magic. That’s the number.  

That’s the number that signifies the value we place on women (and their children) in this country. Really? That number says that we value puppies more than families; it says that we value kittens more than the most basic human rights of women to live with dignity and freedom from violence. Do we? Do we really value dogs more than our mothers, sisters and daughters? Is that where we’re at, America?

God Bless the ASPCA for their work, but God help us as a country if we continue to turn a blind eye to the most basic human needs of our marginalized women.

*Self-Defense and Battered women Who KillA New Framework, Ogle and Jacobs, 2002, pg.74

Note: If my math is wrong, if you have a different number that you’ve gathered from a legitimate source, please contact me and I’ll update this post. I’m still stunned and saddened by the above and would love to be able to say that I got it wrong and that it’s not as bad as the numbers say that it is. 

 

Not Damaged; Just Different

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“I’m not damaged, I’m just different.”

I use this phrase during presentations when trying to explain how living through an abusive marriage has changed me, inside and out. I tell my audience – sometimes victims or survivors of domestic violence, themselves – that I’m not the person I once was and that I never will be again. I tell them that while what happened to me certainly wasn’t right or fair or just, and that living through it has given me some pretty significant emotional baggage to carry along the rest of my life’s journey, that I’ve made the decision to put that part of my life in my my rear view and focus on what’s ahead.

Living through a traumatic event necessarily changes a person. Sometimes we think that once a victim has physically removed themselves from an abusive relationship that they should be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and move on. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Often times a survivor will carry the mental and emotional scars of that abusive relationship with them for the rest of their lives.

We don’t expect a soldier that’s returned home from war to simply “feel better and move on”; why would we expect that from someone who’s lived in a domestic war zone? Fear, anxiety, depression, lack of ability to trust people and situations, paranoia; these are all very real and understandable reactions to life after a trauma. We can’t just will ourselves to “feel better”. If you know someone who’s struggling after surviving an abusive relationship, gently suggesting that they might benefit from seeing a counselor or therapist is perhaps the most important piece of advice you can give.

Interestingly, what led me to even consider how much my first marriage changed me, even after writing Leaving Dorian, was a conversation that I had with a neighbor who’d just finished reading it. He works in HR and we were talking about how people deal with difficult issues like DV. He asked me if my husband had read the book. I said yes, that he reads everything that I write, but above and beyond that my husband knows fully and completely what I went through in my first marriage. What stuck with me was my neighbor’s reply, “I ask because I’ve dealt with some women who have been abused and have moved on but their new spouse struggles with knowing what went on and it causes issues in their marriage.”

I was beyond shocked. Sure, over the years I’d experienced the recoil and looks of disgust people sometimes inadvertently give when they find out why my first marriage ended. I learned fairly quickly that if I answered honestly, there was a 50/50 chance that I’d walk away from the conversation feeling like I’d injured them in some way simply by telling the truth. But were there really men out there that felt that way; that a woman was somehow “damaged goods” if she’d been abused in a former relationship? Sadly, I was sure that there were.

I thought about my neighbor’s candid admission a lot; probably more than I should have, but said nothing. I wanted to write an editorial for the local newspaper, or post a blog and rant about insensitivity and selfishness and blah, blah, blah… (“Geez…so sorry my trauma happens to make you so uncomfortable. Sorry that the horrible experience that I lived through is so difficult for you to bear…) but I didn’t. Instead, I wrote down that little phrase – “I’m not damaged, I’m just different” – and I use it every chance I get.

I said it the first time I spoke at an emergency shelter, the women in residence looking back at me from the long table that they were crowded around in a cold basement in an old church on the East Side of Buffalo. I watched their faces search mine for an answer: How did you do it? How are you standing here? Give me the formula; tell me how to put my pieces back together. I am a shell of my former self; I’m a disaster. I feel like the walking dead. When will I feel better? I use it every time a woman Messages me or contacts me through my blog or through email. Any time a victim or survivor reaches out to me and is desperate and exhausted and tells me that she feels ruined and broken, that is what I tell her. You’re not damaged, you’re just different. And so am I.

I’m a work in progress. Some days are productive and some days are crazy and there are times that I think I’ve got it all figured out and there are times that I sit and sob for no reason. Some days I feel brave and strong and some days I feel small and weak but every day I wake up thankful to have survived a trauma that could have killed me physically and might have destroyed me mentally but didn’t.

I survived.

My life is entirely my own now and only I get to decide how my story will end.

“I’m not damaged; I’m just different.” Beautifully, painfully, forever different.

 

 

Rule Of Thumb

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20160421_083439Did you know that the phrase “rule of thumb”is actually derived from British Common Law codified by Sir William Blackstone in 1768?

