Category: Women’s Empowerment

The Booming Market of Sexual Assault Prevention on Campuses

For years, we at Girls Fight Back and Students Fight Back have promoted training that teaches women to trust their instincts and be their own best protectors.  Studies show that this is still the most effective method of preventing sexual assault.

We are happy that in the years since our inception, awareness has grown and programs have been put in place to encourage bystander intervention and help us all to look out for each other.  The programs, apps and products mentioned in the article below are all utilized to assist in preventing sexual assault, and that is a very good thing!  Go public awareness!  We love it!

Ultimately, while we definitely think there is room for ALL OF THESE APPROACHES, the problem of sexual assault on college campuses exists NOW and in addition to these other approaches, we have to teach women how to take care of themselves.  It isn’t victim blaming, it is just practical.

Here’s the NPR article I mentioned, check it out!

-GFB Kat

We are on tour and on our way to you!

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If you want to bring Girls Fight Back, Students Fight Back, or Fight Back on Spring Break to your campus, call us at 866.769.9037 or email us at gfb@girlsfightback.com and also check out these dates when we are touring to see if we are headed to a campus near you:

8/15/15 – Morehead, KY

8/26/15 – New York, NY

8/29/15 – Commerce, TX

9/8/15 – McCook, NE

9/9/15 – North Platte, NE

9/9/15 – Coeur d’Alene, ID

9/16/15 – Richmond, VA

9/17/15 – Potsdam, NY

9/27/15 – Platteville, WI

9/28/15 – Milwaukee, WI

9/30/15 – Eau Claire, WI

Topics we cover in Girls Fight Back & Students Fight Back that are shown to be EFFECTIVE sexual assault prevention for college students:

  • Self-Defense including how to yell and break holds
  • Definitions of Consent
  • Debunking the myth of stranger danger and defining acquaintance rape
  • Bystander intervention
  • Clarifying the right to personal boundaries
  • . . . with an approach that is dynamic, includes role-playing, discussion, and problem-solving

It’s a complicated issue and there is no one perfect approach, but a multi-faceted approach to sexual violence including these techniques has shown time and time again to save lives and decrease violence.

This great article from the New York Times states:

Sexual violence is a serious hazard on college campuses. . . .  In a randomized trial, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, first-year students at three Canadian campuses attended sessions on assessing risk, learning self-defense and defining personal sexual boundaries. The students were surveyed a year after they completed the intervention. The risk of rape for 451 women randomly assigned to the program was about 5 percent, compared with nearly 10 percent among 442 women in a control group who were given brochures and a brief information session. . . .  “It’s an important, rigorous study that shows that resistance and self-defense training needs to be part of college sexual assault prevention,” said Sarah E. Ullman, a professor of criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was not involved in the research.

We are dying to teach you how to kick some booty, and have fun in the process.  Give us a shout today!

Holla’ for Hofstra

There has been a significant shift in the crowd and energy at our GFB programs in the last year. A lot more inclusive to men, all of our programs now meet Title IX requirements and a majority of our programs are geared towards both women and men. I recently spoke at Hofstra University and though the environment and school was set for our standard SFB program, there was a serious girl power vibe taking place that night. It was ladies night, fo sho.

Hofstra May 2015

I love the shift in our program and that our society in general is more inclusive for men to feel supported in joining the conversation on self protection. But there is this small part of me that really loves that sisterhood feeling that is still very alive and should be.  There can be so much competition and “cat fighting” going down during the high school and college years when a lot of students feel that pressure to be the best and have it all (while I find in your later years, you realize everyone can be their best self and have it all, but I digress). It was just so cool to see all the BS pushed aside and totally focused on empowering and supporting each other for 75 minutes. It was all about being our own best protectors, looking out for each other and living a fearless life.. All with an unspoken fierce-sisterhood energy in the room. Oh hell yes.

Thank you for sharing your campus and energy with me Hofstra. You are all inspiring  badasses.. I look forward to the next time!

