Westchester Community College: Peace, Love, Hugs and Badasses

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

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

Love and Light,
GFB Bree

ABC’s of Safety – “The Safety Godmothers”

One of the basics that all children learn when they go to school is the ABC’s. What they don’t usually learn, but all really need, is the ABC’s of safety. Ellen Snortland and Lisa Gaeta have stepped in to fill the void with their essential new book, “The Safety Godmothers: The ABC’s of Awareness, Boundaries, and Confidence for Teens.” Through the riveting true stories of 26 interviewees, they spell out the basics of what we all need to know to be safe and live with confidence. Topics covered include boundary setting, dating violence/domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, muggings, fear, verbal strategies to escape a bad situation, violence against the LGBT community, de-escalation, how to say no (the right way), and how to physically defend yourself if there is no other option. The book also includes three sections by the nation’s best known expert on the prediction and management of violence, Gavin de Becker and a thorough appendix with access to more in depth looks at some of the topics covered. This should be a must read for all teens. Girls Fight Back approved!

The Safety Godmothers book cover

Not everyone must be a victim

Gavin de Becker is our Nation’s best-known expert on the prediction and management of violence. His work has earned him three Presidential appointments and a position on a congressional committee. He is the author of The Gift of Fear, Protecting the Gift and Fear Less. Visit his company website at http://gavindebecker.com

This anniversary reminds us all of how quickly ten years passes.  I reflect on all the things we have experienced in this decade that Shannon did not get to experience.  That part feels sad.  And I also reflect on all the things and all the contributions that were possible because of what happened, because of your love, Erin, and because many other people joined you in working to reduce victimization.

Your work reminds me of this important truth: Everyone might be a target at times, but not everyone must be a victim.

The important anniversary to me today is not one of loss – but rather the anniversary of the formation of Girls Fight Back.  I’m honored to be part of what you do.

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Note from Erin: There are a lot of rock stars sending birthday wishes to GFB this month, but the fact one of the busiest men and thought leaders in violence prevention would take the time for this…well, I’m beyond humbled and grateful. Gavin’s book, The Gift of Fear, changed my life at a time I was riddled with emotional pain from losing Shannon, and has saved countless lives with its wisdom. It taught me about fear and anxiety, and how to know the difference. Gavin’s work not only inspired the intuition section of the GFB presentation, but also served as a guide on my journey to get my peace back. Watch him on Oprah talking about the ‘power of no’ and see why GFB loves Gavin and everyone at his company so much. Also check out the free assessment tool you can use, to see if you or someone you know may be in a violent relationship. Thank you Gavin, and also thanks to your incredible team at GdBA…it is an honor to be part of what you do as well.

Fox Donates Appearance Fee for “Love the Way You Lie” to Women’s Shelter

The video for “Love the Way You Lie,” by Eminem, featuring Rihanna will debut today, August 5th at 9:00pm on MTV right before Jersey Shore. (Stop pretending you don’t already watch that show. We all know the truth.) Love the Way You Lie is about the cycle of domestic violence and the extremes of abusive relationships. Rihanna, who was the victim of a violent attack by her then-boyfriend, Chris Brown said:

 “It just was authentic. It was real. It was believable for us to do a record like that, but it was also something that needed to be done, and the way he did it was so clever. He pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence, and it’s something that a lot people don’t have a lot of insight on, so this song is a really, really powerful song, and it touches a lot of people.”

The video features Megan Fox and Lost’s Dominic Monaghan. Fox’s appearance in the video obviously touched her because she donated her entire paycheck for the appearance to Sojourn House, a women’s shelter dedicated to helping battered women rebuild their lives. I, personally, find Fox’s donation really touching and appreciate any effort to bring attention to the problem that is domestic violence and combat the problem.

Mel Gibson

WARNING: The recordings linked to this blog are unedited and very graphic

Ya know what’s not awesome? Watching one of your favorite actors crash and burn and turn into someone you weren’t expecting.  I once witnessed a very well known public figure kick his dog on my old street in L.A. Witnessing one now treating the mother of his child like a dog is obviously worse. In situations like this, I choose to look at every angle. In part to learn and probably in part to make myself feel better.

I want to be clear that I do believe that Oksana Grigorieva is the victim in this situation and no one should ever EVER be spoken to the way I’ve heard this woman spoken to. I wish that were clear to everyone, but I also know that there are hundreds of thousands of women who may have heard those recordings and have very likely heard worse in their own living room.

I suppose in a way I hope making these recordings public lets these women know they’re not alone- that it can happen to anyone from Milwaukee to Malibu. I also hope that it opened the eyes of people everywhere to how terrifying domestic violence can be. These conversations were via phone. I can’t imagine the fear of having that person beside me- ready and able to strike at any moment. The extreme anger in Gibson’s voice is so apparent it doesn’t seem at all possible that he would have been able to restrain himself.

