Behind the Scenes with LIM College 

 

Lim College April 2015LIM College specializes in programs for peeps on the business side of the fashion industry. Students Fight Back visited LIM last month and let me just say: these cats are fiercer than the catwalkers you see on Project Runway, friends. And might I suggest, probably way more fun.

LIM College is taking action to make their sassy campus the safest and most empowering place it can be. The Counseling & Wellness Center who sponsored SFB were so passionate about getting the word of empowering young men and women to protect themselves (and each other by being an active bystander) they had a raffle for a free iPad. Um yeah. I thought it might be a tad classless to ask if I could enter, but don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.

For reals this crew was fabulous. And my male volunteer, which can honestly be a awkward job that they don’t know they’re volunteering for, was simply amazing and so supportive of the conversation taking place.

Thanks so much LIM College for allowing me to be a part of your behind-the-scenes posse for the afternoon. You were amazeballs and I can’t wait to see you all the next time ’round.

Love and Light,
GFB Bree

Creepers Beware in Nantucket!

We had a full house at the Girls Fight Back event in Nantucket last week as moms and daughters gathered to learn some strategies on how to
be their own best protectors!  It was so much fun to see these awesome women of all ages so eager to learn and so engaged during the entire program!  You know it’s a great group when you have girls suggesting the bootie strike before we do!Nantucket2

We learned a few tools of manipulation, practiced some “no apologies” verbal strategies and everyone totally nailed their ready stance.  Not only did those palm strikes mean serious business, those yells at each badass ballet step were powerful for sure… Creepers BEWARE!

I have to give a shout out Liz and Liv, the two bad ass young women from Nantucket High School who, along with their awesome moms, were the organizers of the event AND they secured all the sponsors!  Thank you for showing us what it means to be an advocate for your community and to empower others.   And a big thank you to Nina, Carolyn and all the sponsors who believed in them and supported them because without you this incredible event wouldn’t have been possible!

Here’s to living your lives fearlessly wherever you go…from the island of Nantucket to the world beyond.  Your fierceness will not be forgotten and I’m so happy I got to know you!

-GFB Nicole
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ECU Ballers!!!

East Carolina University are a bunch of ballers. Shot-callers. Literally. Check out this pic…
ECU Pic March 2015
She is totally calling me out mid-badass ballet!! And I loved it.

ECU had a strong athletic turn out at our Fight Back on Spring Break event. Leaders on campus naturally lead the way when it comes to creating a safe atmosphere on campus.. and on spring break. And we had a blast talking about safely intervening in sketchy situations for the sake of others, especially when our guards are down on spring break. And they brought it home strong with some excellent palm strikes, not to mention solid knees to the groin.

But I have to give a shout out to Lydia and her team for hosting the stellar event and for the biggest post-gig compliment I can get: Lydia and her powerful comrades signed up for a self-defense class. Oh. Yes. They. Did. BOOM!

ECU, I hope you felt empowered as your ventured out into the world on spring break and brought that fearless badassery right back to campus with you. Thanks so much for letting me hang with your crew. And can’t wait until next time!

Love and Light,
GFB Bree

Catholic University of America is BLESSED!

Catholic University 3.1.15 image 3With a bold name like Catholic University of America, how can you not be blessed with awesomeness? And that’s exactly what CUA is … awesomeness. We threw down “Fight Back on Spring Break” style during a serious ice storm just outside of campus. Peeps were ice skating and busting their asses (literally) to the event it was so wild out . But this didn’t stop these warriors. What better way to enjoy an ice storm than with some good grub, a beer and some eye strikes?

Seriously, this was such an incredible event hosted by the wonderful CUA Residence Life. I legit stopped mid-speaking to point out the powerful energy we had created together in the room, all in the spirit of leading fearless lives and being our own best protectors. And better yet, it was a room of about a 50/50 ratio of women and men, and they were ALL so passionate about being the change they want to see in the world.

Catholic University 3.1.15

The entire night was a total blast, but one of my favorite high lights was during the Q&A session when these rockstars were asking very vulnerable, open and thoughtful questions. To get educated questions at the end of a 75 minute presentation is like.. whoa. Hell yeah. Not only did they listen and laugh at my corny jokes, but they were engaged enough to ask kickass questions? Boo-yeah to you CUA.

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It’s hopeful and inspiring to know these are our future leaders. It was truly a honor and pleasure, CUA. Thank you SO much for inviting me to be a part of your posse. Until next time…

Love and Light,
GFB Bree

Mount Saint Mary’s University – Fight Back on Spring Break!