“While Blackstone never attempted to criminalize battering, he did create the first effort to regulate the severity of allowable battering. He codified the ‘rule of thumb’ stating that a husband had the legal right and responsibility to control and punish his wife. However, that punishment was to be done with a stick no bigger than the husband’s thumb.”*

We give a lot of lip service to putting an end to domestic violence, but how far have we really come in the last 250 years in what we believe is acceptable behind closed doors? To that end, how often do we reference our partner/spouse in terms of property or ownership by using possessive words like “mine”? Objectification is like a gateway drug; it feeds selfishness and ego and impedes us from seeing someone as wholly their own person, to be valued and respected aside and apart from our own needs, wants and desires.

*Excerpted from Self-Defense and Battered Women Who Kill: A New Framework , Ogle/Jacobs, 2002

2016 Woman of Distinction Acceptance Speech

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award“In January I did a presentation for DV service providers in Niagara Falls. Family & Children’s Services of Niagara sponsored the event and several other agencies were invited to attend. We ended up having a pretty good sized group; maybe thirty in all, and agencies like Legal Aide, advocates from the Niagara County Sheriff’s office, a professor from Niagara University and interns from NU attended, as well.

It was the first time I’d ever spoken without a podium and the group was very close to where I was standing, so even with my contacts out I could see the front few rows very clearly. (My little cheat to calm my nerves; I can’t read facial expressions without my contacts/glasses. I don’t get distracted or emotional if I can’t read the emotion on my attendees faces!)

The hour long presentation went well; lots of good questions and comments and even some laughter and tears. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and get a lot out of the presentation except for one woman. She was sitting in the front row, directly to my right. I don’t want to say that she had no expression on her face; the best way to describe it was stone. She sat there the entire time looking like stone. There was clearly something wrong, but of course I didn’t have any idea what was going on. I thought that maybe she didn’t like the presentation; maybe she didn’t want to be there? I had no idea. But once I was through speaking and went to a side table to sign books, she was up and out of her seat and heading for the door.

When I got home later that night my husband asked how it went and I said great, except for that one woman. I just couldn’t figure it out; it bothered me that she looked so bothered. My husband assured me that it probably wasn’t the presentation; maybe she didn’t feel well or maybe something was going on at home or work. I agreed that he was probably right, but still… if you could have seen her face, I lamented.

“Well, maybe she didn’t like the presentation,” he reluctantly suggested. “You’re never gonna reach everyone.”

I agreed to focus on the positive and went to bed feeling satisfied that I’d given it my best effort. When I got up the next morning just before six, I noticed the Messenger light was already blinking on my phone. Assuming that it was one of my grown children that live out of town, I braced myself, prepared to handle whatever news was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until I’d had my coffee. But it wasn’t one of my kids; it was the woman from the night before.

She wondered if I remembered her (of course I did, I wanted to say; you made me nervous the entire time I was speaking, trying to figure out what was wrong!) and apologized for not coming over and saying hello after the presentation. She said that she was afraid that if she said anything, she would break down in tears in front of her co-workers. She went on to explain that her mother had been brutally murdered four years earlier by a long-time boyfriend.

We spoke at length; she said that she’d read Leaving Dorian and had recommended it to friends and family members alike, even posting about it on her Facebook page. She also had nothing but kind words about the presentation. Before we said goodbye she told me, “Don’t stop doing what you’re doing; WE need you.”

You know, even after all of the really wonderful things that she’d said about me and the book and the presentation, all I could think was – she wouldn’t have had any of that without you. She read one of the copies of the book that your Club donated to Family & Children’s Services! And there wouldn’t have been a presentation if I hadn’t met Karrie (Gebhardt, Director of Passage House) right here at the Hat Luncheon (fundraiser in October, 2015). This woman felt supported and understood and was able to take all of that positivity back to her friends and family members who also suffered after her mother’s death, because of your efforts.

I’m sure there are times that you wonder if what your Club is doing is actually making a difference. The world is a vast and complicated place, and the problems and heartaches of women all over the world can seem far too complex to ever make a dent in. Your efforts may seem small, but they’re like a tiny pebble dropped into a pond. The ripples that come off of that one tiny pebble reach every corner of that pond, no matter how large the pond is. Your fight for social justice, gender equality and the safety and education of women all over the world is unique. It’s a battle too few choose to fight. The world is a better place because of The Zonta Club of Niagara Falls, New York.

It is with the utmost gratitude that I humbly accept this award. Thank you.”

Gerard Place, February 2, 2016

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Presented “Beyond Leaving Dorian: A Discussion on Domestic Violence” to the women of Gerard Place, a transitional housing shelter for battered/recovering women and their children.

