Fight Back Fall Tour Wraps Up at Loyola

Well, folks, that’s all she wrote. The Fight Back Productions 2009 Fall Tour has come to an end. And I can’t think a more perfect place to sign off than on the shores of beautiful lake Michigan at Loyola University in Chicago, hometown of our esteemed founder, Erin Weed.

I brought Students Fight Back to an enthusiastic group of men and women who sacrificed part of their valuable Saturday night learning to be their own best protectors. A big thanks to the rock stars of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, which sponsored the event. Their eagerness to help spread this important message is truly inspiring. And I must say, they’ve got a natural knack for laying the smack down.

OK, ass kicking aside, I have to ask an honest question. Is it completely and totally lame that it’s 10:01 on a Saturday night, I’m in possibly the most fun city in the country, and I’m alone in a hotel room bed in flannel pajamas? Could I morph into my grandmother a little faster please? But I gotta tell ya, speaking really takes it out of you. It was all I could do to drag my ass into Chipotle (I know – a real Chicago original), snarf down a burrito and then crawl into bed. I’m so ashamed.

But tomorrow! Oh tomorrow, Chi-town, you and I will spend some quality time together. After I’ve had a good night’s sleep. And possibly another burrito.

Michaela Jackson, reporting from the GFB ’09 Fall Tour, over and out.

A GFB Week in Review

One week ago, I was in sunny Orlando preparing to present Women Fight Back to a group of awesome gals at Siemens Energy. No surprise that they were full of energy and spunk. I loved the brief time I got to spend there and they seemed to love kicking butt! One of the comments I received on our feedback forms read, “OMG!!! This was the most amazing class – I Loved Her!! Thank You” and another said it was the best presentation they had ever had! So I felt pretty good. 🙂

I spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with incredible college peer educators at the Bacchus and GAMMA National Peer Education Conference. Bacchus and GAMMA is a non-profit which trains college students to educate their fellow students about various health issues from drugs and alcohol to STIs and HIV to good nutrition and overall wellness. It is a personal favorite of mine because I was a peer educator at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro every single semester and I attended four national conferences during my years there. It was at the B &G conference that I first saw Girls Fight Back! and that I first met Erin Weed. I met some really cool people from all over the country and saw some great programs. The theme this year was Super Heroes of Peer Education and although I had to leave before the themed costume contest on Saturday night, I am sure there were some pretty amazing costumes just because us peer educators are dedicated like that!

And that, my friends, wrapped up my portion of the fall tour! I was grateful to get back home and start resting up for our January training academy and, of course, our upcoming Spring tour. I didn’t think about all the things I had put off doing at home while I was jet-setting across the country teaching people to be their own best protectors. Not only are there piles of laundry and tons of holiday preparations to be done, but I also remembered that I signed up for a RAD class at my alma mater! Tuesday was my first class and it covered some basics about safety and awareness. We learned some of the primary moves (ready position, palm strikes, etc.), but the real meat of the program started last night when we learned tons of basic strikes and started practicing on the punching pads. Next Tuesday, we’ll be working on ground defense and next Thursday we’ll be doing simulations. I’m excited to learn about another system of self-defense and you can look out for a full review after our last class next week.

Wednesday was the highlight of my week because I got to have coffee with a dear friend of the GFB family, Andrea Cooper. She was speaking at Wake Forest University and I had the opportunity to chat with her and see her speak. Andrea travels the country telling the story of her beautiful daughter Kristin. Early in her sophomore year of college, Kristin was raped by a friend…someone she knew and trusted and on New Year’s Eve of that same year, Kristin killed herself in her parent’s home while they were out at a holiday party. Even typing that statement makes me tear up. The pain that Andrea has experienced following her daughter’s death is something I can hardly imagine and I admire her more that I can possibly express. Having just a simple cup of coffee with her was such a blessing and to see her presentation Wednesday night was so touching. I could tell from the way that students surrounded her following her talk that they were touched as well. Andrea also gave a blatant plug to GFB! She pulled me up out of the audience, introduced me, and said that they simply must book me at their school. Luckily, I had brought along some GFB materials because several groups from the school approached me afterwards for info! One good favor deserves another, so if you are interested in learning more about bringing Andrea Cooper to your school, check out www.kristinsstory.com. If your school has an Alpha Chi Omega chapter, partner with them! Kristin was an Alpha Chi and the national AChiO chapter offers grants to bring Andrea to your campus! Her program is a great way to break the ice about rape, depression, and suicide – issues that students on your campus unfortunately deal with every single day.

I heard that yesterday’s Dr. Phil had safety and self-defense tips for kids! Did anyone watch? What did you think?

