“Not totally believable.”

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20170105_081155When I sat down at the computer this morning and noticed that a two star review had come through on Amazon for Leaving Dorian, I immediately assumed that a first edition copy had once again slipped through the cracks. I have disclaimers on all of my media letting readers know that if they’re given the option of purchasing a first or second edition copy, second edition is always going to be a better read. I was the newbie of all newbies when I published Leaving Dorian back in 2014 and didn’t realize the importance of hiring a professional editor. Since there’s no way to put that genie back in the bottle, I simply cross my fingers and hope that potential readers take the disclaimer to heart and purchase a second edition. But when I scrolled down to read the review, I was surprised to find that there was no mention of poor editing.

“The book is ok. A little frustrating in its organization and lacking some of the spark of other similar stories. Not totally believable.”

Now I know that the ‘organization’ the reader is referring to is my back and forth style of writing. I go from the day that I left my ex-husband in one chapter to describing my childhood and then back again. I understand how this can be confusing to some people, especially if they don’t get through the book in a couple of sittings. So, no harm no foul. The fact that the reader thought that it lacked ‘spark’, well, that’s his/her opinion and they’re entitled to that. But what made me literally laugh out loud was the last sentence: “Not totally believable.”

Whaaaaat?

Not believable?

I sat there at the keyboard, chuckling to myself. Not sure how to remedy that; it’s my actual, real and true life, so…..yeah. The reality is that I went easy on the graphic details of my childhood and my first marriage on purpose, because I vividly recall having to read an extremely graphic memoir about child abuse when I was in college. It was so horrible, so graphic, that it made my skin crawl; reading it made me cry and feel physically ill. Though it was a relatively short read, more than once I had to put it down because I felt as though the details were just too awful to know. Though I wasn’t sure just exactly what I was going to share when I sat down to write Leaving Dorian, I knew for sure that if nothing else, it had to be readable. If it wasn’t something that people could sit with then it couldn’t do its job, which was to help victims and survivors of abuse.

Again, though, readers are entitled to their opinion and if this reader didn’t believe everything that I’d written, well then, so be it; I can’t fix that. I clicked off Amazon and went on with my morning, but I couldn’t help coming back to that last line, “Not totally believable.” Why did it bother me so much?

I guess what’s bothering me has little to do with that singular review. What’s bothering me is that I know very well that victims and survivors of abuse are met every single day with that very same skepticism. Are their friends, loved ones, co-workers and neighbors coming right out and saying, “I don’t believe you”? No. But responding to a women’s candid, heart-wrenching admission that they’ve experienced something tragic with questions like, “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”, “Why didn’t you call the police?” or “Are you sure it’s abuse? I mean, couples fight; don’t make more out of this than it needs to be” is exactly the same sentiment. It’s “I don’t believe you” wrapped up in feigned moderation, excessive caution and good judgement. (…We don’t want to accuse someone unfairly, now; let’s make entirely sure we have all the facts before we start ruining reputations and upending lives…) Isn’t it interesting, though, how often it’s the abuser that’s given the benefit of the doubt instead of the victim?

Students and DV service providers have asked me on more than one occasion what I think the most important thing is that you can say to a victim or survivor of abuse. That if I only had one sentence, what would I choose? My answer is, and will always be, “I believe you”.

To continue to diminish victims and survivors with the old, worn out stories of supposed liars, “Oh, I know so-and-so whose wife lied about him hitting her and he got thrown in jail and it was total BS…” or “There was this girl when I was in college that lied about being raped and the guy she accused got kicked out of school and his life was ruined forever…” is unfair at best and harmful at worst. People lie, it’s true. And people will lie about all sorts of things, for reasons that aren’t always entirely clear. But the chances that a woman is lying when she finally steps forward to tell her story and reach out for help is incredibly slim. More often than not, victims and survivors are actually holding back; keeping the really hurtful, humiliating details to themselves. Telling just enough to get the help and services that they need in order to re-start their lives and keep their families afloat.

Maybe that reader didn’t believe my story, and that’s fine with me. But to every victim and survivor out there who reads this blog post, no worries. There are multitudes of people out there who will believe you. Reach out for help. Tell. Get to safety. Re-start your lives; you deserve nothing less.

And just for the record, “I believe you”.

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 🖤 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 shopping👗👠👜 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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Public Presentation!

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Though I’ve done public presentations before, this will be my first in the Niagara Region! Please join me for this free event. Q & A and book signing to follow – bring your copy of Leaving Dorian or purchase a paperback copy at the event! ($20 – cash only, please)

 

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

Surviving…Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art, October 5, 2017

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Surviving…Thriving: A Journey of Healing through Art featured nearly one hundred pieces of artwork in a variety of mediums, all created by survivors of domestic violence. It was once again held at The Castellani Art Museum (which sits in the center of Niagara University campus) in conjunction with the Red Flag Campaign, a national public awareness initiative designed to encourage college students to intervene when they see a warning sign (“red flag”) of partner violence. Niagara University, The Child Advocacy Center of Niagara, Family & Children’s Service of Niagara, The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Victim Assistance Unit, and the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier were all proud sponsors of the event, with all proceeds being donated to Passage House Domestic Services, a program of Family & Children’s Service of Niagara.