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Domestic violence isn’t a feeling, it’s a fact; talking statistics and mortality rates from domesticabuseshelter dot org

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Many women attended, though only a few agreed to be photographed. The stigma and shame attached to being a victim of DV is part of what keeps women from stepping forward and asking for help. I was happy to allow each woman her privacy, depending on her individual comfort level. Each and every woman in that room has my utmost respect and I was grateful to each for choosing to attend.

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Plenty of good questions, some of which I’d never been asked before. These ladies came prepared!

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The woman of Gerard Place are provided day care services so that they can attend presentations like mine as well as educational/employment/vocational training, life skills classes and counseling.

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Kaitlin Price, Case Manager & Life Skills Coordinator, who put our afternoon together. Bright, organized and always ready with a smile, Kaitlin’s positive attitude is infectious.

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Gerard Place first opened its doors in 2000, the culmination of the work of 12 congregations of Women Religious in the Diocese of Buffalo who created and sponsored the agency on the grounds of the former St. Gerard Parish. Located in the heart of one of Buffalo’s poorest communities (the Bailey-Delevan neighborhood, where the unemployment rate is a staggering 55% among those aged 19-39 and 40% of children live below the poverty line) Gerard Place has assisted hundreds of families by giving them the tools that they need to help themselves and break the poverty cycle.

In 2009, the Junior League of Buffalo/Buffalo News Education Building was opened, providing GED and computer classes, job readiness training, like skills support and health and nutrition education to both families in residence at Gerard Place as well as the community at large.  In any given year, nearly 40 different collaborative partners utilize the facility and share their expertise with those in need. Four years later, in 2013, agency leadership announced a campaign to renovate the former St. Gerard Parish Hall building and turn it into a multi-purpose community center.  The result of this ambitious project will be a vocational training program (coordinated by partner Allied Health), a gymnasium, an expanded computer lab and day care center, an additional wing of classrooms and an industrial kitchen.

Residents are not given a “hand out,” they are earning a “hand up.”

Please visit   http://www.gerardplace.org   for information on the many fundraising opportunities that you can take part in to support Gerard Place.

**Information on Gerard Place was excerpted from their website.

 

 

 

Family & Children’s Services of Niagara, January 21, 2016

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Presented “Beyond Leaving Dorian: A Discussion on Domestic Violence” to staff and advocates from Family & Children’s Services of Niagara, Legal Aid, Niagara County Sheriff Department, YWCA of Lockport, Dr. Dana Radatz from Niagara University and NU interns.

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Seeing the group from this perspective really doesn’t do them justice. They look incredibly average; they could be your next-door neighbor or your co-worker. And they have vague, vanilla sounding job titles like “Child Advocate” and “Coordinator”. What you can’t see are their capes; the “S” on their chests are invisible. These dedicated women and men are truly some of the super-heroes of our community.

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Larissa, Advocacy Coordinator (in black) kept everything running smoothly.

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Nellie (in teal) with the YWCA of Lockport.

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Talking about how quickly Leaving Dorian had to be taken from ebook to paperback – two months from the initial publication date!

Excerpted from the Family & Children’s Services website:

“2015 marked the 120th anniversary of Family & Children’s Service of Niagara. Founded in 1895, Family & Children’s Service of Niagara has met the ever-changing needs of our community for more than a century by providing the residents of the Niagara region with a wide range of community and social work services. Over the years our name has changed and our services have been modified to meet the needs of the community in the 21st century, but our work of helping people help themselves has remained. Thousands of children, adults and families have turned to the agency for compassionate, affordable and professional help to meet their needs. Family & Children’s Service is truly a family service agency providing a mosaic of inter-related services for the benefit of the entire family from infants to adults.”

These services include, but are not limited to:

  • Domestic Violence Services, including Passage House Emergency Shelter
  • Parent Empowerment Program
  • Healthy Families Program
  • Youth Services, including Casey House (runaway & homeless youth shelter) and The CRIB Maternity Group Home (for pregnant and parenting teens)
  • Mental Health Counseling for adults and children

24/7 DV Hotline: 716-299-0909      *****      24/7 Runaway Youth Hotline: 716-285-7125

 

Project Runway December, 2015

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Staff of Project Runway (…a drug and alcohol-free pathway for young women) and related departments at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital gathered to be a part of the seminar, “Beyond Leaving Dorian: A Discussion on Domestic Violence”. A big thank you to Sarah Obot, Community Outreach Coordinator with Project Runway for inviting me and for organizing this gathering of such intelligent, kind, highly motivated women!