Three Women and A Documentary

March 10th, 2014


“Some things are destined to be — it just takes us a couple of tries to get there.”

― J.R. WardLover Mine

This lovely painting of three women came to me in the 1990’s and I remember wondering if that was me and two other women I hadn’t met yet.   It hung in my living room for years, but when I redecorated, I put it away. When I stumbled across it recently in the basement, I realized that I did meet these women, around 10 years later. And when we met, we had work to do.  And as it turns out, we had a film to make.

I loved the image of these women, dressed up but navigating what seemed to be a difficult and winding climb up a narrow staircase, and navigating that climb in heels. When I saw it again, a couple of months ago, with fresh eyes, the woman in the middle of the group seemed like Kit Gruelle, in her signature purple,  who is the guide, teacher, and advocate in the film “Private Violence”.  Kit is also a survivor, and she became my friend.

kit good one

The woman with the long blond hair reminded me of Cynthia Hill, the director of the film. We are now more than colleagues; we’re friends as well.

cynthia good one

I’d always thought of myself as the woman in the green dress, simply because I liked the dress, I love green, and it looked like something I’d wear.  The painting, by a wonderful  artist named Earline McNeil Larsen, is called “Conspiraling Women”.

I met Kit Gruelle, in Del Mar, California in 2005.   Cynthia Hill came later, in North Carolina. There was a immediate familiarity about both of these women. It was that click that goes off in your head or the shivers that go through your body when something significant happens or is about to happen.   These two mainstays of the “Private Violence” feature film and documentary project stood there talking to me prior to a 2010 fundraiser in Chapel Hill, where Gloria Steinem, one of our early supporters was to speak. Those shivers came on even stronger.  I thought at the time about the power of the number 3 (three women, the triple goddess symbol) and hoped that that unseen power could move this film forward.  At that point, we knew it would take a long time to get the whole thing launched.  And it did.

There were times when it seemed like letting it all go might be easiest.  The other film, “Bully”, that the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention supported took about two years from start to launch at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011, and the funding came in quickly once it got going.  That didn’t surprise me, as bullying had become a high profile topic, and that story needed to be told.  I’m glad it was.  But it was a tougher go for “Private Violence”.  That didn’t surprise me either.  The title of the film tells why.  It’s something we still tend to keep in the dark, hidden away.

Along the long path to getting it done, though, more and more earth angels, women and men,  kept appearing showing up at the right time and right place with perfectly timed grants, encouragement, connections and support that  we desperately needed.  I can’t name them all here, but each one provided vital support.

The three of us have been through a lot together, and separately, in the years that it took to complete the story.  We each have been through challenges, both in life and in getting the film to its January Sundance opening.   Cynthia has given birth to two daughters since we all met.  We come from three different worlds, and sometimes meshing those worlds isn’t easy. We laughed together, and cried together, but we’ve stuck together and I’m glad we made it up that narrow and winding staircase in those high heels. We know that at the top of that staircase is another, and another. The film is only a small part of that work so many people do every day, but it felt good to be able to pause, and know that we’d made that first climb.

As I was writing this, I remembered that I had bought two paintings, and went down to the basement and took this shot of the companion piece to “Conspiraling Women”.

triple alliance

It turns out that the name is “Triple Alliance”.  I don’t know who the women in this painting are, but that doesn’t matter.  When I see the title and the image, it reminds me of the alliance of all the women who came together for this. Perhaps the three above symbolize the extraordinary trifecta of three of the women featured- Deanna Walters, Stacy Cox, and Jean Kilpatrick.  They demonstrate the strength of survivors and advocates, both in the film, and in their lives.  Or the piece could stand for the three women who founded Chicken and Egg Pictures, who believed in us at a crucial point.   I don’t know, because there are so many more who over the years found us, joined us, and reached out. Both paintings remind me that women are strong, but even stronger when we come together. We’re stronger yet when we don’t give up on something we need to do or say.  The paintings are both upstairs now, in a favorite room, full of light.  I think they’ll stay there.