Denver Self-Defense Classes

Girls Fight Back started in Hoboken, New Jersey in 2001 at a place called The Bar at 10th and Willow. Why a bar, you ask? Because the manager – a guy named Mario – had 7 sisters, believed in what I was doing and gave me the space for free. After getting certified by the American Women’s Self Defense Association as an instructor, I began holding weekend classes in the bar, and women all over the tri-state area attended. I remember banging on Mario’s apartment door at 10 am, so he’d let me into the bar to start class. (He went to bed at 6 am on weekends, so he probably cursed my name a lot those mornings…)

Today I’m excited to announce a new partnership with Denver’s coolest yoga hot spot, Spiral Yoga & Wellness. Starting November 21st, I will be teaching a 2-hour women’s self-defense workshop at Spiral once a month. (Normally the workshops will take place on the 2nd Saturday of each month – except for the first one in November, which is the 3rd Saturday.) Then in January 2010 I’ll start teaching an ongoing self-defense class every Wednesday night from 7 – 8:30 pm. (Whoop-Ass Wednesdays) These weekly classes are structured like yoga. Pay as you go, $15 per class, come every week or just once a month…no contracts, so you decide! (Note: You must attend one of our 2-hour workshops as a pre-requisite before starting weekly classes with me in January. This way, all students will begin the classes with an understanding of verbal self-defense, prevention strategies and other basic fundamentals. If you can’t make the Nov. 21 workshop, be sure to attend the one on December 12.)

Teaching again is very exciting for me. For the past few years I’ve been mostly speaking, writing and traveling. My average crowd size tends to be in the hundreds, sometimes even more than a thousand. But getting back to the basics, teaching a small group of spirited women and girls…well, I find this invigorating. I hope you’ll join me…please spread the word. Space is limited! Here are details for the first workshop:

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009
2:00 – 4:00 pm
@ Spiral Yoga & Wellness
4106 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
$20 per person (women/girls ages 12 and up)
Click here for details and registration

Girls Fight Back! at Northern Arizona University

NAUWell, the Girls Fight Back! Fall Tour is coming a to a close and I have to say that Northern Arizona University was a GREAT way for me to close out my first Girls Fight Back! tour. First, let me just a give a shout out to the fantastic Arizona weather. I was greeted in Flagstaff by sunny skies and 70 degrees. The fun just kept coming and I cannot say enough good things about NAU or its students.

The NAU crowd was so energetic and I left feeling truly inspired and lucky to have my job. One thing this job has taught me is that, while there is violence in this world and it can seem senseless and pervasive, there are also hope and success stories. I think that focusing on those two things and making an effort to make them more common is a better focus and I feel so blessed to be a part of an company that does that. After every seminar, people came up to me and told me how dangerous they felt or that they felt more prepared should they encounter a violent situation. I have also had people share stories of how violence has affected them and then thank me for making them feel empowered.

However, I think it’s more appropriate for me to thank all of the wonderful people who brought Girls Fight Back! to their school or company and all the inspirational people who sat in the audience and learned how to lead a safer life and fight back. Thank you for welcoming me, being open to our mission and helping spread that mission. You have made our fall tour amazing and I can’t wait to see what spring has in store for Girls Fight Back!

Mass Shootings in TX and FL

I struggle being someone who wants to gather the facts and background of crimes while at the same time wanting to focus solely on the victims and their family. I’ve been told you can’t really have it both ways. You know, kind of like on “Grey’s Anatomy”, when they tell the doctors not to get too involved in the lives of their patients because it interferes with them doing their job. I understand that there are some parts of yourself that you might need to tone down every once in a while to be effective at your work, but I hope compassion is not one of those things.

For this reason, I found myself feeling badly when I heard about the mass shootings in Texas and Florida  last week. I felt badly because while, of course, I was shocked and sad for the victims the thing that I was most intrigued about was the shooters…because they are both still alive.

This is extremely rare in mass shootings. Most people who perpetrate crimes such as this do so with no out plan and we are left to wonder and ask questions.

The Texas shooting on a military base has so many degrees do it. It involves a war, deployments, workplace violence and unfortunately ethnic /religious discrimination.  The FL shooting appears to be more of a disgruntled former employee situation.  However, unlike so many cases before we will have the opportunity to talk to the shooters and ask the questions that we want so badly answered. Why here? Why these people? What could have been done to change this?

When I learned of the FL shooting, so soon after TX my first thought was that it was a copycat effect. It’s common after an attack highly publicized in the media to have many that follow afterward. They just don’t all make the news. Did that have something to do with FL shooting?

What I don’t question, as I have posted about before, is that these were random or the acts of people who simply snapped. Violence is a process and I hope these individuals will be able to walk us through that so that we can learn how to prevent such cases in the future. I’ve read the same things about these 2 individuals as I have with other cases in the past. There were warning signs. There were people that knew.

 There are so many victims when someone walks into a building and starts shooting. It’s not just those who are killed. It’s the people who have to miss them every day, the ones that survived and the ones that tried to help.  It’s the families of the shooters who will wonder what they could have done differently. It’s the people who watched on TV and felt a little less safe.