MT St Mary'sMount Saint Mary’s University is on Spring Break this week. If you happen to bump into them while traveling the globe, beware. These students are FIERCE. Especially after we threw down last week for the first “Fight Back on Spring Break” of the season. We got down and dirty with the usual Terminator Tango, chatted about out psychic intution skills and how to be on the look out for our homies, keeping everyone safe. But we also threw around some solid safety spring break tips. And Mount Saint Mary’s kept it real: we talked about the basic safety tips, but focused on how to be safe when alcohol is around or being consumed. Cue: spring break time. I think it’s a good time of year to keep in mind that we need to be on the look out for predatory drugs being slipped in our drinks (regardless if you’re drinking apple juice or gin and juice), and remember alcohol itself is the number one date-rape drug. 89% of survivors reported drinking before their assaults. Yikes. Now please don’t let this stop you from cracking open a brewski, just make sure you’re drinking for you, at your own pace, on your own terms. This is the best way to keep it fun and safe, and from spending an entire day of your spring break hungover. Can I get a “no bueno”? Spring Break is about celebrating, Live it up friends! Enjoy your week off, and come back safely, ready to kill the rest of your school year!

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Thank you so much Mount Saint Mary’s for your time and spirit. You were fab. Now go enjoy that sunshine for me! (PS it’s snowing and below freezing tips in my hood. I’m only slightly jealous).

Love and Light,
GFB Bree

“Don’t Mess With Texas…” – Lamar State College

Lamar State College 2015

Don’t mess with Texas, friends. Trust me. Especially if you are at Lamar State College. Students Fight Back visited both of these fine campuses in one day and holy smokes, they brought the heat.

We threw down in a mere hour and the energy at these schools, oh my. I was on an adrenaline buzz just being around these fierce birds. They kept me on my toes and were so pumped to be there.. it. was. amazing. And I have to give a shout out to all of the nurses and men on campus.. both showed their unwavering support for this cause and are leading by example for the rest of the student body.

Thank y’all (cus that’s what you say in Texas.. duh.) for sharing your time and energy with Students Fight Back and taking a solid stance against the violence culture. You are our leaders of this generation. Till next time…

With Love and Gratitude,

GFB Bree

Redbirds Fight Back!

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I had such a blast at Illinois State University teaching these powerful students how to become their own best protectors. A lot of the students were concerned about walking alone on campus at night, which is something all college students can relate to, and although these Redbird’s rocked the badass ballet, they also know that the easiest way to up their general safety starts with actively choosing awareness! I can assure you that no one should ever mess with these students, because they can seriously kick some ass! I want to give a special shout out to Lorena, Mark, Gail and UPB.

Thank you and stay warm ISU!

-GFB Morgan

Our Lady of the Lake…These Folks are Tough Cookies!

Our Lady of the Lake January 2015Our Lady of the Lake University kicked off our shiny, new and improved 2015 Girls Fight Back! Tour.. and can I just say, I don’t think there could have been a more amazing group to do so? They opened the evening with a blessing ….um, as a speaker, to have this kind of support, let’s just say… #blessed.

Once we got underway, we decided it was time to be CEO of our life. Our boundary setting skills were so dope, we were dropping mics and brushing’ shoulders off. Then after a quick #badassballet lesson, things got real. Our Lady of the Lake invited the local Krav Maga team to put the skills we learned to the test. These ladies brought it. Big time. I was one proud sister.

After the event, one glowing young lady approached me after the show to thank GFB for the knowledge she gained from our program. She said she knows she might not the be toughest gal in the bunch (I begged to differ.. it’s all about our mindset!) but she knew educating herself with as much knowledge as possible was how she could be her own best protector. Girl, you are one smart.. and tough.. cookie!

I was so honored to be a part of this wonderful community and see their light and passion shine through. Our Lady of the Lake University, thank you SO much for kicking off our 2015 tour. See you again soon!

Love and Gratitude,

GFB Bree

Heart Overflowing – The GFB Academy of 2015!

 

GFB GinaWhen I agreed to pick up the baton from the amazing Erin Weed and take over Girls Fight Back, I had no idea just how much space this company, this mission, and these women would take up in my heart.

Heart. Overflowing.

GFB has become my passion project and I am so proud to be a part of continuing Shannon’s legacy. Our new speaking team made up of Bree, Morgan, and Nicole along with our amazingly talented team member, Beth, met with me this month in Los Angeles for a few days of speaking practice, fight training, and general sisterhood bonding. We were joined by our founder, Erin Weed, and some great supporters of our program including Bob Martin, Lisa Gaeta, Jennifer Bunting, and our ever so creepy fight partner, Don.

New for 2015!! . . . I spent the latter part of 2014 writing furiously and consulting with a pool of experts to update the script for both the Girls Fight Back and Students Fight Back programs. We wanted to be sure we were keeping up with the changing world in relation to violence prevention with a little makeover, but Academy was the first time I had a chance to see the words on a page light up on the stage. And, it was awesome!  Our new and improved program includes:

  • Using your intuition
  • Safety tips – awareness, eye contact, verbal boundaries
  • How to be an active bystander and a good ally
  • The definition of consent
  • How to support a survivor
  • How to set boundaries that work for you
  • Verbal De-Escalation Skills
  • The basics of self-defense in our Badass Ballet
  • Plus a review of improvised weapons, ground fighting, and how to sign up for a full-contact adrenaline based self-defense course near you!

