If I could use only one word to describe this semester, it would be “busy”!
If I could use only one word to describe this semester, it would be “busy”!
No 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.
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
Upon acceptance of the beautiful award I said: “Leaving Dorian had been out for about a year when I received an email from Bonnie Crogan-Mazur asking if I would like to come and speak to the ladies of The Zonta Club of Niagara Falls at one of their meetings. Now what I wanted to say was, ‘No! No I DO NOT want to come and stand in front of a group of strangers and talk about my book and my own experience with domestic violence. I’m extremely shy by nature which is why I’m a writer; I sit in front of a computer all day by myself. That is my comfort level…!’ But instead I said ‘yes‘ and I’m so glad that I did. The ladies of The Zonta Club of Niagara Falls completely changed the trajectory of my career. I simply wouldn’t be where I am today with out them and I will be forever grateful.”
** cue ugly cry…….
“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.”
For presentation and booking information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Ryan Thibodeau, Associate Professor at St. John Fisher College, uses Leaving Dorian as a reading choice in his PSY211 Society & Mental Illness class.
Dr. Thibodeau is also Director of the Psychophysiology Laboratory at SJFC.
Dr. Dana L. Radatz, Assistant Professor at Niagara University, uses Leaving Dorian as a required text in her CRJ585 Domestic Violence class. Dr. Radatz earned her doctorate in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Eastern Michigan University.
Dr. Radatz has taught an array of courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, such as Victimology, Violence, Criminological Research Methods, Women & Crime, Domestic Violence, and Policy Paper.
Dr. Radatz’s research interests include batterer intervention programs, corrections, evidence-based practices, female offenders, and a wide range of victimizations (e.g., domestic violence, prostitution, rape/sexual assault). Her most recent work examines domestic violence offenders and the effectiveness of batterer intervention programs using correctional evidence-based techniques. Dr. Radatz’s recent publications have appeared in Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, and the American Journal of Community Psychology.
Dr. James Sutton, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, uses Leaving Dorian as a required text in his SOC224 Social Deviance class. Dr. Sutton earned his B.A. from California State University, Long Beach and both his M.A. and Ph.D. from Ohio State University.
Dr. Sutton also teaches Criminology, Juvenile Delinquency, Introduction to Sociology, Men and Masculinities, Research Methods, Sociology of Sport, Topics in Prisons and Prison Education (Readers College). Professional Affiliations include Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, American Society of Criminology and International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology.
Jennie Alessi, (CSDR, CJA) Professor of Criminal Justice at Hilbert College. Jennie earned her BS in Conflict Studies/Dispute Resolution in 2014 and and her MS in Criminal Justice Administration in 2016, both from Hilbert College.
Jennie is a New York State Certified Police Officer as well as a New York State Certified Police Instructor. She has been an instructor for the Rural Police Training Academy since 2003. Along with a conventional instructor certification, Jennie holds specialized New York State Certifications in Domestic Violence, Sex Crimes, Child Abuse and Exploitation, Child Fatality Investigations, Community Policing, D.A.R. E, School Police Leadership and Crime Prevention. She authored the curriculum and lesson plan for the New York State Department of Criminal Justice titled “Law Enforcement’s Response to Missing and Exploited Children.”
Jennie previously held the position of Chief Investigator for the Cattaraugus County District Attorney’s Office, under the direction of the Honorable Edward Sharkey, District Attorney. She was the first and only female, to date, to hold the position. A SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) member for Cattaraugus County. Jennie Alessi also served as a School Resource Officer and Chief Campus Safety Officer for the Gowanda Central School District.
Dr. St. Vil’s research focuses on black male-female relationships, including intimate partner violence, man sharing, and other dating and marital issues. Utilizing the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), her dissertation study investigated the relationship between the social networks of Black married couples and marital satisfaction. Additional research endeavors include a comparison analysis of intimate partner violence among Black women in Baltimore and the U.S. Virgin Islands; reproductive coercion and safe sex; and an exploration of long-term marriage among African American, African Caribbean immigrant and African immigrant couples. In addition to publishing in these areas, she has worked as the project coordinator on several grant-funded projects pertaining to violence against women and healthy relationships. Dr. St. Vil will be using Leaving Dorian as a required text in her graduate level Human Behavior class.
The Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy (NCLEA) at Niagara University is a partnerships between the Niagara County sheriff’s Department, Niagara Falls Police Department and Niagara University’s Criminal Justice and Continuing Education Departments. Administered through Continuing Education, the Academy trains currently hired, sworn officers and has been approved by the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to train pre-employment recruits. It is designed for current civilians throughout New York State who are interested in entering the law enforcement field. The Academy has chosen to utilize Leaving Dorian as a required text for all new recruits. They will also be using it in their Continuing Education block for currently hired, sworn officers.
Dr. Danielle Slakoff, Loyola University at New Orleans, Assistant Professor of Criminology
Dr. Chris St. Vil, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo School of Social Work
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.
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.
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:
24/7 DV Hotline: 716-299-0909 ***** 24/7 Runaway Youth Hotline: 716-285-7125
Project Runway December, 2015
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!
Zontians from the Niagara Falls, NY club gifted copies of Leaving Dorian to select help centers, schools and libraries in Niagara County as a part of Zonta’s 2015 Domestic Violence Initiative “Zonta Says NO! to Violence Against Women – 16 Days of Activism”.
Chapter President Gretchen Leffler and member Dr. Lindsay Edwards presented multiple copies to member Karrie Gebhardt, Director of Passage House, an emergency shelter for battered women and their children sponsored by Child & Family Services of Niagara. The books will be used for staff development as well as for residents of the shelter to read.
Cathy is a volunteer with The Magdalene Project, an outreach to women mired in sex trafficking in the City of Niagara Falls. Volunteers from The Project go out at a night a couple of times a month and give these women Ziploc bags full of personal care items like shampoo, toothpaste, etc. as well as information on how to escape the grip of prostitution. The Magdalene Project is located on Falls Street in Niagara Falls.
Zontian Daisy Waters with Jennifer Potter, Acting Director of the Niagara Falls Public Library. Ms. Potter explained that the library has become a “safe space” of sorts; there have been times that women have stayed inside the building until the person they were afraid of had left the premises, and library staff has been asked on more than one occasion to call the police on behalf of a woman who felt threatened.
J. Susan Ben, Director of Carolyn’s House (transitional housing for homeless women and their children) receives books from Zontian Maggie Pollock.
Andrea Fortin-Nossavage, Niagara Falls High School history teacher and Ebone Rose Bradberry, Coordinator of the Niagara Falls Community Schools Initiative Program, receive books for their staff and students.
Dr. Kyle Patterson, Zonta Club of Niagara Falls VP; Lisa Lidamer, Niagara Wheatfield High School Guidance Counselor; Paul Gaigavich, NWHS Assistant Principal; Timothy Carter, NWHS Principal and Zonta Club President Gretchen Leffler.
Donation to Lew-Port High School! This wonderful, caring staff was full of great ideas on addressing DV and Teen Dating Violence with students and staff for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year! From left to right: Trina DiVincenzo, Guidance Counselor; Gretchen Leffler, President Zonta Club of Niagara Falls; Terri Faut, Librarian; Kelly Ulrich, Health Teacher; Andrew Auer, Principal.
Signing a copy of Leaving Dorian for Zonta’s District 4 Governor Joanne Raymond. Joanne will be traveling to Nice, France, in July for Zonta International’s 63rd Convention and will be taking a copy of the Niagara Falls, NY 2015-16 Service and Advocacy Report with her. She told members at the May meeting that, “…no other club has done what you’re doing..”. I’m over the moon that Leaving Dorian was able to play such a large part in that advocacy effort.I’m tremendously excited that Joanne will be sharing her thoughts on Leaving Dorian with other Zonta members, Presidents and Governors from all over the world. I’m truly blessed to have so many amazing women supporting my work and advocacy efforts. God Bless the women of Zonta, here in the US and all over the world.
I’m not sure how I thought I was going to feel when I finally saw this in writing, but what I do feel is humbled, honored, and a little bit relieved. I wrote Leaving Dorian because I wanted to make sure that my own awful experience wasn’t all for nothing. My hope was that someone, somewhere, might read it and think, “Oh, I’m not all alone? I’m not to blame for this awful thing that’s happening to me? Maybe I can get help, leave and start my life over again. Maybe there is hope, after all.”
My goal was one woman. Just one. I thought that if just one woman was to be able to see beyond the hell that she was living in – believe that she could save herself – well, then, I’d have achieved my goal.
Zonta Club of Niagara Falls, New York, October 14, 2015
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I was honored that the ladies of Zonta asked me to come and speak about writing Leaving Dorian as well as my own experience with domestic violence.