 I shouldn’t feel badly about my interest towards the shooters. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time learning about the victims of these crimes. I think it’s ok to struggle with the need for knowledge and education in violence as well as the need to focus and feel compassion for its victims.  Perhaps finding balance between the two will make me better at both.

Rihanna speaks out about domestic violence.

Rihanna with Dianna SawyerOn Friday night, Rihanna was interviewed for the first time about her assault by former boyfriend Chris Brown. The police report describes the assault in detail, but I’ll do my best to summarize. The assault occurred in the car after the couple left the Grammy’s last February, when Rihanna noticed a message on Brown’s cell phone from a former girlfriend. When she confronted him about it, he became angry and an argument ensued.  Brown, who was driving, pulled the car over and tried to force Rihanna out, but she was wearing her seatbelt. He pushed her, causing her to hit her head on the window. Brown then continued driving while punching Rihanna repeatedly in with his right hand. She made several attempts to use her cell phone to contact her personal assistant, but Brown would not let her and tossed it out the window. The assault lasted for several minutes, while Brown continued punching her, put her in a headlock, and at some point even bit her. He finally stopped the car in front of Rihanna’s house and she grabbed the key from the ignition and sat on it. He continued the assault until police arrived after being called by a neighbor who heard Rihanna’s screams.

According to a CNN article, Brown was sentenced last week to serve five years probation and to spend more than 1,400 hours in “labor-oriented service”. He will also be required to complete Domestic Violence counseling and cannot come within 50 yards of Rihanna (10 yards at industry events) until 2014.

I have to say I admire Rihanna’s bravery in speaking out so publicly about this assault and how it has affected her. Soon after the assault, a police photo of her swollen face was released by TMZ . In the 20/20 interview, Rihanna talks about how embarrassing it is for her to see that photo. Having something like this become public so quickly must be difficult to handle, but it also forced this incident to be talked about. Rihanna describes the relationship between her and Brown as being almost obsessive at times. They were so young at the time that they feel in love, they fell hard and fast. When this assault occurred, it was a major wake up call for her, but after the wounds healed, she gave him another chance. The couple got back together just weeks after the assault, but it didn’t last long. Rihanna describes being annoyed by everything he during this time because she was so angry. She discusses the history of abuse in her own family, and describes watching her father beat her mother. This type of behavior was so normal to her, that when it began happening in her own relationship, she hardly recognized how wrong it was. Once she realized that her actions influenced young women around the world, her attitude changed. By speaking publicly about something that no woman wants to admit happened to her, she hopes to help others see the importance of leaving, and I believe that she has.

Several of the comments Rihanna made rang true to me in regards to my own experience with domestic violence. Women who are in abusive relationships often have a hard time understanding the situation they are in. The emotional abuse that many women experience makes them feel so worthless that when violence occurs, a common response is to sit back and take it. Rihanna described not wanting to fight back because she didn’t wan to hurt Brown. This is a feeling I can relate to all to well, and it makes me realize how the dynamics of domestic violence differ from many other types of violence. Choosing to fight back against someone who you loves abd trust is a difficult decision, especially if the person being abused doesn’t see themselves as worth fighting for.

Rihanna’s ends the interview by explaining that sometimes it takes stepping away from a situation to see it for what it really is. She will likely be remembered for this quote, “f love. Love is so blind.”

Brown has come out on multiple occasions to publicly apologize for his actions, citing his own history of abuse and saying he wishes he could have acted differently. Rihanna admits that she believes he is sorry, but doesn’t think he truly understands the severity of the situation and how much it has affected her emotionally. The frequency of domestic violence saddens me terribly, but I think one of the best things we can do is talk about it and I’m glad that Rihanna chose to do just that.

Culver-Stockton via St. Louis – Sans the Pizza

Helllooo Weekend! Am I the only one here who’s glad it’s Friday? As excited as I am about the weekend, though, it hasn’t been all that bad. How could it be when I started out my Monday giving the Girls Fight Back! presentation at Culver-Stockton College in Missouri?

And what a presentation it was. We laughed, we cried, we were moved. In particular, our scary bad guy, Lance, was LITERALLY moved as he graciously allowed me to demonstrate the “badass ballet” and pretend to take him down. Such a good sport!

Overall, the event was fantastic – a special thanks goes out to Bob Dudolski, a personal friend of GFB founder Erin Weed and Greek advisor at Eastern Illinois University at the time of the event that started this movement.

My only regret about my otherwise fabulous trip to Missouri this week is that I didn’t have time to jump out of my car in St. Louis and wolf down a few of those fantastic square pieces of pizza and a plate of toasted ravioli. Oh, Imo’s, wait for me – I promise I’ll be back.

Culver-Stockton College – proximity to perhaps the best pizza EVER…a pack of girls with a fighting spirit…what could be better? I can’t think of a single thing.

Girls Fight Back at Quinnipiac (Hey! I’m a Poet!)