Bree, Morgan, and Nicole are ready to come to campuses and share with you our collective passion for living our best lives and empowering campus communities to fight back against violence. And now, a few words from the ladies . . . .With love and gratitude,  GFB Gina

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The 2015 GFB Academy was my 3rd time and counting, and it stood in a category of its own. There was something extra special about this academy, something of a new-birth with more certainty and diction, yet being able to look back at where we had been with so much pride and love. Fusing the constants of GFB that will always remain true, fearlessness, spirit, resilience, power, support to name a few, with a fresh breath of inspiration and steps forward to lead this generation. To describe last weekend in one word, although perhaps cliché, it would most definitely be gratitude. For all the powerful women and men who make GFB possible. For our Founder for having the courage to dream big. For our President for being daring enough to take a risk and leap of faith. For the mentors for believing in us and sharing their wealth of knowledge. For our speakers for working their asses off and inspiring me in new ways, and having the lioness-heart to be open to change while impressing their gifts and ideas on GFB. And most importantly, to all supporters of GFB, including you reading this post. You are why GFB is possible, because you are brave enough to believe in a world without violence and take the steps possible to make it happen, while leading a powerful, badass life of love and light along the way. So thank you so much . . . and here’s to a new frontier of GFB. See you on the road:) – GFB Bree

morgansmall

Self-defense is so much more than the fight; it’s about knowing that exactly who you are in this very moment will always be enough. Regardless of who we are, where we’ve been, the knowledge we have acquired, we have all experienced moments when we felt defeated, but the Girls Fight Back Academy continues to remind me that all of us have greatly underestimated our strength. The Academy provides a space where we can be pushed through our limits, which is emotionally and physically challenging, but so incredibly satisfying. I am beyond grateful for everyone who made this year’s GFB Academy so amazing — this work can only be done when we support one another and truly believe that each one of us is worth fighting for.  – Lots of love, GFB Morgan

niksmall

Being a part of the GFB academy was such an amazing experience!  It was my very first academy and the existing group welcomed me with open arms. To be surrounded by such strong, beautiful, intelligent and confident women who are all champions of educating people to change the world is very humbling. I am honored and thrilled at the opportunity to work beside these women, learn with these women, fight back with these women and call these women friends.  Our process is intensive – we put in long hours and it is worth every second of it when we know we are prepared to go out into the world and start empowering other women to live the life they’ve always wanted.  That is why I’m here.  This isn’t about me…this is about the goal of ending violence in the world FOREVER.  – GFB Nicole

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Quickly nearing my two year milestone as a contributing advocate of Girls Fight Back, it seems the need for this kind of program in our modern world has remained ever relevant. It has continued to evolve with the help of the most caring, proactive, and strong women it has been my honor to work with. I look back on Academy 2015 with pride and never ending gratitude in my heart. How does one sum up such an eventful weekend? Intense, emotional, tiring, nerve-wracking, productive, rewarding, empowering, and funny, all at once. It is experiences like this that drive home the importance of our mission at GFB, including the choice to live with purpose, believing in our own worth, and being part of a solid support team. We’re all on this journey together! – GFB Beth

Girls Fight Back Academy at Dinner 2015

Every founder dreams of the company they start growing beyond them. I certainly did. And to be in Los Angeles with the growing GFB team, it warms my heart to see this legacy of beautiful badassery continuing in my absence. I was deeply moved during my time with each of them. Their passion for the message, their dedication to getting all the material right, their consciousness around the personal feelings of me and the McNamara family – well, it all felt like a warm blanket of awesomeness around me the entire time I was there.

I was given the opportunity to share the history of Girls Fight Back, from the very early days up until the day I sold the company to Kirkland Productions – and beyond. Because I am lucky, in that Gina Kirkland continues to include me and the McNamaras in her decision making for the future of GFB. She doesn’t have to do this, but she chooses to – and it’s both humbling and inspiring to see her model of leadership as GFB continues to change the world…one empowered woman at a time.

I want to applaud the entire team for all their hard work. I love you all!  - GFB Erin

 

To book a Girls Fight Back, Students Fight Back, or Fight Back on Spring Break for your campus . . . .

866.769.9037

gfb@girlsfightback.com

2015 Girls Fight Back Academy is revving up to go!

Calling all potential GFB presenters!

Our Girls Fight Back Training Academy will be held in Los Angeles, CA from January 16 – 18, 2015.

If you are interested in becoming a presenter, or would just like to take part in this kickass training (which includes intuition work, a self-defense class and collaboration on our new GFB program and promotional video), please email us a cover letter detailing your interest, a resume of your self-defense, presenting and/or performing experience, and a letter of recommendation from a professor, employer or colleague to gina@girlsfightback.com.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

In the meantime, check out this video Captureof our 2013 Academy.

 

GFB at Fermilab!

