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.

 

Campus Activities Magazine features the Ownership Transition of Girls Fight Back in this month’s edition

The New Girls Fight Back!

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There are many purposes for our system of student programming and campus activities, dollars that all students pay in their tuitions that are meant to entertain yes, but even more importantly, to enlighten. What’s really fortunate is when a program can do both and even still take it a step further. We’re talking about a program that can not only give your students something to do, but it can teach them what to do, and make your campus and surrounding community a safer place.

Girls Fight Back! was founded by Erin Weed in 2001, after she was inspired to take other women on the same journey of self-discovery and self-empowerment she had herself taken after the violent death of a close friend. “I had recently graduated college and was living in New York City working as a television producer when I found out one of my best friends, Shannon Mc- Namara who was two years younger than me and still in school, had been murdered in her campus apartment at Eastern Illinois University. Learning that for me, was almost like a ‘Matrix’ moment, where all of a sudden I realized that this ‘program’ I had been living in of a safe and secure world was just that, a program…an illusion. The real world is gritty and dark and scary and that is how I compare the change of my perspective in that moment, learning about the violence that can fall on any one of us. When I went home for the week of the funeral, I realized it wasn’t just me, everyone I knew was scared and very unnerved.” Erin started to process more and more what this fear was not only rooted in, but its greater effect on her life as well. “I started to wonder what that fear was holding me back from. I was hearing my friends saying ‘the worst part of my day is when I have to walk to my car in the parking lot, or leave my night class, or go to work at night.’ They didn’t want to live alone, or travel and I realized this fundamental fear of being murdered or raped or attacked is really holding us back in so many ways.”

Image: Erin Weed, Founder

So, Erin decided to do something about it. She began taking extensive self defense courses and training herself to master her fear and live the life she wanted unconfined by the worries of constant physical danger; not turning a blind eye to it or ignoring the dangers, but by being prepared for the possibility of them. “At that time, it was something I was doing more for myself than anything else. I didn’t have any sort of grandiose plan, but I began to realize that if this was affecting me so deeply, it must be doing the same for women all over the country. I realized on of the best tributes that I could give to Shannon would be to become proactive in my own life and make sure the same thing never happened to me.”

It wasn’t long before Erin realized that she could do more than just put her own mind at ease, she could make a real difference by spreading this message and teaching the techniques she had learned, not only in the basics of self defense, but in the attitude and confidence that came with knowing she was no longer a shrinking violet or easy pushover to would-be attackers.

“Girls Fight Back! is a 90 minute seminar that is given at colleges across the nation,” she says. “We have been presenting it since 2001 and in that time have reached over a million people. It has been a really transformational time and experience in my life over the past 12 years, and has acted as my hope and healing.”

Image: Amy Hong, Speaker in Training and Gina Kirkland, President

More than just delivering hope, it has been a way for millions of people to stake a claim on their own lives. “People have been able to claim their power, which is what I think the program is really all about. It’s not just self defense, or learning how to fight bad guys, it’s about owning your power in so many different types of situations, whether that be physically, verbally or socially. It is about owning your own decisions and becoming a unique, independent and strong person in every facet of someone’s life. That’s really what Girls Fight Back! is and we’ve had a lot of success with it, and it has been a lot of fun.”

There is a variation of the program called Students Fight Back!, which encompasses both men and women into one program, but the flagship program of GFB! is focused on the female population of your student body, a specific population that could have certain fears as they move onto or around campus and on their own, often for the first time.

Image: Heather Maggs, Senior National Speaker

Gina Kirkland, of Kirkland Productions, motivated by some personal circumstances (check out Gina’s article on stalking in this issue), recently made the decision to acquire the GFB! franchise from Erin, who with two children and other projects commanding her attention, has decided it’s time to pass on the torch. “Girls Fight Back! is designed for women, and if you look statistically at addressing violence in our culture, violence against women is a very big issue,” Gina says. “That is not to say that men are not an important part of the answer; we do have men that come to the program and that works out great as well, but we are primarily speaking to the women on campus. Students Fight Back! still has all of the same core information that is important to everyone, but also includes a piece on bystander behavior that is very important so that men can be part of the solution.”

More than self defense, more than kicking bad guy butt, more than just feeling more comfortable about the fear of bodily harm, GFB! is about something more. “It’s an idea,” Erin says. “It’s much bigger than just me, or even Shannon’s story, as important as it is. We hope we can convey the information and make it relatable, but the idea is that one should NEVER make decisions stemming from fear…we should all live the life that we have always wanted to, no regrets, no holding back, no reservations with nothing standing in our way. That is what Girls Fight Back! is all about and I knew that concept had legs and was something that we could scale.”

Image: Leah Bonnema, Speaker in Training

Erin realized that if she wanted to spread this message in a truly effective manner, she couldn’t do it alone, so she trained a team of speakers to go out and help her propagate this new way of thinking. Now with Gina and Kirkland Productions stepping in to take the program to the next level, the GFB! team hopes to expose many, many more students to the valuable and lifechanging lessons they are teaching.