Can I just start out by indulging my inner child and saying that I just really enjoy the word “Quinnipiac”? I’m sorry. It’s just a fun word. And don’t judge me for having so much fun with it – life’s a whole lot more fun when you can appreciate the little things, right?

Great. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me say that bringing Girls Fight Back to Quinnipiac (I’m sorry but that little rhyme will never get old!) University last Wednesday was even more fun than saying Quinnipiac 10 times fast. The women were fantastic – several groups partnered to make the program possible, and the spirit of collective excitement was almost tangible.

The “Can O’Whoopass” portion of the program was particularly funtastic. I was blown away by the enthusiasm in the crowd – and so were our scary bad guys (count not one, but THREE altruistic male volunteers!).

On top of the program itself, which could not have gone better, I really enjoyed visiting New England for the first time. I couldn’t have asked for a better time of year to make the acquaintance of the Northeast. It was cold and rainy and gray, and it seemed just perfect. Idyllic. I figure I’ll probably own several houses there someday, when I’m rich and famous. And I’ll have a private chef to prepare delicious clam chowder and lobster for my enjoyment every day. And I’ll think of the girls at Quinnipiac University, who helped to kindle my love for the region with their overwhelming exuberance and first-rate kick-ass-ery.

And now, because I’m trying to hit critical mass of cheese in this post, a haiku for you:

New England aflame
with color and girl power
Quinnipiac fight!

Urbana University

I always tend to start the program with a story, or sometimes a question about the area I’m in. Urbana was easy, because it is in OH and somewhat close to Cleveland. I remember as a kid we would always go to Sea World of Cleveland…I couldn’t get enough of it!

As an adult I look back at that and think…Sea World in CA? Yep- makes sense. FL? Absolutely! Texas – yes, right on the Coast! But Sea World of Cleveland!!???  Ummm…ok?

Sea World of Cleveland (shockingly)is no longer open…but we got a good laugh.

I had a really fun night here. The SAC members were really helpful getting everything set up and it’s clear they work hard to put together some really great programs for their campus. I loved the advertising that had been done for Girls Fight Back. I got to campus early and answered a few emails in the student union. The table I was at had a little cut out of a boxing glove with an invite to the program. Then again in the ladies room…it was kinda funny to see Erin Weed’s smiling face on the door of every stall.

The students were awesome. They asked some great questions and got really involved. Pete Floyd, a self defense instructor from the community also attended. He wanted to learn a bit more about GFB and how he too could help the students. I always appreciate that and enjoyed having him there.

Urbana was a wonderful school, with equally wonderful students.  All of us at Fight Back Productions were so very sorry to hear of the loss of fellow student Andia Shisler. Our thoughts continue to be with you all and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet you.

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Salt Lake City – From KJZZ to SLCC!

I was recently lucky enough to bring Fight Back to Utah and I had an insanely great time, despite my trip starting off with a somewhat awkward encounter at the Portland Airport. As a side note, thank you to my unnamed family member who decided to store his giant screwdrivers in one of my carry on bags causing a “situation” at the airport. That aside, the rest of the trip was great. KJZZ News at Nine was very generous to have me on their morning show and share the Girls Fight Back Message with their viewers. Their anchors were so enthusiastic about our mission and the segment was fun, informative and such a positive step in spreading our message.

Luckily for me, the fun did not end there! Right after KJZZ, I hopped in my car and drove over to Salt Lake City Community College for a Students Fight Back seminar. The students and staff at SLCC are amazing and a very enthusiastic, welcoming crowd. We had a great seminar with great participation and questions from the audience. There really is no comparison to seeing staff and students yell, “Stop! Leave me alone! I don’t want any problems” at each other and then practice the badass ballet and call each other “creepy weirdos.” It is just plain awesome!

In short, Utah was great. KJZZ was amazing and SLCC was an absolute blast. Thanks for the memories! Watch the first part of my KJZZ interview at:
http://connect2utah.com/media_player.php?media_id=73491.

Slippery Rock University and Westminster College

“They” say you can’t go home again…but I guess it’s ok to visit! I was SUPER excited to bring Girls Fight Back to  Slippery Rock University  and Westminster College because it meant I got to go back to Pittsburgh! I’ve gotten so use to hotels and traveling alone it was such a nice change to stay with family, go out to some of my old favorite places and meet friends for coffee in the morning!

I also got the opportunity to have this and this! Absolute Pittsburgh staples that would likely have stopped my heart by now if I still lived there.

These programs (as well as others that I’m sure the ladies will discuss) were sponsored by Armstrong Cable…. and THEY ARE AWESOME. I can’t say enough about a company that would sponsor a program for students in their community that helps them to live safer lives.

Daneen, Tara and Matt invited me to dinner at North Country (awesome- go there, get the bread) and were so gracious and funny- thank you guys so much!

We spent Monday night with the ladies of Slippery Rock. Here I whipped out my oh- so-awesome deer impression and our SBG Jason learned that when he is buying his wife a pair of heels- he is not only making her happy…but saving her life! 