Love and Light,

Bree

Pacific Hills High School – Raise the Roof!

Pacific Hills 5.18.15

Girls Fight Back visited Pacific Hills High School yesterday and they raised the roof with their badass-ness! I love speaking to high school girls because they have such energy and passion about everything…especially in learning how to live fearlessly and recognize creepers! Mr. & Mrs. Wagner, the administrators who invited us, couldn’t have been more welcoming, supportive and thrilled to empower their girls…especially the Seniors heading off to college.

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(the picture above links to a video of Nik and her creepy weirdo in action)

Together we laughed, we realized that our fav pair of heels can be an awesome improvised weapon and we learned that if someone grabs your leg in a fight…just kick ‘em with your other leg! These girls were super engaged and asked awesome questions which I love! And let’s not forget our awesome male volunteer who was a dynamite “creeper” for us and a perfect example of how men and women working together can create change.

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Thank you so much Pacific Hills for letting me part of your community for the afternoon! You all seriously rock!

Cheers!
GFB Nicole

Bay Area Girls are Badass!

Claire Mallet 5.11.15
Want to know what I found out first hand after meeting a sassy group of high school seniors on Monday… Bay Area girls are BADASS! These ladies were so enthusiastic about learning the badass ballet that I had to keep reminding them that this is a no-contact course! Guess that means some local self defense classes are going to have a ton of new sign ups soon..which is awesome! Some of these gals are heading for international trips this summer so we talked about safety & travel tips as well as the standard awesome collection of empowering skills. These ladies are not only ready for college but for the world beyond! And of course a big shout out to the super mom, Claire Mallet, for putting this whole event together. It’s not every day that a group of high school girls get a personalized Girls Fight Back presentation before graduating! Keep on kicking ass and educating yourselves ladies, and thanks for letting me into your “girl group”!

-GFB Nicole

Roanoke – Breaking More Than Just Records

Roanoke March 2015 editiedTraveling around the country I see a lot of diverse cultures. You can imagine speaking in the Minnesota “dontchaknow” is a bit different from speaking in “welcometoMiami.”

So when I recently spoke at Roanoke, a quite prestigious college on the Forbes and Princeton Review’s Who’s Who lists, I may have had some preconceived notions. Well first, we had blast. (Duh). The small but mighty crowd was rocking and rolling …a few of them got so cracked up they were even laughing out loud (or pretended to. I’ll take it.). And, of course, the southern hospitality rang true in this tight-knit school, many thanks to Community Programing. But one of my favorite things about speaking at Roanoke I didn’t expect: the age diversity was awesomesauce! I’m talking on both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. I was ecstatic to see this on such a historic campus! Mid-presentation, I had two women who were not students on campus, just senior community members, asking great questions and getting up practicing full-out knee-to-the-groin. Say what? And then…And then!! I had a local Girl Scout member approach me afterwards about bringing GFB to her school as part of a project to receive one of her patches. That’s right. Senior citizens, mid-aged parents, college kids and Girl Scouts all in one room learning the badass ballet. Ummm… Is this real life? This is a GFB dream-come-true, if you ask me. Stretching across generations to share the passion of living an empowered and fearless life at every age.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Roanoke College for taking the stand against violence. For leading the way in offering programs for a diverse community, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, religion and so on. And for being living proof that you can be your own best protector and live an empowered life no matter how old or young you are. Ah. I’m filled with gratitude to see the spirit of GFB living across lifetimes.

Many thanks Roanoke for allowing me to be a part of your beautiful community for a night.. I look forward to seeing you again next year!

Love and Light,
GFB Bree

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

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

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

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:

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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.

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.

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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!

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

Morningside College Friday – Fierce, Fun and on Fire!

Morningside College 2

What can I possibly say about Morningside College?  These kids were fierce, fun, and on fire to make their campus a safer place.  From the moment I arrived on campus to the moment the program was over we were laughing like old friends.  The turnout was awesome (and on a FRIDAY night!) and everyone was 100% into it.  I got some great questions after the program too.

