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”


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.



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 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






To Tell or Not To Tell


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?

“Surviving…Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art” Castellani Art Museum, October 27, 2016


Music played softly in the gallery and advocates from local help agencies answered questions and offered information and guidance at tables set up in the lobby as students, faculty and members of the surrounding community viewed about 80 pieces of art created by survivors of domestic violence in a special exhibit at Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum.

“This is the first year Niagara University has been part of the event. NU students have created a red flag – part of the national Red Flag Campaign, which addresses the red flags of dating violence, said Karrie Gebhardt, director of domestic violence and parenting services at Family and Children’s Services of Niagara. The initiative is a campaign to remind people to ‘say something’ if they see the signs of dating violence in a friend’s relationship. Some of the red flags include, coercion, jealousy, stalking, emotional abuse, sexual assault, isolation and victim blaming.

Eileen Wrobel, a Niagara Falls Police domestic violence victim advocate, facilitated the art exhibit with survivors through the Windows Between the Worlds art program.” – Nancy Fisher, Buffalo News, October 20, 2016


“No matter what anyone says or how they try and justify the behavior, it is not O.K. to be treated poorly by anyone. Especially when they call it love.”


This is the piece that brought me to tears; even now, it’s hard for me to look at.


“If I can say anything to convince you to leave before it’s too late, (I’d say) ‘It’s not worth it and there is better love.’ I am a survivor by the grace of God.”


I had a student ask me at a recent event if her friend (who is being battered, but who is also struggling with immigration issues) would be arrested and/or deported if she reached out to authorities for help. The above piece perfectly illustrates this often times overlooked issue.


Oil on canvas


The Silent Witness Project is a traveling project created in 2016 by high school senior Andrew Villella as his Eagle Scout Project. It is a reconstruction of the original life-sized project built in 2006 when there were only nine victims. Each figure represents an individual who once lived in Niagara County whose life was ended violently at the hands of a spouse, former spouse or intimate partner.


More than 200 students attended this eye-opening event


Dr. Dana Radatz, Criminology professor at Niagara University, was instrumental in bringing this event to fruition.


The YWCA, The Child Advocacy Center of Niagara and Niagara University’s Counseling Center were among the community and campus based help centers who donated their time in order to offer information and guidance to those in attendance.


A big “Thank You” to Karrie Gebhardt for graciously sharing the Family & Children’s Services table so that Leaving Dorian might be displayed.

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**Please Note: If you choose to purchase a USED copy of Leaving Dorian, please make sure that it’s a Second Edition, as this includes a Foreword and an Epilogue and reads better than First Edition copies.

Grandma Zella and The Light


20150424_074011~2~2This is my paternal grandmother, Zella Bardwell. I didn’t know her when I was growing up; I’d only visited our family’s dairy farm a couple of times when I was a very little girl and once my parents divorced my father and his family became little more than distant memories. It took twenty-five years, but after an excruciating divorce of my own I decided that what I needed most in order to rebuild my life and have a successful future was to reconnect with my dad and his family. After a joyful and long overdue reunion with my dad, I called my grandma. I’ll never forget that call. I was sitting on the edge of my brother’s queen-sized bed that I was sharing with my two small daughters. The room was piled high with all of our personal belongings and all of my brother’s things, too. He’d been gracious enough to not only let us stay with him after I finally decided to escape my abusive marriage, but he’d also given up his bed and most of his personal space in order to accommodate us until I got on my feet. I sat there among the piles and listened to my grandma tell me about my family. She talked about the farm and my grandpa who’d long since passed. She told me her memories of my childhood (the little she’d known) and my dad’s childhood and her own. We talked for two hours. I didn’t know it at the time, but every conversation for the next thirteen years would be just like that one.

Grandma talked. She gave me history and perspective. She told me things I’d never known and confirmed suspicions about myself that I’d always harbored. My mother’s family had raised me; they’d loved me and cared for me and sacrificed for me, but there had always been an odd disconnect. It was more than the fact that I didn’t look like them, though perusing family photos it was clear that I was odd man out. I just didn’t ever seem to “fit”; they didn’t ever really seem to “get me”, nor did I “get them”. But with Grandma Zella, it was effortless; I was hers and she was mine and for thirteen years she was the one person that I knew I could truly depend on to understand what I was going through. She’d raised six kids on a farm that for many years had no indoor plumbing or central heat. She’d supported my grandfather’s desire to work constantly and ferociously, working by his side not only on the farm but also at the family’s grocery store. She understood poverty, loneliness, fear and doubt. I could tell her anything and she always seemed to get it.

She was the one person I didn’t have to censor myself with, but she was also the one person who would tell me the unabashed truth, as she saw it, no matter what. She was an absolute beacon in my life when my five kids were little and my husband and I were struggling with a new marriage, a new business and trying to blend our two families into one. She helped me work out my concern and disappointment when my husband spent the majority of his time either at work or doing his own thing, and assured me that I wasn’t the worst mother in the world when I was struggling with one or more of the kids. She taught me how to administer tough love, how to disagree without being “judgy”, and that the best way to avoid putting your foot in your mouth was to keep your mouth closed! She taught me that being able to laugh at myself would help to keep me sane in the midst of our constant and very normal family drama. Most importantly, she taught by example; grace, dignity, understanding and patience were all lessons I learned over the phone. We were a whole state apart and because I had five little ones and a growing business and funds were always tight, I only physically saw her three times in those thirteen years. Her voice was all I had.