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On Tuesday, we headed to Westminster. I need to give a very special shout out to David, of Theta Chi, for his wonderful PR attempt and then of course…for letting me point out his “targets”. I was excited to see that members of the community also joined us. I was glad to teach everyone about our company and what they can do to protect themselves.

15-Year-Old Gang Raped

Heather touched on this subject in her recent post, but I also felt compelled to add something. This week in California, a 15 year old girl was gang-raped outside of a Homecoming dance in Oakland. That statement alone made me sick to my stomach. When police said as many as 10 people were involved in the assault, while another 10 people watched without calling 911, that’s 10 human beings who did NOTHING as another was being so brutally assaulted!! That is…I just have no words for that.

It’s easy for us to explain away or perhaps deal with that one “monster” or that one loaner who did horrible things to another.  But here , where we’re dealing with 10-15 individuals (many of whom are not even of legal age to be tried as adults)all at once and all against one girl…you have to ask yourself, truly, where IS the humanity? This is something so much bigger than this incident, this is something inherently wrong with society.

I’m not going to write a long post about these individuals. This is not about them, they don’t deserve my energy right now.  

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months talking to young women and teaching them to fight, hoping I’ve helped spread valuable messages about survival. Girls Fight Back does teach self- defense, but we know that this is only part of that survival.

Police said this attack lasted over 2 hours. For over 2 hours a 15 year old girl endured the most cruel, the most heinous, the most brutal attack I can possibly imagine. I don’t know where you have to go in your head and your heart and your soul to survive that…but somehow… she did.

So to her- I send my thoughts and prayers. I hope you know how many people are also thinking of you and wishing you well. I hope you know how strong you are and I hope you have people around you who remind you of that every day.

I hope the courage that was with you that night is with you always…

The Bystander Effect – As many as 20 people witness gang rape & fail to report

A dear friend sent me a link to this very sad story.  Basically, a 15 year old girl was gang raped outside a school dance for over two hours while as many as 20 people watched or participated in the attack.  No one called 9-1-1 or reported the crime.  My friend sent me the link with a note attached that read, “why isn’t self-defense mandatory in high schools?”  I don’t have an answer.  I don’t know.

I also don’t know why so many kids stood by and allowed this to happen.  There are already dozen of articles out there hypothesizing about what happened here.  Was it a bystander effect (which is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a large group of people witness a crime and diffuse responsiblity among the group)?  Did they fear retaliation from the group?  Have they been desensitized by the violent and sexual media that surround us? I could go on and on listing the theories that abound on this topic.

I recently took a CPR re-certification class.  We had already learned half of the skills that the class teaches when one young girl in the back raised her hand and said, “ok, I understand how to do this, but how do I know when to do it?”  It is an excellent question.

We teach our children about 9-1-1 from a young age, but do we tell them when to use it?  Do we have them practice dialing the number (with the phone unplugged, of course) and teach them how to answer basic questions that an emergency dispatcher might ask?  When we get in new situations, we often freeze and witnessing a violent crime is no different.  When will we begin to teach our children the basic skills they need to survive and thrive in this world?  Violence happens.  We can’t ignore it or deny it.  We must take responsiblity for teaching our children these skills.  And we must learn to help each other.  Afterall, if we weren’t put on this planet to help each other out, then what are we here for?

Our thoughts and prayers are with this girl, her family, and her community.

What can I do to make a difference? Part 2

It has been a hectic week or so for this member of the Girls Fight Back crew.  After planning and holding a public rally here in NC for PAVE’s Rape IS Rape initiative, I hopped on a plane and headed to California for a training with Gavin de Becker & Associates.

As I have mentioned before on the blog, Gavin de Becker is the author of what I believe to be the absolute best personal safety books available.  Some of the titles include: The Gift of Fear, Protecting the Gift, and Fear Less.  In addition to being a writer, Mr. de Becker runs one of the leading safety and violence prevention agencies in the world.  He has created an incredible threat assessment tool called MOSAIC (its domestic violence threat assessment version is available for free for DV agencies), provided protection detail for some of the biggest celebrities and political figures in the world and played a role in assessing the lessons learned from some of the biggest violent tragedies our world has ever seen.  I would be willing to bet that the GdB folks have also played a big role in preventing numerous violent tragedies that we never heard about, but would have rocked our lives if no intervention had occurred.

I could type pages and pages about the amazing things I learned and people I met, but I think it boils down to one thing.  After any violent incident occurs, we always hear people say things like “no one could have seen it coming” or “there is nothing we could have done.”  And if there is one thing I learned, it is that nearly every attack or violent occurrence has numerous opportunities for prevention.

After heading home from the training, it felt like I barely had time to do laundry and re-pack before heading off to Chicago to give more Girls Fight Back and Women Fight Back programs.  My first stop was at Morton High School.  The program was at 9:45am and it was three hours away from where I was staying.  Needless to say, I got up at about 4am, got as presentable as possible when you get up at the crack of dawn, and drove through the beautiful Illnois cornfields heading out to the Pumpkin Capital of the World (Morton, IL).

