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