“Gina has been able to continue to train even more speakers to keep up with demand, and they have done a phenomenal job. They are better speakers than I am at this point, and it just goes to show you that when there is an idea that people need and want to hear, almost anything is possible.”

Gina leaves us with a profound thought: “I wanted to share a quote, that has been really powerful to me, from the wonderful Gavin de Becker and his book, ‘The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence.’ I think this really cuts to the heart of things. ‘Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by romantic prospects, while most women fear rape and death.’ That is quite a different fear, and when you put into that perspective and start to compare those things, it speaks to exactly why a program like Girls Fight Back! can be such a powerful and empowering tool for a campus.”

For more information on bringing Girls Fight Back! Or Students Fight Back! To your campus, contact Gina at Kirkland Productions at 866-769-9037 or booking@ kirklandproductions.com.

Read the full story here online : http://bit.ly/girlsfightback

And check out http://www.campusactivitiesmagazine.com/

Moving forward from GFB

There comes a time when a Founder just needs to walk away. Today is that day for me.

But first, I want to tell you a story. On June 21, 1979 an angel was born, and her name was Shannon Elizabeth McNamara.

Less than two weeks before her 22nd birthday, Shannon was murdered in her college apartment near Eastern Illinois University. Her killer was a 26 year old college student who lived right across the street.

She died that night, but boy did she fight. Scratching, clawing, kicking – the DNA evidence was devastating and overwhelming. Her acts of resistance later captured and convicted her killer.

And our angel simply spread her wings…and flew away.

The night before her funeral was the wake, and there were hundreds of people there. I waited my turn in line for hours, to pass her open casket and pay my respects. When I finally got there and knelt down, I felt nauseous.

As wrong as this sounds to say out loud, I remember praying that I wouldn’t vomit in her casket. The whole thing was just so sickening.

Then I saw Shannon’s mom Cindy, who was greeting people in line next to where Shannon lay. I had never met Cindy before, but we had an immediate connection.

It’s a tragically awkward situation – meeting a woman for the first time, over her daughter’s dead body.

I introduced myself, saying “Hi, I’m Erin Weed. I went to college with Shannon. I loved her. And I am so sorry.”

I forced myself to speak in past tense.

I’m not sure what I expected Cindy to say, but certainly not this. She smiled, clasped her hands while throwing her head back and said, “Oh, you’re WEED!”

We chatted briefly, both of us conscious of the hundreds of people in line behind me. And she said to me, “A child being murdered is a parent’s worst nightmare. But you know what? I’m still scared of something. I’m terrified that after all this is over, Shannon will be forgotten.”

I was dumbfounded at the idea there is always something waiting in line for us to fear, even when the worst has transpired. It’s like that Sham Wow commercial: “But wait! There’s more!”

I didn’t say this out loud – but do you want to know my internal response to her concerns?

OH HELL NO. Not gonna happen. Not on my watch.

Friends, pay attention to the moment things become unacceptable to you. That’s when change happens.

After Shannon’s funeral, I sat down and drew the logo (a stick figure of a green girl). I had no idea what it meant at the time. I just knew it was important. Later I realized it was a logo for a company I’d start in Shannon’s memory, and it would be called Girls Fight Back.

Girls Fight Back (or GFB, for short) is a live presentation that’s been seen by over one million young women in high school and college since 2001. It addresses the topics of personal safety and self-protection with humor and style. It teaches the basics of trusting intuition, risk reduction and self-defense – but has an upbeat, pop culture twist that makes it relevant for young women.

It’s kinda like if Dane Cook hooked up with Ke$ha at a roller derby convention and they had a love child named Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Since starting GFB in 2001, I’ve traveled thousands of miles, won awards, published a book going into its third edition, been on countless media programs and stood on stage in front of so many young women over the past decade.

And you know what? I always got the best view in the house.

From the stage, I got to see the light in the eyes of a young woman in the audience, who suddenly replaces her deepest FEAR of being victimized, with the steadfast BELIEF she is worth fighting for, and that she alone can be her own best protector.

Not her daddy or her boyfriend or her brother or 911…just HERSELF.

Now in the early days of GFB, it was just me – living on airplanes, traveling thousands of miles doing speaking engagements. One day, I was on a flight having engine trouble. It was one of those aging little planes with propellers that make you say extra prayers and go to the potty one extra time before boarding.

I’ve been a passenger on many rough flights, but this one was different. It made me seriously consider untimely death by plane crash as a viable outcome.

Shaking, turning, banging, swerving, beeping – this literal white knuckle ride had some bald guy in the back screaming, “We’re all gonna die!”

Personally, I wasn’t scared of dying. I had lived a great life. And remember that movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze? Ever since seeing that, I’ve been fairly convinced death might actually be kinda awesome. I mean, who knew you could learn to make pottery after you’re dead?

What scared me on the airplane that day was the idea that all the content of Girls Fight Back was still locked in my brain – no written transcript or video footage existed. If I peaced out, the GFB initiative of creating a culture of dangerous damsels was over.