I have always had a secret fear of presenting to high schoolers because well, I am a big dork and I had my doubts that my geeky sense of humor would go over well at a high school.  But, man was I wrong!  Those girls loved the program and I loved them right back.

After the program was over, I was greeted by about 7 girls who asked me questions about groundfighting and what they could do at their school to make it safer.  We weren’t able to really finish our discussion, so I thought I would post some ideas here that go along with the “what can I do to make a difference” theme!  So here are some ideas for things you can do to make your school a safer place.  Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!

-Start a Students Against Violence Club – Check out Students Against Violence Everywhere or form your own anti-violence club

-Talk to your teachers and administrators about your experiences, your fears, and your worries

– Start a conflict resolution or peer mediation program at your school

-Don’t be afraid to tell adults what is going on.  If you see a weapon or hear someone make threats, tell someone.

-Learn safe routes for getting to and from school and stick to them.  Know good places to seek help along your route just in case.

-Host anti-violence events at your school.  Things like Random Acts of Kindness Day ( give students stickers for each random act of kindness they do and give a prize to the top earners at the end of the day), an anti-violence themed poster contest (get clubs involved and offer a prize like an ice cream sundae party), or a day of silence for victims of violence.  Talk to local businesses about donating prizes for these events and be sure to get your PTA and local agencies involved.

You’d be amazed at what a difference student-led anti violence campaigns can make at your school!  Check back for more ideas and for details about my recent gigs at Lake Forest College and Glen Ellyn Public Library!

North Dakota

I am grateful that Minot State and the University of North Dakota opted to bring Students Fight Back to their schools pre-snow season. Now, to be fair, I only fear this because of this movie. In reality, I found North Dakota to be a beautiful place with some of the nicest people I’ve met so far.

My first stop was Minot State…this was just a hop, skip and a jump (otherwise known as 4 hours) form Fargo.  I’m finding that some of the most awesome schools are the ones  hidden in places you wouldn’t expect. Minot had been touched by the tragic loss of student Anita Knutson in 2007, so this was a special program for me.  In addition, the Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center sponsored “Take Back the Night” immediately following the program. Thank you Keri and all the others involved.

The program went well and we were still able to have fun while discussing a serious topic. Robert Martin, Vice President of Gavin de Becker & Associates, once said that having the ability to laugh even while dealing with violence shows that it doesn’t have power over you. The students, faculty and community of Minot certainly showed that.

My last stop was the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. What a beautiful campus! I always get a little excited driving through college towns…especially when I reach the rows of Fraternity and Sorority houses.  This, combined with the fall leaves and marching band practicing nearby was quite nostalgic. I was so ready for this program!

I met my extremely hard working contact Jason, who graciously volunteered to also be my “scary bad guy”…even after a long day of work and class! 

The program was open to all students, but when the attendees turned out to be all women…we turned up the girl power!  The greek community at UND is awesome! I loved spending some one on one time with them and I’m glad I could show them some helpful ways to be safe and strong.

UND

Camera update:  Still broken…BUT I got a replacement. Then…my luggage didn’t make it. I can’t win! Camera phone- not awesome, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity with these wonderful women.

Domestic Violence a Pre-Existing Condition? Insurance Companies Say Yes, Deny Coverage

The idea of a “pre-existing condition” strikes fear into the hearts of health insurance seekers everywhere. A cancer diagnosis, clinical depression, bum knees – each of these conditions and many more lay undeniably outside an individual’s control, but each could prevent any one of us from obtaining an insurance policy and the care we so badly need.

Evidently, the phrase “pre-existing condition” is now also synonymous with “injury suffered at the hands of another.” You see, what many people don’t realize is that insurance companies in eight states and the District of Columbia  are legally allowed to deny coverage to a patient on the basis of a rarely discussed and widely suffered “pre-existing condition”: having been the victim of domestic violence.

Yes, you read correctly. If you live in D.C., Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota or Wyoming, have ever suffered abuse at the hands of a partner or family member and are seeking a health insurance policy, you could very well be up shit creek without a paddle.

On paper, DV victims are likely to incur more health care costs through the course of their lives because they are at risk for repeat attacks. In effect, a sliver of society that needs access to quality health care far more than the average joe is systematically denied that very care. Additionally, because they fear losing insurance coverage for themselves or, worse, their children, many victims of violence that are currently insured are reluctant to seek health care if they are attacked and equally reluctant to report their experience to law enforcement officers.

Ellen Snortland rails against the twisted logic that makes such a policy possible in her blog on Huffington Post, and I couldn’t agree more. What we have here is a policy that not only conveniently ignores a dangerous social epidemic, but actually exacerbates the problem which already affects 4.8 million women and 2.9 million men every year, according to the CDC.