I was happy to offer closing remarks at the Welcome Reception, as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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Well attended by NU students; they didn’t seem to mind waiting in line to sign in.

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DV Advocates with the Niagara County Victims Assistance Unit painting pinkies 🙂 The mission of  The Purple Pinkie Campaign is to eliminate dating violence. The campaign was founded in memory of 18-year-old Alex Kogut who was murdered by her boyfriend in her college dorm room at SUNY Brockport on September 29, 2012.

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Students of the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy showing off their Purple Pinkies!

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It’s important to note that the event was well attended by both men and women.

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Campus and community advocates made themselves available throughout the entirety of the event to address any complicated or painful emotions that attendees might experience.

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Survivor stories are featured with many of the pieces of artwork.

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The Silent Witness Project was the centerpiece of the exhibit.

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Debbie Boyer stands in front of her daughter’s Silent Witness statuette. Tina Marie was murdered in her own home by her former boyfriend on August 4, 2004.

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Debbie is a pillar of strength and meeting her for the first time was truly my honor, because she’s also a fighter – In the nearly fifteen years since her daughter’s death, she’s become a well known advocate in Niagara County for her unwavering support of domestic violence prevention and response. With a deep understanding that adequate funding equals adequate services for women in need, she and her family  conduct two fundraisers yearly: a cell phone drive and the “Pennies from Heaven” drive which to date has raised more than $20,000 in support of the YWCA’s DV services and programs. The YWCA of the Niagara Frontier also recently dedicated a newly renovated room in its Domestic Violence Safe Dwelling in memory of her daughter, Tina Marie.

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“I ask each and every one of you who will walk this floor tonight to please understand
What you’re viewing isn’t merely art, it’s strength.
It is courage and dignity and tenacity.
What these walls house tonight is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit.”

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L to R: Dr. Dana Radatz, Assistant Professor of Criminology; Eileen Wrobel, Family & Children’s Services; NYS Assemblyman Angelo Morinello; Niagara University President Fr. James Maher; Larissa Bachman, Director of PASSAGE; NU Executive Vice Pres Dr. Debra Colley; *ME*; NC Victims Asst. Unit Susan LaRose; Criminology student Courtney Kenny; YWCA Sexual Violence Prevention Educator/Advocate Rachel Sandle-Sacco

Photos Courtesy of Andrew Emmons, student at Niagara University

Invisible Victims

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Closing remarks at the Welcome Reception for Surviving to Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art at The Castellani Art Museum, October 5, 2017

“So often in the media we see and hear sensational stories about battered women

Horrific descriptions of women being seriously injured, maimed and even killed

By the men who claim to love them 20171009_212828

And that is awful.

Each and every incident of battery, every life lost, is a tragedy.

But every single day 

There are also hundreds of thousands of women

Who aren’t killed by their partners

Who aren’t shot or stabbed or sent to the emergency room in critical condition

But are injured nonetheless.

Every single day hundreds of thousands of women

Endure cruelties and indignities that many people cannot even fathom.

Affronts to their dignity and to their humanity

Physical abuse that wounds their bodies

And verbal abuse that wounds their hearts and souls.

Yet these women quietly carry on.

They care for their children and they go to work

They go to lunch with friends and cheer their children at little league

They organize fundraisers and sew costumes for school plays

And they pray to their God at religious services, their families by their side

All the while carefully hiding the pain and shame that they live with every day.

Hiding their bruises and their embarrassment behind long sleeves and elaborate excuses.

And when they’ve had enough and they decide to move on and start their lives anew

They do so without fanfare or praise

Often times quietly enduring continued abuse long after the relationship has ended

And yet, they remain steadfast.

They stand and they fight for their right to live free from fear

Free from physical pain and sexual coercion and verbal and emotional battery

And they do all of this in the most private corners of their lives.

They do not tell their stories. They do not let outsiders in.

They carry their tragic history silently, and by themselves.

They are what I call Invisible Victims.

But they shouldn’t be.

Surviving to Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art

Brings the reality of these Invisible Victims to light.

They are our mothers and sisters and co-workers and friends.

They are your child’s school teacher and your real estate agent.

They are the cashier at your favorite coffee house and the lady who delivers your mail.

I commend each and every survivor who chose to take part in this exhibition.

To lay your pain and shame and embarrassment open for the world to judge is no small task

*I am well aware of that*

So I ask each and every one of you who will walk this floor tonight to please understand

What you’re viewing isn’t merely art, it’s strength.

It is courage and dignity and tenacity.

What these walls house tonight is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

God Bless these women

And God Bless the volunteers who took time out of their busy lives to facilitate this exhibition.

To recognize that no one should believe that it would be better to be Invisible.”

* Photo courtesy of Andrew Emmons, Niagara University