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 ūüôā 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 ūüôā 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 ūüôā 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 ūüĖ§ 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 shoppingūüĎóūüφūüĎú 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

Never Say Never: “In Her Shoes”

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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.

*shrug*

O.K.

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 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

 

 

 

 

 

Summer 2017

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Family time at the Pittsburgh Zoo – 90+ degrees … we were melting!

It was a busy summer, to say the least; weddings, family road trips and lots of reading, because here in Western New York it did nothing but rain! On the up-side, I still found time to schedule three fantastic presentations with three distinctly different agencies. Each was unique and interesting in its own way and I feel lucky to have been asked by each group to spend some time with their employees, volunteers and clients.

 

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Oh, and there were cupcakes …

In late June I had the privilege of speaking with an amazing group of foster parents at KidsPeace. My presentation focused on childhood trauma and how that related to my own experience with domestic violence, but we covered so much more than that in the nearly three hours that I spent with them.

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… and a dog ūüôā

 

 

KidsPeace, founded in 1882, is a private charity dedicated to serving the behavioral and mental health needs of children, families and communities.¬†The organization was originally a home for children orphaned by a smallpox epidemic, but has grown over the years to meet the ever-changing needs of children and adolescents. KidsPeace offers services in Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Our continuum of care includes a psychiatric hospital; a comprehensive range of residential treatment programs; accredited educational services; and a variety of foster care and community-based treatment programs to help children and families in need transform their lives.” ¬†www.kidspeace.org

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Honest conversations lead to change! So happy to be invited to speak to some of the tireless advocates who are working on behalf of women and children in Niagara County.

 

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With only about ten women in attendance, it was a completely different vibe than I’m accustomed to. Twenty minutes of intense learning – on everyone’s part ūüôā

I’ve never delivered a presentation to a group comprised almost entirely of men, but that’s exactly where I unveiled my newest presentation –¬†Domestic Violence & Being An Engaged Bystander –¬†on August 2 at Starpoint Senior High School in Pendleton, NY. Nearly 350 youth football coaches and statisticians were in attendance at NEYSA’s All Coaches meeting. I opted to speak without a mic, because often times people talk “under” you when you use one. The vast majority of these gentlemen were just that – absolute gentlemen. Maybe a little disinterested at first? Sure. But as I talked they listened and quieted and (many) even set aside their phones. I watched their faces go from polite, required attention to,¬†“…oh my god…that actually happened to you…? Are you serious? How could that have happened to you…?”¬†The shock, sadness and disgust that washed over many of the attendees was palpable. Here’s hoping that if these coaches are faced with a family that’s in need of intervention, they’ll remember that feeling (and where they put the paperwork I provided!) and will feel confident in their ability to provide a shoulder and a referral to those in need.

Knight In Shining Armor

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IMG_20170810_095455_451Be very careful how much credit you take when discussing your role in helping a battered woman to turn her life around. In the end, if a woman can successfully transition from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’, it’s because she did the work. Because she had the strength, courage and conviction to stand her ground and say, “No more.” Yes, friends and loved ones may have helped ~ emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, financially ~ but in the end, a successful re-start is achieved because a battered woman did the heavy lifting. For herself, by herself.

What Is Domestic Violence?

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Intimate Terrorism is violence deployed in the service of (gaining) general control over one’s partner.

Violent Resistance is when a victim of Intimate Terrorism fights back physically.

Situational Couple Violence¬†is when one or both partners are violent but neither is using violence in an attempt to exert general control over the other. Unlike¬†Intimate Terrorism, violence is not usually a central part of the couple’s relationship.

 

(Excerpted from: A Typology of Domestic Violence, Michael P. Johnson; globalrightsforwomen.org)

 

What is Physical Abuse?

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Punching, slapping, hitting, kicking, grabbing/pushing, biting, poking, hair pulling, pinching, shaking, cutting, burning, restraint, strangulation or any physical injury caused by an object or weapon.

No one has the right to harm another person. If you’re being abused by an intimate partner, there is help available. http://www.ncadv.org ¬† http://www.safehorizon.org ¬† http://www.ndvh.org

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 Kill, A 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.¬†