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Dear Media, Can We Quit Saying “Domestic Dispute”?

November 4th, 2013

These aren’t domestic disputes, they are about criminals attacking crime victims”    Anne Jones, Author of “Next Time She’ll Be Dead

Updated October 4, 2014

The October 1st headline that caught my eye read, “MAN ARRESTED IN DOMESTIC DISPUTE”.  

It went on to describe the case of a 30 year old man who strangled his girlfriend until she passed out several times over a two day period, and left her hospitalized with numerous internal injuries and bleeding.

Is this a “dispute?”  And is this type of headline unusual?  Not so much.  The word is still used widely, as are the equally bad terms “domestic disturbance”,  and”domestic altercation”. Even worse is “crime of passion” or my personal non- favorite “love triangle”.

I’m with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Alliance when they say this in their site’s media education literature, “A dispute is akin to a disagreement or argument; it implies equal power. Intimate partner violence, on the other hand, is a serious, cyclical pattern of abuse and unhealthy behavior meant to control an individual. Referring to such incidents as “domestic disputes” takes away from its seriousness. It also implies an isolated incident, rather than a pattern of abuse. Call it domestic violence or intimate partner violence.”   

Here’s just a sample of headlines I ran across in the past 30 days…






There are hundreds, if not thousands of those headlines and leads to be found.   These are not bad people writing these stories.  My husband, a former journalist, tells me that he was trained to use the term “domestic dispute”. as are many print and broadcast journalists who could use some additional education in how we refer to the hundreds of thousands of incidents and the thousands killed each year in this country alone.  These are violent crimes and these are murders.

Consider this data from our partners at Futures Wthout Violence… On average more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States, nearly one in four women reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse in their lifetime, and the CDC reports that women suffer two million injuries from intimate partner per year.

Knowing that, can we move to writing and reporting about it with the harsh reality in mind?  There is a good bit of material I found today from the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance that could help.

As my friend and colleague Kit Gruelle, a subject, advocate, and special adviser to the upcoming HBO documentary “Private Violence” said to me in commenting on this story, “Using the proper terminology, even if it is difficult to do, will force us to grow up and see this violence in all it’s horror.”  Amen to that, Kit.

 Let’s  not soften these horrendous crimes by misnaming them.  Let’s call them what they are.
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Daisy Coleman and the Scarlet Letter

October 16th, 2013

Daisy Coleman

At the end of the day, what’s so frustrating and dismaying—about this story, as well as the others I mentioned earlier—is this pattern….The girls become pariahs. They wear the scarlet letters of our time.”  Emily Bazelon

We’ve heard it all before in the past year.  There was the  brutal and recorded rape case in Steubenville, Ohio in March of 2013. In April, 2013 we heard of suicide victim Rehaeh Parsons’ case of an alleged gang rape in Nova Scotia.  Now, the past few days, we have the case of  a Daisy Coleman, a 14 year old  girl whose family was driven from their home following her alleged rape by a politically connected  young man who was never prosecuted.

The details in the case are emerging.   The Kansas City Star tells of a family led by a widowed mother and her four children, who were essentially bullied out of Maryville, Missouri, after Daisy told her mother of her assault by a 17 year old football player Matthew Barnett,  grandson of former MO State Representative Rex Barnett.   Despite compelling evidence,  charges were dropped against Barnett and another 17-year-old accused of recording the sexual encounter on an iPhone.,

Melinda Coleman, Daisy’s mother, a veterinarian and widow of a doctor who was killed in a car accident six years earlier, was fired from her job at Maryville’s Southpaws Veterinary Clinic. Daisy  was suspended from her high school’s cheerleading team, suffered depression and had a suicide attempt.  The whole family, including Daisy’s brothers,  suffered vile attacks on social media from both kids and adults, and in a bizarre finale to their nightmare, their house in Maryville, by then for sale as the family had moved, burned down.