In February of 2013 we were on a short trip for my birthday with our two youngest children when I got a phone call from one of my sisters; both my dad and my gram had been rushed to the hospital overnight. I’d known that my dad had been sick and his hospital trip wasn’t all that out of the ordinary, but I hadn’t known grandma had been sick. I mean, sure, she was ninety-one and had been living in a nursing home for almost a year, but rushing-to-the-hospital-sick? I hadn’t been prepared for that.

Though my sister assured me that there was no need to cut my vacation short, within twenty-four hours both of their conditions had worsened to the point that we were preparing to leave; my husband would take the kids home and back to school and I would drive across the state and tend to my precious family. Then as we were packing my phone rang; it was my dad. My dad?! Yep; he was feeling better and assured me that while gram had gone through a bit of a struggle, her doctors were talking about transferring her back to the nursing home. Crisis averted. I couldn’t have been more relieved. Other than my husband and children, my dad and my gram were my family. They were my heart, and I truly couldn’t imagine my life without them in it.

A week or so later the phone rang. It was, of course, my grandma. My dad had said that the nurses were trying to keep her quiet so I hadn’t called to check on her yet, but she wanted to talk to her granddaughter and no one (not even a staff of very patient and well-intended nurses) was going to stop her. She had something important to tell me.

In her always gracious grandma way she apologized for not sending me a birthday card; it was the first time she’d missed my birthday in thirteen years.

“Do you know what I was doing on your birthday?” she asked. I told her no, I didn’t; she had been ill and hospitalized, so I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to get at.

“I was dying,” was her quick response.

She went on to tell me that she’d died in her hospital room. That though she was aware that the nurses were trying to revive her, she’d allowed herself to slip away; to be pulled toward a light. She said that she went through a tunnel and that at the end of the tunnel the light was very bright. She said that she knew that the light was God and that she was very afraid, because she knew that He knew all of the “bad” things that she’d done in her life. She said that she felt sorry and that He knew that without her having to say anything at all. But then He showed her all of the good things that she’d done in her life and asked her if she was ready to come home.

It is important to note that when my grandma hit her mid-eighties, she started to feel mildly depressed. She would often state that she felt “useless” and wondered why God continued to let her live when she was so ready to die. She was tired. There was no more farm to work and no more grocery store to run and her kids and grandkids and even great-grandkids were all grown and gone and didn’t need her anymore. She had done her job and done it well and she knew it. Gram was ready to go; not in a morbid, death-wish kind of way, but more of an impatient, I’m-waiting-on-a-bus-that-never-seems-to-get-here kind of way. She was joyfully ready. Impatiently, joyfully ready. I, however, didn’t share in her readiness. I told her time and again that she wasn’t useless. I told her that I needed her here and that she needed to stick around. Who would I talk to? Tell my secrets to? Who would kick me in the butt when I needed kickin’? Now here she was telling me that she’d died, and the reality of all of her ninety-one years gripped at my heart like a vice.

“I thought about it, but then I said ‘no’. God asked me why; that I’d been asking for years and years to come home and now I didn’t want to? I said I did want to, just not that day. I told him, ‘I can’t go today because today is Linda’s birthday. If I go today, it will ruin her birthday for the rest of her life and I can’t do that to her’.”

Tears streamed down my face as I tried to catch my breath.

“So, He said, ‘Alright, Zella, you can go back. But the next time I call you, you’ve got to come, O.K?’ I said, ‘O.K.’.” She paused. A long, thoughtful pause. “So when my time comes, you have to be O.K. with it, too, alright, Linda?”

I tearfully agreed. It was the one and only time I ever lied to my grandma. Four months later she died peacefully in her sleep.

Of all of the lessons my grandma taught me, this was the greatest. My grandma loved me. Not some vague, biologically-driven obligatory love. She loved me. We throw the word love around like it’s nothing. We use it to get what we want and to secure our futures and to move the people around us. But real love, soul-love, doesn’t work for the benefit of the individual, it works for the benefit of the other. How many times has the phrase “I’d die for you” been uttered? Would you? Would you really die for another person? Maybe. But here’s a bigger question: Would you live for someone when all you’ve wanted was to be done?

My grandma had prayed for a solid decade for the sweet relief of death, to be reunited with my grandpa and her son who had died long before her and her own mother and father and brothers. My grandma wanted nothing more than to move on and told me the same every chance she got. Yet when the time came and she was no more than a breath away from the finish line, she paused and thought about me.

The next time you tell someone you love them, think about what that really means. Do you love them? Really? Would you put them first? Would you make yourself uncomfortable so they could be at ease? Would you sacrifice the one thing you desperately wanted in order to give them the gift of peace? And could you do that without an ounce of bitterness in your heart and truly expect nothing back in return?

Love is a big word; use it wisely.

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