Business may be business, but forgive me for thinking that the original idea behind health insurance was that people would have access to care when they were most vulnerable. Shame on you insurance companies, for such unconscionable policies, and shame on you, state legislatures, for making such an outrage possible. Domestic violence is not a pre-existing condition, it is a crime inflicted on one human being by another. Just as we would not deny health insurance to someone who had been shot or someone who had been hit by a drunk driver, we should support, not reject, battered men, women and children. End of story.

WASC 2009

There is nothing that gets you going in the morning quite like 1000 high school student leaders chanting their school’s fight song, dressed in school colors, getting pumped for the weekend!

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That is exactly what I found at the Washington Association of Student Councils conference, hosted by Union High School. Opening day brought me back to every pep rally I ever went to in school…and I LOVED it! We set up our table in the gym and waited for the crowd!

We were so fortunate to be able to present Girls Fight Back as a workshop the next day. This was the first time that this had ever been done, as workshops are typically all student run. 

Participants spend the weekend learning how to be better leaders, create successful programs and enhance school functions. In addition, the students learn from each other about various other topics, such as photography and crafts.

GFB conducted two workshops that were packed with young women who wanted to learn how they could be their own best protectors and possibly bring the full program to their school!

We talked about how we got started, what we do, and then went right into our 3 part self -defense series! We also talked about setting boundaries and had some time left for a little ground fighting and a discussion about improvised weapons. After all, this young woman taught us that no one should mess with high school students!

Thanks to everyone who worked to bring us to the conference. We had a great time and hope to spread the message that fighting that a girl is a very good thing to a high school near you!

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What can I do to make a difference?

It has been almost two weeks since I spoke at the beautiful Baylor University campus for the Alpha Delta Pi’s 4th annual Girls Fight Back.  In the two weeks since, I have been struggling to come up with the one primary lesson that I learned from this event.  It was an overwhelmingly wonderful event to be a part of.  A couple hundred fired up sorority girls in a beautiful ballroom.  The hostesses provided delicious treats (Dr Pepper floats!  Seriously, you haven’t lived…stop reading this post, go get one and come back when you are done!) and graciously donated door prizes.  It was the largest crowd I have ever spoken to and after the event, I took picture after picture with girls who were obviously excited about self-defense.baylor

I drove back to my hotel thinking, man, they have got it going on!  How can I help others host events that are equally as successful?  I thought about it and thought about it.  Besides the floats and prizes, what was it that had made this event a hit for four years?  Finally the answer hit me this past weekend at an event that had absolutely nothing to do with Girls Fight Back.

You see, this is my third year walking with a group of friends called Team Supersnack.  We started walking in the AIDSWalk NYC four years ago and have since grown to being a non-profit organization that regularly raises over $50,000 per year for HIV/AIDS research and treatment.  This year, we tackled AIDSWalk DC and finished up the second highest fundraising team overall!  As I was walking and chatting with some longtime friends (Shawn Decker and Gwenn Barringer – awesome speaker friends!), I realized that Team Supersnack is successful in the same way that Baylor’s Girls Fight Back is successful.  They are successful because of the passion of individuals!

See, Girls Fight Back at Baylor isn’t paid for by the school and Team Supersnack doesn’t have some big corporate sponsor handing us a $30,000 check.  In both cases, a small group of committed individuals see a problem (campus violence, HIV) and find small attainable ways to help.  The Alpha Delta Pis at Baylor work their tails off to make this a great event.  They don’t count on an advisor or school official to address the problem, they tackle it themselves.  I began to wonder, what if all of us did this.  When we see a problem instead of sitting back and waiting for someone else to address it, what if we all stood up and put in 110% to work towards a solution.

This weekend, I am doing just that.  Like Jaime, I am saddened and frankly, outraged at the overwhelming Hollywood and media support for convicted sexual predator Roman Polanski and this weekend, I am doing something about it.  For those of you who have somehow missed the story, in 1977 a 43-year-old man took a 13-year-old girl to a friend’s home where he proceeded to get her drunk, drug her, and then rape and sodomize her in various ways.  After this girl gave her testimony in court, the man decided to take a plea bargain instead of being found guilty by a jury of his peers.  He pled guilty to having sexual intercourse with a minor, posted bail, fled the country, and has lived a happy and free life in France ever since.  Now he has been arrested and will hopefully return to the USA for sentencing and his friends are trying to get him off the hook.  Why?  Because he makes movies.  Not because he is innocent (guilt has already been established), but because of what he does for a living.  I personally believe this is wrong and I am coordinating a rally in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC to stand in solidarity with the victims of sexual violence.  The rally is a part of a national campaign by PAVE called Rape IS Rape. And you are welcome to join us!  If you feel passionately, you can visit the Rape IS Rape website and find a rally near you.  Don’t see one listed?  It isn’t too late to start one!  Contact rapeisrape@gmail.com for an Action Kit or go to www.rapeisrape.com for more info (while you are there, sign our online petition!).