We know that victim blaming is a powerful and potent weapon used to discourage reporting of sexual assaults.  That fact is as old as time.  I went to high school in the early 70’s, and knew victims of rape, who would never come forward, and now they never will. No one wanted to go through the ordeal.  There are thousands of Daisy Coleman’s of all generations out there, but she and her family came forward.  What they reportedly went through goes even beyond the term “victim blaming’ into a different realm.  We now see the victim as a pariah.

Emily Bazelon, who is quoted above, reference’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famously told story of Hester Prynne in the 1850 classic  “The Scarlet Letter” in a recent piece in Slate. The book is not a tale of rape, but it is a story of a good woman from Salem Massachusetts in 1642, who becomes pregnant by the town pastor and is shunned by her community. As punishment for being found guilty of adultery, she must wear a scarlet “A” on her dress as a sign of shame.  In a particularly harrowing scene, she is forced to stand on the scaffold for three hours, exposed to public humiliation.  The dynamics are vastly different in the cases of Daisy and Hester, yet both are made pariahs, both are shunned, both take the blame.

After the Steubenville case, I wrote a piece for Huffington Post, called “The Upstanders”.  I lamented the fact that bystanders did nothing.  In that case, and in this case, though, it went beyond doing nothing.  Community members that could have been a support system actively targeted the victims and the victim’s families.

Considering this horrific new story of Daisy and her family, I was happy to see that, once again,  the army of social media, an army that can serve as tormentor as well to the Daisy Coleman’s, has begun to stand up on the right side.   A Facebook page is up and running, hundreds of stories like this one are appearing, and there is a twitter stampede starting, even backed again, as in Steubenville, by the group Anonymous.

We can no longer do nothing, we can do something, even if it’s just to sign our name in support of a young girl and her family, who never should have had to suffer this brutal crime, nor it’s hideous aftermath.

Update 10/15/2013: The Lieutenant Governor is calling for a grand jury..

Sadly, I update this story… January 7, 2014

And again…. January 9, 2014.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Terrorist Next Door

October 10th, 2013


Too many victims

If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms,and it would be the lead story on the news every night.”– Rep. Mark Green

Terrorism is defined as ” the systematic use of violent terror as a means of coercion”.   We tend to define terrorists by incident- the September 11 attackers, the Boston bombers, the Oklahoma City bombers, the group behind the  Kenyan mall attack, and on.    The horrific September 11th, 2001 attacks gave rise to what we now call “the war on terror”, a war that may never end. September 11th also gave rise to a United States Government Department of Homeland Security.   Between FY 2001 – FY2009, $850 billion was spent on the War on Terror, according to this source. After over 3,000 citizens were killed that day, our elected leaders understandably pledged to do everything in their power to keep our citizens safe.

And yet, consider the millions of victims who are terrorized each day, and terrorized where they live.   Here’s a snapshot of the national landscape from Futures without Violence:

  • On average more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States. In 2005, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner.
  • In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data collected in 2005 that finds that women experience two million injuries from intimate partner violence each year.
  • Nearly one in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life.
  • Women are much more likely than men to be victimized by a current or former intimate partner.5Women are 84 percent of spouse abuse victims and 86 percent of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend and about three-fourths of the persons who commit family violence are male
  • There were 248,300 rapes/sexual assaults in the United States in 2007, more than 500 per day, up from 190,600 in 2005. Women were more likely than men to be victims; the rate for rape/sexual assault for persons age 12 or older in 2007 was 1.8 per 1,000 for females and 0.1 per 1,000 for males.
  • 15 million children in the United States live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred.
  • The United States Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 3.4 million persons said they were victims of stalking during a 12-month period in 2005 and 2006.


And the resources we commit to these terrible numbers?