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Being from Chicago, I have a always been in awe of Fermilab, America’s premier particle physics laboratory, and it was wonderful to have had the opportunity to share our Girls Fight Back program with Fermilab’s female employees. We had a fantastic turnout and these ladies are seriously dangerous! Although women are continuously making huge strides in the scientific community internationally, they are still outnumbered by men in certain fields and this gender disparity can be found even at top laboratories, including Fermilab. The statistics can often be discouraging, but it was truly inspiring to work directly with the strong community of women at Fermilab who support one another professionally and also provide empowering and critical programs. I’d like to thank Chris, our most entertaining not-so-scary-scary-bad-guy, and Jeanne!

-GFB Morgan

Here’s What She’d Tell Bill Cosby Today – from a friend of GFB

This article, originally published on The Daily Beast, is from friend of GFB and speaker on the Kirkland Productions roster, Dean Obeidallah:

Capture

In an interview, one of the women who has accused Cosby of assault talks about what happened, what she’d tell him, and how she coped.

“I’d tell him that he’s pathetic,” she said, and then added: “And I’d tell him: You are powerless, and rape is about power, and now you don’t have that power.”

These were the poignant words of Kristina Ruehli, one of the women who has accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, as she explained to me what she would tell Cosby if she could speak to him today. I spoke to Ruehli on Sunday by phone and was amazed by her triumphant tone. This is not a woman who wants pity, nor does she want money, or even an apology from Cosby.

Rather, Ruehli wants two things: to prevent other women from being sexually assaulted and to see Cosby be brought to justice in some form. And it’s clear that she feels that there has been great progress on both fronts.

Ruehli, who is now 71 and lives with her husband in New Hampshire, is unique among the Cosby victims in that she is woman No. 1 in the chronology of when the alleged sexual assaults occurred. She claims that in 1965, while she was working as a secretary at a talent agency, Cosby invited her and an unnamed actress to his house for a party. A party for three that is, because when she arrived with the actress, no one else was at the party.

Cosby offered her a drink. The next thing she recalls was waking up in bed with Cosby, who she alleges was trying to force his penis into her mouth. She fought Cosby off, ran to the bathroom where she vomited, and then fled the house.

In our conversation, the terms “power” and “powerlessness” came up frequently. In Ruehli’s view, the person who commits the sexual assault has the power and the victims tend to feel powerless. As she explained, you feel alone and start to blame yourself. Why was I so stupid? Did I do something to lead him on?

Adding to the feeling of powerlessness for the woman is that Cosby is a beloved celebrity. Questions like “Will people even believe me?” start running through your head. And there is the additional fear in these types of cases that the public will vilify the victim, not a celebrity wrongdoer. As Ruehli noted, when a woman alleges rape charges against a celebrity, it isn’t “15 minutes of fame” but rather “15 minutes of shame.”

Ruehli added that Cosby’s silence in the face of these allegations has “ceded the power to the women.”
In Ruehli’s case, she was concerned that she would lose her job at the talent agency if she had gone public with the accusations, so she didn’t tell the authorities. It’s clearly understandable why, after the incident, Ruehli felt ashamed, alone, and powerless.

But those feelings are long gone. The fact that so many women have come forward to reveal allegations of sexual misconduct by Cosby has, in a sense, created a support network for these women. It’s no longer a story of victimhood, but one of empowerment. They are now in essence a sisterhood joined together by a vile incident.

I asked her if she thought Cosby would come forward at some point to address the allegations. Ruehli laughingly responded, “He doesn’t have the balls.” She added that Cosby’s silence in the face of these allegations has “ceded the power to the women.”

Ruehli, who is a law school graduate but not a practicing attorney, was one of the 13 “Jane Does” in the civil lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand in 2005 alleging that Cosby had sexually assaulted her. Ruehli explained to me that she read about the lawsuit in The New York Times and then reached out to Constand’s lawyer.

“It was like an epiphany—I realized I wasn’t alone,” she remarked. She felt compelled to come forward because the allegations in that case seem similar to her own regarding Cosby. She wanted to make sure that Constand knew that she wasn’t alone either.

While Ruehli is “thrilled” that on Friday the Los Angeles Police Department opened up an investigation into recent allegations by Judy Huth that Cosby forced her to perform oral sex on him when she was only 15, she understands that it’s unlikely that he will be prosecuted criminally at this time. But there’s a sense that these women coming forward have made a positive difference.

Ruehli believes the Constand lawsuit, which was covered at the time by the national media, may have saved many other women from a similar fate. As she noted, there have been no other known incidents of alleged sexual misconduct by Cosby that postdate the 2005 lawsuit. (Constant’s claim was settled in 2006, when Cosby paid Constand an undisclosed amount.)

But just preventing women from being assaulted is not enough. When I asked Ruehli what she hoped would happen to Cosby, she quoted these lines from a poem by Sir Walter Scott, that he “shall go down to the vile dust from whence he sprung, unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.”

With Cosby’s loss of TV deals, the cancellation of comedy shows, and the destruction of his reputation, I’d say Cosby is almost there.