Then something else magical happened.  The awesome student team that coordinated the event took me out to eat at a Mexican place that evidently has a pretty big following, La Juanita’s (La Jua for short).  No joke, my chimichanga was so good, I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it.  And we were seated right next to this epic mural that I insisted we must take a picture in front of.  #diva

Morningside Cropped

I’ve had lots of awesome meals with amazing students in my almost 6 years with GFB, but let me tell you, Morningside College knew the way to my heart. Teaching students how to become their own best protectors AND eating cheesy tortilla wrapped saucy goodness?  Life just doesn’t get any better than that, friends.

-GFB Heather

Stay Dangerous UW-La Crosse!

University of Wisconsin

The ladies of UW-LaCrosse came to this Girls Fight Back event fearless and ready to take on any Creeper McCreeperson that crossed their double boundary. It was incredible to see so many students come together to support one another and learn how to be their own best protectors. We at GFB stress that our events are just introductions to self-defense, so it was wonderful that so many organizations from on and off campus providing some kickass resources for the students to take their self-defense education to the next level. I want to give a special thanks to Drea, Jessica, the Campus Activities Board and WSSA for putting on such a great event! Also, a special shout out to our not-so-scary SBG, Tom, for volunteering!

 

Stay Dangerous UW – La Crosse!

 

GFB Morgan

Book Review: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—And Why

The unthinkable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—And Why ,focuses on how humans react in disasters or stressful situations and how those reactions can save us or doom us.  This intellectual approach to examining human response is both intriguing and enlightening into how you view the normal and the extreme risks that we are all exposed to in our day to day lives.  Ripley teaches readers about The Survival Arc which includes the stages of 1) Shock, 2) Deliberation, and 3) The Decisive Moment.  If you have ever wondered how you would react in a life or death situation, it is encouraging to know that, “Again and again, studies have shown that people perform better under stress if they think they can handle it.”  In other words, dress rehearsal can prepare you for the real thing, which is why, at Girls Fight Back, we advocate empowering self-defense.  In addition to muscle memory and critical knowledge, learning self-defense (both verbal and physical) helps women gain confidence.  That confidence alone, can one day save your life.  “The most important point is that everyone, regardless of IQ, can manufacture self-esteem through training and experience.  This is what soldiers and police officers will tell you; that confidence comes from doing.”  WE AGREE!

  • If you are interested in taking a full contact self-defense course in your area, please download our Sassy Self-Defense Guide for more information or drop us a line at gfb@girlsfightback.com.

Lauren Taylor and Empowerment Based Self-Defense

Lauren Taylor has it just right when she addresses EMPOWERMENT based Self-Defense. “Empowerment self-defense does more than help individual women fight off rape attempts: It changes the world, individually and collectively – and ultimately, systemically. Women who have taken empowerment self-defense interact differently with the men in their lives. They take more healthy risks. They live more authentically. They raise their children differently. And on and on. Person by person, they are changing the world and ending rape culture. They’re part of the revolution that is feminism. Which we think is something we all can agree is not victim-blaming – and is a good thing.”

 

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The Safety Godmothers: The ABCs of Awareness, Boundaries and Confidence for Teens

We are so excited to introduce you to Ellen Snortland and Lisa Gaeta’s new book, The Safety Godmothers: The ABCs of Awareness, Boundaries and Confidence for Teens – released this week!

Ellen is the author of Beauty Bites Beast, a GFB fave read, and Lisa Gaeta is the founder and CEO of IMPACT Personal Safety of Southern California, which offers full contact adrenaline based self-defense courses that all of our Girls Fight Back presenters have taken (and kicked ass in)!  The book features 20 real life success stories in which teens employed the verbal and/or physical self-defense methods we talk about in our presentations and proved victorious in being their own best protectors!  Check it out here.

The Safety Godmothers book cover