The idea of my crusade ending prematurely, simply because I didn’t take the time to grow the idea bigger than myself, felt selfish. And lazy. And I vowed if I lived through that flight, I’d figure out a way to scale our success and reach more girls than ever.

Hey, good news! We landed. I lived. And the bald guy? He went about his business and got off the plane pretending like he didn’t just completely lose his shit.

In his defense, it’s easy to have major realizations and to make epic proclamations in the midst of zero control. Then control returns, and we go back to our old patterns.

But for me, there was no going back. I kept that promise to scale, both to myself and the Tiny Infant Jesus I prayed to that day. I hired and trained a team of international speakers, and today my team conducts presentations in the USA, India and Pakistan.

GFB was always intended to be bigger than me and even bigger than Shannon, no matter what. Wanna know why?

The true gift GFB offers the world is not our story. The value is in our TRUTH.

And the same goes for you.

It’s easy to get trapped in stories. Maybe you grew up in poverty, or got a real bad perm once, or failed a class, or were issued a citation for public urination after a rowdy night on the town…

But these things don’t define you.

On the flip side, maybe you’re at the top of your class, or are a natural athlete with ridiculous good looks. Maybe you’ve got the girl or guy of your dreams and an internship to die for.

But these things don’t define you.

It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we extract and apply what we learn from our experiences. Stories are teachers. Truth is the lesson.

Our story at GFB is one of a tragic murder, and a friend who found that unacceptable. Changes happened as a result.

But our truth is stronger.

Our truth is that you deserve to walk down the street without being assaulted. You deserve to live alone in your apartment without wondering if you’ll wake up to a rapist pinning you to the bed. You deserve to be in a relationship that doesn’t hurt you – visual bruises or not.

Our truth is that women everywhere should travel the world or live alone or walk home after dark – and be at peace in these situations. Each of us should lead the badass existence we were intended, and equip ourselves with whatever tools necessary in order to facilitate that.

And since we’re gettin’ all truthy up in here, here’s my personal confession.

I did not start GFB to end violence against women.

I did not start it because I love self defense.

I certainly didn’t get it going it because I hate men,

Not even the man who killed her. (I chose to forgive him, in order to set myself free.)

I started Girls Fight Back for a mom.

A mother looked me in the eyes and told me the worst part of your child being murdered isn’t the missed weddings or grandbabies. It’s the threat of the memory of your daughter – someone who is part of you – simply…disappearing.

That idea was unacceptable to me then, and it still is 12 years later.

People often say, “If I only help one person, it’s all worthwhile.” As much as I despise cliche in general, I believe this one is true. But not for the reason you might think.

It’s not about that one individual – it’s about the change wave that starts rolling the moment we are brave enough to act. With GFB, by helping one mom, we ended up teaching over a million other women not only how to fight – but that they are worth fighting for. (and this is the much harder thing to teach)

When you speak your truth, you really do change the world.

It’s this belief that led me to see that sometimes our greatest tragedies become the world’s greatest opportunities for growth and change.

Because each of you has a story and a truth the world needs to hear. (Even if you don’t know what it is yet, or you change your mind every other day!)

Now I’d like to leave you with this…

On June 21st of last year, Shannon Elizabeth McNamara would have turned 33 years old. And on that day, it was she who gave me the present. I gave birth to my first and only daughter, who we named Phoebe Elizabeth. She was 5 days late but right on time to share a summer solstice birthday with one of the most badass women who ever lived.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world, because every day I get to have an angel on my shoulder, and an angel in my arms.

I’m also lucky because the new owner/President of Girls Fight Back is just incredible. Her name is Gina Kirkland, and you can trust her. She’s amazing. And she will take what I’ve built and grow it ten-fold, I am quite certain.

I have a few wishes for you, as I walk away from GFB and move on to new adventures.

May you award yourself the job as CEO of your life.

May you never rely on someone else for your peace.

May you know how to change a flat tire and dine with royalty.

May you love a lover that loves you. (no matter what boy, girl or alien you fall for)

May you never apologize for crying in public.

May you always be able to pay your own way.

May you embrace your truth, and speak it with reckless abandon.

May you plant roots, grow wings,

And fly, fly, fly…

Joining Kirkland Productions

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I have an exciting announcement, friends. After a few years handling all speaking engagement bookings in-house, today I am happy to announce that Girls Fight Back has joined the roster of the national talent agency, Kirkland Productions!

While sometimes you can do things on your own, control the dickens out of it and save a few bucks – you gotta know when it’s time to work with a true professional and kick things up a few notches. Now is that time for us.

Enter, Gina Kirkland – owner of Kirkland Productions. (Check out the GFB webpage on her agency site here.)

Many of my respected speaker friends have raved about her, and now I see why. Nothing falls through the cracks. She insanely cares about our mission to end violence against women and girls. She’s incredibly organized and shares our philosophy of providing ridiculous customer service to people that want to book a GFB event.

Gina should wear a cape, because she’s a freakin’ super hero.

So effective immediately, if you want to bring myself or any of the GFB speakers to rock your event, you can give Gina a call at 866.769.9037 or shoot an e-mail to booking@kirklandproductions.com.

Onward!