Bringin’ it Home with Oklahoma State University

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Oklahoma State University wrapped up my 2014 Be Your Own Badass Tour. And boy did they bring it home. We had such a great time with a small but rockstar group. We got real about solid bystander behavior, upped our psychic capability with an intuition chat and of course, busted out our best badass ballet. It was such a wonderful group and the energy was awesome. I can’t wait to visit these ballers again soon and share the love. Thank you so much OSU for having Students Fight Back. Until next time…

Light and Love,
GFB Bree

Students Fight Back at Lyndon State College

Lyndon State College 11.13.14

Students Fight Back made it’s way up to Vermont to visit the peeps at Lyndon State College. It was the first legit snow fall of the winter season, but that didn’t stop these badasses from throwing down. This small but mighty crowd got the conversation rolling about living a fearless life by being your own best protector, which I’m sure will only continue amongst their peers. Thank you Lyndon State for taking the steps to be proactive and make your campus a safer and stronger! Till next time..

Light and Love,
GFB Bree

Westchester Community College: Peace, Love, Hugs and Badasses

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Westchester Community College’s beautiful campus was full of energy and is a breath of fresh air on the cusps of New York City. Students hosted a week full of activities to bring awareness to domestic violence, including a freaking bake sale to raise money for a domestic violence shelter. Are you kidding me?! These kids are ROCKSTARS! Not to mention they brought Students Fight Back on board to throw down and educate their peers about leading a safe and badass life.

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And we had so much fun! We joked around, kicked some ass and hugged. HUGGED I tell you! I made some amazing new friends who are THE leaders on campus (including their larger, state-wide community of SUNY) taking some necessary and bold steps to say they will not stand for domestic violence, assault, abuse or bullying of any kind as long as they are around. They are creating a safe environment for all walks of life. Hell yeah Westchester. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your brave community. It was truly inspiring. I can’t wait to come pow-wow with y’all again soon. Until next time..

Love and Light,
GFB Bree

Putting a Face to the Issue of Intimate Partner Violence

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As published originally in Campus Activities Magazine – September 2014

Anyone in my close circle knows that Violence Against Women and Intimate Partner Violence are issues that ignite my passion. VAW and IPV have colored my life from day one as I was born into a home marked by domestic violence/IPV. My mother was a victim and my father, an abuser. I am happy to say that my mother and I eventually escaped that situation—she has been happily remarried for 33 years and I am a happy well-adjusted adult. I am not in a violent relationship—breaking the cycle. I am raising a teenage son who has been taught with love and guided by example what healthy relationships look like and how to treat others with respect and dignity. And, I am actively working to help others avoid VAW and IPV through my work with Kirkland Productions, Inc. and Girls Fight Back.

Most importantly, my mother and I are here to share our stories and that is the biggest success of all. The Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that 2,340 people in the United States were victims of intimate partner homicide in 2007 and females made up to 70% of those victims killed, a proportion that has changed very little since 2007. To save you the time on the math, that is over 6 people a day murdered in the name of love. As a US resident, if you have been a victim of IPV and you live to talk about it . . . you are absolutely a success story. Though these statistics are shocking, they don’t even begin to fully show the impact on those victims who weren’t killed or never reported and whose lives and those of their family members, friends, and children will be forever altered. For those affected by this crime, this will always be a part of their story and a piece of their life experience, as it is a piece of me. I am happy to state, that in my case, I feel I can now say it has been a positive result. I truly hope that my first hand experience can help others.

  • SIDE NOTE: The issues of VAW, IPV, Domestic Violence/Dating Violence, Stalking, Sexual Assault, and Rape are thoroughly entwined, but are separately defined. For the case of this article, I am going to use the term IPV from here on out when stating from my perspective and I want to explain why to the reader. IPV is defined by the CDC as physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy. I think this is very important to note because when we use the term Domestic Violence we often get the picture in our minds of a man abusing his wife and that just isn’t a complete picture of abuse. This type of abuse does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages and ethnicities, all genders, all sexual orientations, and all marital statuses. It affects people in relationships and those who have left those relationships. It also is not narrowly defined by the tell-tale sign of a black eye that is often interpreted as the true sign of “domestic violence.” Many victims have no scars or physical injuries to show. The term IPV is inclusive and much more respectful to the victims who can include men (yes, men!), all of our LGBT community, and all of those romantic relationships that are not necessarily included in the formal guidelines of marriage. So, now that I have clarified, I want to tell you how I ended up in the jury box.

I got that dreaded letter in the mail recently—the jury summons. Seriously, who has time for this? I am a single parent, I run three companies, I travel extensively for work (and sometimes for fun), I am self-employed with a large number of people who depend on my work for their income, and I also have the audacity to have an active social life. My life is no more or less important than any other citizen who gets the same notification in the mail. I know that. I truly do, but I wouldn’t be a full-fledged American if I didn’t have just a tad of self-importance, right? So, yes, I am not excited as this really isn’t convenient, but I also have to recognize that it is my civic duty and I have never served on a jury. Many years ago I received a summons but was excused because of the birth of my son. A few years back I received a second and showed up to the courthouse but was never called to a court. Round three and the dates conflicted with planned travel so I deferred. And deferred again. And deferred yet again, before I realized I just had to take care of this responsibility.