Now, there are going to be a lot of people who think of Braveheart and all of the other wonderful films this man made and decide for themselves there must have been some provocation or that this simply can’t be true. I mean, it’s Mel Gibson for cryin’ out loud- he would never do this!! We “know” him. He’s not like that! And so goes the story of every neighbor or co-worker who turns a blind eye or is shocked to find the truth behind closed doors.

I don’t want to focus too much on my thoughts on Mel Gibson because I don’t want to appear as though I’m justifying his behavior. It’s horrifying and inexcusable. I do however believe that Mr. Gibson has sadly reached a point of mental illness- likely not a surprise to those close to him.  I don’t think it’s easy being a public figure. I don’t think everyone having access to your entire life at any given moment, particularly in this time of massive social media is healthy for anyone.  I think it’s the perfect storm to cause someone to, well…crack.

It’s all a very sad story and for better AND worse one that the public has front row seats to.

 

 

We Are What We Watch: Violence Against Women on TV

I read an interesting article this month in Marie Claire magazine this month – an article that startled me, an article that made me angry.

According to “Women in Peril,” a study by the Parents Television Council, violence against women on television has jumped 120 percent since 2004, even while all kinds of violence on television have increased only 2 percent. Portrayals of teenage women as victims of violence have soared 400 percent during the same period.

The reasons for this change are numerous, but the results are what matter. Repeated story lines about women being brutalized and killed may seem like harmless entertainment, but, in fact, they serve to acclimate society to the idea that violence against women is “normal.” This idea is unacceptable.

The writers of the study call on “television producers, network executives, members of the advertising community, elected representatives and appointed government officials and, most importantly, the viewing public” to exercise their power in reversing this alarming trend.

Read the study and watch video content samples here.

Then exercise your power as a viewer to let networks know that you do not support the glorification or glamorization of violence against women. Send in comments, support an organization that advocates on behalf of women or, at the very least, turn off the tube when women are treated distastefully on the small screen.

You may not think you have the leverage to make a difference, but if enough people stop watching, programming will change.

Relationship Etiquette

There is a scene in “Pretty Woman” where Richard Gere is icing Julia’s Robert’s face after Jason Alexander’s character hits her. She says to him “How do guys always know where to hit a woman? I mean, do they pull you aside in school and show you?”  I always thought that was an interesting question and in a broad sense, the answer is yes.

We learn behaviors and what is and is not appropriate from the people around us. If they are all fighting and hitting women across the face- then I will learn just that. I’m not going to argue that lessons of how to treat people appropriately should begin at home, but what if we added to that?

I recently read this article about teaching relationship etiquette in schools. Can you imagine the heartache that could be sparred if people were taught from a young age that if you say you will call, you should in fact call? Or that it’s not polite to lead someone on if you are not interested? Jack Berger broke up with Carrie Bradshaw on a post-it. A POST-IT! He clearly could have benefited from a little relationship etiquette. 

We teach sex education in school. As the article points out and as my own personal history can attest, this usually just involves a quick lesson about condoms. Wouldn’t students be better served to learn about self worth, how having sex will make them feel emotionally and what it could do to their relationships?

Not every child learns about healthy interaction at home.  Unfortunately, the statistics about domestic violence are staggering. The husband who is hitting his wife is likely not sitting down with his son to discuss how he should never hit a woman. The woman who is being abused might not have the strength to talk to her daughter about setting boundaries or how to say no and be firm. I didn’t “officially” learn about domestic violence until college. Even then, it was just statistics and the legalities of restraining orders. Those statistics told me that if someone in my class was going to abuse another person, at that point they had likely already started.

As I said, these lessons should begin at home but unfortunately that’s not always the case. I’m sure many parents would take issue with these lessons being taught to their children. I however, believe that lessons of human decency are and should be universal. It’s not an argument about teachers talking to our children about religious or political beliefs. I believe it would be adding to their overall character and teaching basic lessons of how to treat our fellow human beings.

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.

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.

October Newsletter

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Dear Friends,

I’d like you to meet our Marketing Coordinator, Jenn Doe. Her design and marketing work is amazing, but that’s not why I’m introducing you to her today. She and I have a lot in common. We both lost a dear friend to senseless violence in our early 20s. We both find peace and healing in working to prevent violence against women and girls. We both believe that anti-violence and self-defense education can make this world a safer place.

In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Jenn has bravely decided to share her personal story in an incredibly public way. I hope you’re able to learn something from her experience. Please print out this fact sheet Jenn designed about recognizing signs of domestic violence, and what to do about it. Feel free to print and share it with women you care about, because love shouldn’t hurt! We need to tell this to our girls, early and often.

Strong. Resilient. Spirited. Unified.

Erin Weed


Two years ago, I sat anxiously waiting for 11 strangers to make a decision that would determine the fate of a young man’s life and substantiate the facts that I knew to be true. The charges against him included assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, and murder in the first degree. I had met him in junior high and by high school we were in love. We felt like we could take on the world and were sure we would be together forever. After high school, we got married and eventually moved to the big city where I could further my education and there was more opportunity for us both. For the first time in the relationship, I wasn’t working and my husband was the sole provider. This began to create tension in the relationship which proved too much for me to handle. I needed some time away to focus on school, and made the difficult decision to leave.