If you are an individual reading this blog and wondering, “what can I do to make a difference?”  Fight Back Productions wants to help you.  Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to post tips about how YOU can combat violence on your campus or in your community.  I promise they will be simple and even fun!  So, come back and check us out and until then, get involved!

Old Dominion University

Dear East Coast,

Wow! I had forgotten how humid you get over there! 

That was my first thought when I got off the plane in Norfolk. My next thought was getting my car and heading to Old Dominion! It was late when I arrived and the program wasn’t until the next evening so I had the entire next day to hang out on campus.

I checked out the student union, took a walk around and met Kerry Kilburn, an ODU biology teacher who wanted to help the women get involved in her self defense classes right near campus!  I guess you can have a “filing folder” for both molecular bio and self defense…something I’m envious of 🙂 

The program that evening was awesome! The ladies at ODU were ready to learn about being bad victims and living safer lives…and then of course to kick some but! We had a great turnout- even though it was rush week. Thanks to all who took the time out of their busy schedules.

I was so excited when so many of the women waited after the program to learn about taking further self defense classes with Kerry!  Now they can learn so much more about palm strikes and ground fighting. 

Thanks again the the Women’s Center, my sound guys who made it all come together and my SBG, Dan.

Thanks also to my camera, who fooled me into believing it was no longer broken – but lied!  My camera phone didn’t give the beautiful ladies of Zeta Phi Beta justice, luckily some of the posters around campus came through. It was so exciting to see those!

 

Girls Fight Back @ ODU!

Hollywood’s Reaction to Polanski’s Apprehension

Hollywood’s Reaction to Polanski’s Apprehension

The apprehension of Roman Polanski has created a Hollywood and media frenzy. As I am sure we are all aware, Polanski is the director who, 20 years ago, plead guilty raping a 13-year-old girl and then fled to a country with which the United States does not have an extradition agreement. As both an actress and a self-defense instructor who teaches women and girls how to lead safer lives, I have to say I am saddened on so many levels by the reaction of some Hollywood heavyweights to Polanski’s apprehension. More than 100 Hollywood figures, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and Mike Nichols have signed a petition calling on the Swiss government to free Polanski, claiming we should all let bygones be bygones. It seems there is an attitude that, while Polanski’s crime was bad at the time, in retrospect it really is not such a big deal.

Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, has stated that she has moved on but I cannot help but wonder what the young girl, who has since grown into an adult, whom Polanski victimized is thinking and feeling. I cannot help but wonder if she feels she three times victimized. Once by Polanski, once by a system that allowed her attacker to live free for 20 years, and now finally by pop culture’s support of Polanski and the media frenzy that seems to never cease. I cannot help but wonder what she thought when she heard that Whoopi Goldberg, host of The View, did not believe that what happened to her was “rape rape.” Finally, I cannot help but wonder what it feels like to have a moment that could have the potential to bring her some sort of closure being trampled by an outcry of support for Polanski to the point that she asked for charges against Polanski to be dropped so she could stop reliving the details.

Polanski plead guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl and then fled the country. Worse, he has not even shown remorse. In a 1979 interview, Polanski told British journalist, Martin Amis, “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But . . . [having sex], you see, and the young girls. Judges want to [have sex with] young girls. Juries want to [have sex with] young girls. Everyone wants to [have sex with] young girls!” I personally cannot see what about this man inspires anything but contempt, disgust, and regret. I definitely cannot see what about this man inspires support.

Now, while I am an actress, I am about as far from “Hollywood heavyweight status” as you can get. I work, in my humble opinion, in the single most fabulous regional market in all the land. Most people know it as Portland, Oregon. While this is in no way intended to be an indictment of all Hollywood actors and production professionals, I still feel grateful to look at this tightly knit Portland acting community and feel a stronger moral compass than I feel coming from Hollywood right now. It also makes me grateful for actresses like Gabrielle Union who speak out against violent crimes against women and lobby to support measures that aid victims and punish offenders.

I simply cannot agree that what happened to Polansnki’s 13-year-old victim is not “rape rape.” I also cannot agree with movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, who is circulating the petition, that Polanski has “served his time.” I cannot connect in my mind how being free to live your life in France for 20 years equals paying for your crime. Finally, I cannot agree to let bygones be bygones. While the petition being circulated and signed saddens me, I still have hope. My hope is that Hollywood, who has come to the aid of victims of Katrina and 9/11, also comes to the aid of Geimer by stopping this nonsense and uses this incident as an opportunity to come to the aid of other victims of violent crimes and the organizations that support victims and punish offenders. Finally, I have hope that someday Geimer will be free to lead the life she so desperately wants, a life that does involve phone calls from reporters and reliving that tragic day. I have hope that the legal systems of the different countries involved will echo the sentiment Geimer conveyed in an interview with CBS years ago. “Justice is never too late.”