After a jury orientation and a few hours of waiting around, my name was called and I was informed I had to drive quite a ways to yet another court to report there. Really????? They can do that???? Apparently, they can. Annoyed, I start navigating through more unfamiliar LA highways and get to the next courthouse to start the waiting around process again. After a few more hours, just when I think we are going to be sent home, we are called into the court and after being given a few preliminary bits of information. We are then told that since it was so late in the day, we would report back the next day to start jury selection.

On day two reporting to court, the judge explains to us how jury selection works. Initially we are provided with a lot of instructions, our civic duty is emphasized by the judge, the importance of honesty and our part in the judicial system is underscored with more than a few sighs of exasperation from the prospective jury pool, and we are introduced to the key players in the case, namely the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, the defendant, and, through name only, the witness list of both parties to ensure we do not personally know any of these people. No one does, so at this point the judge tells us that this case is one involving an accusation of domestic violence. It is at this point that I realize by putting two and two together that the defendant’s only witness is, most likely by the names, his wife. My first thought at this point is that as soon as they see what I do for a living (information I was required to provide up front), I am out of here! Then I slowly start to realize, that though I never had a chance to experience justice from our legal system for the wrongs that my family and I experienced, I might have a chance to participate in justice for someone else who might be in a similar situation. And, then, my final and very somber realization is that though I have been personally affected by these issues, I am here to be fair and to follow the law and I can’t let my feelings affect that process. Emotional overload!

After all of the preliminary information is out of the way, each of the 35 – 40 of us is lined up and seated in order in the jury chairs and given a piece of paper to fill out asking for our juror number, city of residence, our occupation, the occupation of everyone else in our household, and details of our previous jury experience. Then, one by one, the judge asked each of us for this info out loud in open court and asked clarifying questions where necessary. My profession was initially listed as “business owner/victim advocate” in the forms I filled out during the orientation on day one, so, though a full explanation of my profession is much more detailed than that, I repeated it on this form and to the judge out loud. There were definitely some “clarifying questions” asked by the judge. As a Victim Advocate (I am a certified VA with NOVA – The National Organization for Victim Assistance), what would I consider my specialty? I hesitated, knowing how this would be perceived, before I truthfully answered, “Violence Against Women.” . . . pause . . .

At this moment, the defendant and his attorney both turn their full attention to me. The defense attorney quickly returned his attention to the judge and his papers, but, though I initially thought it was my imagination and was later told by the other jurors that it definitely was not, I had the defendant’s full and undivided attention for the rest of my time in court. He continued to look directly at me with a blank and cold stare almost as if we were playing a game to see who would blink first—it wasn’t me, I assure you. I continued to meet his blank glare with the same right back as if I could silently tell him, “Those close to you might be afraid of you, but I KNOW that abusers are nothing but pathetic cowards and I invite you to try some of that shit on me anytime. PLEASE. BE. MY. GUEST. I would like nothing more than to return your bullshit with a quick groin strike. EYES! EYES! EYES!”

     In self-defense fight classes, we scream out body parts to the person engaged in the fight to indicate where she can strike next in defending herself against an attacker.

Yeah, I realize in thinking this that I am not impartial or unbiased. I am also not apologizing for it. As the judge stated many times during this process and I truly believe as part of my own personal mantra—not a single adult walking on this earth is unbiased or impartial. To be so, would be inhuman. We are each of us made up of a series of life experiences and interactions and those will always impact the way we view everyone and everything around us. There are times I wish this weren’t so, and I do think that, despite that, I am a very fair and just person in the way I genuinely try to view things from all sides before coming to my own conclusions. However, everyone knows, I don’t harbor a lot of love or patience for asshole abusers. There you go.

I also know and recognize that abusers have their own baggage. Many have experienced abuse themselves. Many could benefit from some serious therapy to work out their problems and deserve sympathy for the road they traveled that led to them being abusive in the first place. But, who couldn’t use a little therapy? There are plenty of people out there (I know quite a few personally) who have been through some seriously tough shit in their life and they don’t choose to work that out by beating, raping, battering, belittling, or in any way harming those around them . . . more importantly those who they claim to love. To do so, is the greatest cowardice of all, in my opinion, and to those many many people out there who have sought help to fix themselves rather than continue the cycle of abuse, I applaud you. THAT is true courage.

I digress. Whether the defendant was guilty or not of what he was accused, I don’t know. I don’t know the situation intimately and, in conjunction with what the law states we must do, I will do my best to view him as innocent until proven guilty. After a full afternoon of further questioning and many clarifications about whether I specifically, but also the other jurors, could follow the rule of law, could honor “innocent until proven guilty,” could not allow our personal feelings to dissuade us from following the terms of the law, we were finally released for the day. I left thinking that perhaps I would be selected for this jury and was already carrying on a full internal dialog reminding myself how important it was to follow my civic duty and be impartial.

ipv1

Justice and legal justice, in my eyes, are two very different things. We have the law and then we have justice and, sadly, the two do not always go hand in hand. I won’t insult your ability for basic social observation by giving you a long list of examples, but I will give you one example that involves someone close to me. I have a dear friend/speaking client named Stacey Lannert. You can read her full story in her book Redemption or watch her Oprah appearance on youtube. To make a long story short, this is a brief summary of Stacey’s story.