He didn’t take this very well and became enraged and violent, damaging my property and using physical force against me. He was arrested that day and I moved out. I was visited by victim advocates who explained my rights to me, a protection order was served, and he was charged with harassment. It didn’t stop there, though. We maintained contact over the next few months, but I wasn’t willing to go back to him. I moved in with my best friend, Pam, and tried to work on myself and starting over.

Things were going pretty well for me. Finals were around the corner and my friendship with Pam was becoming stronger every day. We had been friends for 10 years, since grade school, and we adored each other. From the day that we met, we had an instant and unbreakable bond. There were rough patches along the way, and we didn’t always agree, but we always found our way back. We loved and accepted each other unconditionally and planned to be friends for the rest of our lives.


On a cold December night, after a day of job hunting and public service, Pam and I stopped by my old apartment, where my husband was now living with his brother. He had called me earlier in the week saying that I had a package to pick up, and I thought nothing of it. After about an hour of casual conversation between the three of us, I realized I was sadly mistaken. Pam left the room to use the bathroom, and before I knew what was happening, he attacked us both.

He pepper sprayed me before stabbing me twice; once in the face, knocking me to the floor and breaking my tooth, and once in the side. I later found out I had a broken rib and a punctured lung. Pam suffered multiple wounds to the neck, one of which proved to be fatal. The ambulance arrived and we were taken separately to the hospital, where I would spend the next 8 days. At 22 years old, my best friend and I became victims of violence at the hands of a man we both loved and trusted. On October 2nd, 2007, he was found guilty on all counts and would serve a life sentence for his selfish actions.

Over time, my wounds have healed and I have come to see myself as a survivor, not a victim, but it took a long time. It was hard for me to see this as domestic violence, because I imagined that as something that happened to other women, not me. The truth is that some seemingly good men behave very differently when their egos are bruised, and things like this happen ALL THE TIME. Every nurse in the hospital had a story to share with me when they heard mine and thier stories made me realize I wasn’t alone.

I kept going to school and got my BFA in Graphic Design, using art as an outlet for my pain. I did research about the patterns of violence and how these things come to happen, and I began to realize that I had missed the red flags because NO ONE HAD EVER TOLD ME what they were. The more I learned, the more I knew that I had to find way to make sure that other women get this information before it’s too late.

That’s when I found Girls Fight Back and applied for an internship, then to be a speaker, and then I just begged for any opportunity to carry on the work that Erin Weed had started. Lucky for me, she was pregnant and in need of help and I was local and available. I’ve been helping with marketing and design since May of this year, and it has been and continues to be an amazing and healing experience. I’ve had the opportunity to train with some of the best self-defense experts around and have fallen in love with kicking ass and learning to live a safer life. I couldn’t be more excited about the future of this company and how it can change the world.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, I have created a fact sheet containing critical information about the patterns and warning signs of domestic violence. Please pass this on to the people you love, your sisters, daughters, nieces, and friends, because this kind of information just might save a few lives. Thank you for letting me share my story and the memory of a kind, beautiful, talented, and loving young woman named Pam.

Jenn Doe

For life saving tips, download our DV Fact Sheet and read Erin Weed’s book. Don’t forget to check us out on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter!

DV Fact Sheet

Chris Brown

Yesterday I watched the video apology of Chris Brown, for assaulting Rhianna this past February.  I’m all for forgiveness and allowing people to make mistakes without raking them over the coals for the rest of eternity, but this video struck me as incredibly insincere.  Perhaps it was the script, or blaming things on his gaggle of attorneys or the perfect lighting for the video shoot.  All the parts fused together looked like one big performance.  But it got me thinking, is this something you can truly apologize for anyway?

Several years ago when I was still reeling from losing my friend Shannon McNamara to homicide, I found some solace in watching documentaries and real-life shows about murder. In many of these films, the killer was caught and brought to justice.  And in many of those instances, there was a tearful apology from the accused to the family for taking their loved one.  Sometimes the killer even recognized the almost insulting act of saying “I’m sorry” for taking the ultimate gift of LIFE.  In Shannon’s case, we never got an apology or an admittance of guilt, but I doubt it would have made much difference anyway.

Domestic violence and murder are not the same crime. However, according to the National Women Abuse Prevention Project, thirty-four percent of the women homicide victims over age 15 are killed by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends. (So physical assault can lead to a lethally violent outcome.)  But yesterday as I watched Chris say he had been such a good guy up ’till the moment he beat his girl, I had to wonder if Rhianna and countless women who have been battered by their partners felt as insulted as I did.  Apologies are great when you’re late for a meeting or stain a borrowed sweater.  But when you try to throw your girlfriend out of a car?  When you smash her head into a window?    When you punch her in the eye?  When you repeatedly punch her in the face, WHILE driving a car?  When you utter the words “Now I’m really going to kill you” after all of this?  Oh, it keeps going…read the full police report by clicking here.

I’m sorry Chris Brown…but your apology just doesn’t cut it for me.  You need serious help.