Stacey Lannert was released from prison where she served 18 years for fatally shooting the man who raped her from ages 8 through 18. That man was her father. The governor granted her clemency in 2009, and within 6 days, she walked out of the prison gates. When Stacey was tried for her crime, the court considered many facts of the case that included the fact that she fatally shot her father. The much longer story of her abuse at his hands was not included in those facts of consideration. That was legal justice as the law was written at that time, but, in my opinion, that was not justice. The truth is much more complicated than that for Stacey and for many other people in the justice system. In real justice there is very little black and white and a whole lot of gray area.

Bottom line, despite all of its faults and failings, I do believe in the American justice system. So does Stacey, for that matter. She is at the time of this writing beginning her first year of law school. It isn’t a perfect system, but I believe that the best way to achieve true justice is to honor the law and work to change the law when it fails us. On day three of jury selection, the defense attorney and prosecuting attorney began their questioning of the jury pool and the question of honoring the law was brought up time and time again. We were provided with hypotheticals, for example, if a man is being tried for the crime of sleeping on the sidewalk and the only witness testifies that the man was asleep is he guilty or not guilty? Correct answer: Not guilty. The only testimony we have is that he was asleep. There was no testimony as to if he was asleep on the sidewalk which was the question we were to answer. This went on and on.

On day three, I was singled out again, as I fully expected to be, for individual questions from both the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney. The defense attorney was hammering me about my ability to be fair and just and to not jump to conclusions based on my experience or prior knowledge. I assured him repeatedly and in different ways that I prefer facts to assumptions, all the while, his client is still staring me down. The defense attorney used what occurred to me later was a clever tactic. It was obvious that both attorneys had typed “Girls Fight Back” in a search engine and I am sure found out quite a bit about me through that search. They knew what I do for a living, what I believe, and that I have received training on these issues. At one point the prosecutor asked another male juror how he would react if the victim testified for her abuser instead of against him and the man stated that he would be less likely to believe the abuse. Then he asked me the same question and I stated that there are many reasons that a victim might not want to testify including . . . “Objection.” I was cut off there and the defense attorney asked to speak to the judge. The attorneys and judge left the room for quite some time and when they returned, the question being directed to me was much softer, less pointed, and certainly did not give me a platform to say what I was about to say which is . . .

Here are just a few of the possible reasons that a victim of IPV might have when choosing not to testify against their abuser/what I would have said had I been given the opportunity:

  • Shame and humiliation about publicly acknowledging the abuse
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Fear of being murdered
  • Cultural norms mandating that marriage is forever
  • Cultural norms mandating that the man is the head of his household and prevails in all things
  • Disapproval from family/friends/children
  • Fear of not having financial support if separated from the abuser
  • Fear of losing custody of their children
  • Love for their partner despite the abuse
  • The belief that this time (as they have probably heard from their abuser) really is the last time and it will be better in the future
  • The underlying belief that they are not worthy of better than this relationship (an idea probably also reinforced by the abuser)
  • Fear of deportation
  • Fear of criminal prosecution for any related or unrelated crime they may have committed
  • Lack of emotional support in the decision to leave
  • Fear of losing their home
  • Language issues that prevent clear communication with law enforcement, medical staff, attorneys

I was annoyed that I wasn’t given a platform to say this in open court for all of the other potential jurors to hear because I know how hard it can be to understand the vast gray area in the intricacies of IPV.  Soon after this question, the attorneys were allowed to list their first choices to be removed from the jury panel and, no big shock, the defense attorney excused me. In light of all things, this was the right end result. I do think I can follow the rule of law as a juror despite my personal experience, my professional knowledge, and my strong feelings on the subject; but, I also know that if I were in a deliberation room and another juror made an uninformed comment such as that a victim who doesn’t testify against her abuser clearly was not abused, that deliberation room would become my classroom. Justice, . . . maybe? But, I can be fairly persuasive when I get on my soapbox and I am not sure that would have allowed for a balanced decision among all of the jurors which is why we have a jury system in the first place. In the end, the system of each attorney getting to remove a few jurors balances things out to allow the criminal justice system to play itself out. In that vein, the prosecutor as I was being dismissed took his chance to remove a juror who had admitted during questioning to being an abuser himself.

I won’t get to see this case to its conclusion. I don’t know if the defendant will be found guilty or not guilty. I do know in my heart, though, that despite the legal conclusion, the victim (if these allegations are true) is not going to find a solution to her problem in that courtroom. I in no way am discounting the hard work that law enforcement and the criminal justice system do to combat IPV, but I do know that it isn’t the answer. Guilty or not, the victim may return to the abuser. The cycle of violence may continue for her and for her children as the problem is too deeply rooted to be solved by a legal penalty. This has been made evident time and time again, most notably to Americans in the life story of Nicole Brown Simpson. Her story, familiar to most of us, was sad and tragic, but not at all unique.

My experience of (almost) sitting on a jury stirred up a lot of emotion and reflection for me. I believe at the core that we are all here on this earth to look out for one another. I believe in treating other women as my sisters and I know we can affect each other’s lives positively if we keep that in mind always first and foremost. I need to hold onto that, because if not, what’s the point? I also know that I will never look at a jury summons the same way again. It isn’t just a hassle. It isn’t just a disruption to our busy lives. It is an opportunity to come together as a community to work toward justice for all of our sisters and brothers and we are so very lucky to live in a country that allows us that opportunity. So, when that dreaded envelope shows up in your mail, I hope you can consider this as well. Speak with your voice and in your truth to do what’s right. It may seem small to you, but it isn’t. We don’t all have the time to volunteer, or be an activist, or the money to donate to causes we believe in, but we do have our voices and our truths. I truly believe that together we can make a difference and create positive change. I hope you do too.

For more information about booking Girls Fight Back, Stacey Lannert, or interACT to empower your campus to fight back against violence, you can reach us at: booking@kirklandproductions.com or 866-769-9037

About the author: Gina Kirkland opened Kirkland Productions, Inc, a college entertainment/speakers agency, in 2000. In 2007, she opened her second company, KP Comedy, and, in 2013, she channeled her lifelong passion for Women’s Issues into the purchase of Girls Fight Back. She runs the GFB Speaker Academy, is a NOVA certified Victim Advocate, works in partnership with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office of the Department of the Navy (DON SAPRO) on issues of sexual assault prevention and bystander behavior, is a graduate of the Gavin de Becker Advanced Threat Assessment and Management Academy, IMPACT Los Angeles, FAST Defense, and currently sits on the IMPACT Los Angeles Board.

 

Kutztown is killin it!

Last week Girls Fight Back moseyed on over to the quaint Kutztown University. Though a smaller university, these gals packed a punch. We threw down and learned some stellar moves together, but I actually was most excited for the small post-chat following the seminar. Sure, anyone can come sit through a 75 minute presentation and take away some badass skills. But a majority of the women at Kutztown wanted to take it one step further, investing their own time to share their stories, learn more about specific situations and take away some one-on-one tips and advice on how they can live a more fearless life.

Kutztown

Um, hell yeah Kutztown. You killin’ in. Thank you so much for welcoming me on your beautiful campus and making your personal and community safety such a priority. It was truly a privilege, and hella good time.

Love and Light,

GFB Bree

P.S. Special shout out to Petritsa, Asst Director of Student Involvement, for her incredible hospitality and putting me up in the cutest bed and breakfast (my first!). Your vivacious energy and kindness made my trip a memorable experience!

Students Fight Back – not with mere muscle but as a way of life!

Students Fight Back

Let the SUNYshine in! SUNY Potsdam – Loving Life!

SUNY Potsdam 9.25.14“I love this job!” Those were the words I exclaimed out loud to myself (yes I talk to myself) while leaving SUNY – Potsdam after an amazing turnout for Girls Fight Back! Man, we had so much fun! Of course we got our intuition on, kicked some ass and had real talk. But we did it all while having a hella good time. That’s why I think GFB rocks so much… you can learn to be your own best protector and empower one another while still loving life. And it’s pretty amazeballs to do both.

Thank you SUNY – Potsdam for the incredible energy and life you brought.. You let the SUNYshine in. (Mmmm that’s cheesy!)

Truly, I was honored to be a part of your vivacious community!SUNY Potsdam 9.25.14 Pic 2
Love and Light,

GFB Bree

Holler for Harcum!

Harcum 9.19.14 croppedStudents Fight Back rolled on over to Harcum College this week and I had the privilege of getting down with these kids. About fifty percent of the crowd were student athletes. And they were ballas (see what I did there?).

And a majority of these ballas were men supporting their fellow strong ladies, and learning as well. I was excited to see the male crowd involved and asking excellent questions. One of the questions posed was “what do you do if someone attacks you from the back and just punches you in the back of the head and knocks you out?” Ah. Excellent question. I agreed that “Stop. Leave Me Alone. I don’t want any problems” is not so helpful once returning to consciousness after being sucker punched from the back. As badass of a team that we have at Students Fight Back, even with the extensive training we have all been through, we are not trained to cheat death. However, if you are trusting your intuition and actively choosing awareness in this wonderful life of yours, it’s very unlikely you’ll find yourself in a situation where someone has sucker punched you from behind.

Life is happening whether you are ready or not. We just want to give you the tools to live your life to the fullest. Being brave. Fearless. Courageous. And not just to have that badass mindset, but to physically empower you by teaching the basics of the best self-protection skill set, like trusting your intuition, setting strong boundaries and, of course,  a good ole’ palm strike.

Thank you so much Harcum College for welcoming into your incredible community. You are rockstars. This is my shout out (or holler!) to you.  Until next time..

Love and light,

GFB Bree