On December 16, 2009, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (P.L. 111-117; H.R. 3288) was enacted, providing total FY2010 funding of $625.91 million for violence against women programs, of which $444.50 million is for VAWA programs administered by DOJ and $181.41 million is for domestic violence programs under the Department of Health and Human Services.

The difference in the amount allocated to the war on terror and to victims of domestic violence is a bit staggering.  Representative Green’s opening statement speaks volumes in how we see and deal with the perpetrators and victims of  family violence. The people who commit these acts are criminals, though they are usually called “perpetrators”.  But, there’s more to this.  If terror is “the systematic use of violent terror as a means of coercion”, then let’s call these people what they are. Terrorists.

 Lucy Berrington, in a Women’s E-News report in 2012, said this,  “Domestic abuse is a form of terrorism that comes from within our society, resulting in mass casualties and extremely high costs.  But for it’s victims, no big budget homeland security effort exists. “  

She’s got that right.  Others agree.

“Framing domestic abuse as ‘everyday terrorism’ helps us understand how fear works,” said Rachel Pain, the author of an English study called  “Everyday Terrorism: How Fear Works in Domestic Abuse”.

Not only do the victims of both forms of terrorism share the same painful consequences–the terrorists use the same tactics,” said Trese Todd, president of  a Seattle nonprofit that addresses domestic violence.

In my years working in violence prevention, talking to survivors, advocates, and educators, I realize that they all are saying the same thing.  The dynamics of intimate partner violence are eerily similar to the dynamics of terrorism , and they all know it and speak to it.  The tactics used by abusers are addressed in our new documentary “Private Violence”, a film that finally brings answers to the age old question, “why doesn’t she leave”?  She and her children are being terrorized, that’s why.

This October, during Domestic Violence month, I’m choosing to re frame the conversation and remember that terrorists don’t always hijack planes and don’t always come equipped with bombs capable of mass destruction.  Their weapons may differ, but they are terrorists, and they are in your town, they are on your street, and they may be just next door.

For more on what you can do to help prevent violence see

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you are being hurt by your partner, it is NOT your fault. You deserve to be safe and healthy. For help and information anytime, contact:

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
TTY 1-800-787-3224

National Sexual Assault Hotline 
1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 
TTY 1-866-331-8453




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The “Shutdown”- Workplace Bullying Gone Wild

September 29th, 2013


“Our challenge today is to explain how Congress evolved into our national nutcase.”  Gail Collins, “Congress Cracks Up”, September 27th, New York Times.


I’m not sure how many ways I can say I agree with Ms. Collins, but suffice to say, I agree.  Some of the members of  the 113th Congress is acting probably more irrationally than any we’ve seen in decades.  But, from what I see and what I’ve learned over the years, I’d say they aren’t acting just like “nutcases”, they’re acting like what they are…bullies.

In October of 2012, I wrote a piece for Huffington Post called “Who Did You Bully Today?”  In it, I listed types of adult bullying that are not only getting in the way of efforts to keep kids from brutalizing each other, but are actively giving them bully lessons.  Among the groups I listed was the United States Congress.

This is what I said then about our elected officials..”There are some great politicians out there, dedicated and devoted to the public good, and many are active supporters of violence prevention. But, as a group, “hired” by us to work together in essentially a two-party system, they would earn a great big “dysfunctional” label and earn it easily. Let’s ponder this. Imagine a company where half the employees have as a stated goal the overthrow of the CEO. In this place, the employees have two camps, and many in both camps work not only on obstructing the work of the other camp every day, but are also featured in the media trashing the other camp on a daily basis as well. Would you invest in that company? We do. …I’m hoping they’ll gaze into their collective mirror and look at what’s not working in their own halls. I think many of them would like to see more civility in the process of legislating.”  

I await this civility, and have a feel I will be “awaiting this civility”  for a long time.  We currently face a government shutdown and the tactics currently being used by the “shutdown” gang are textbook bully tactics.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the types of workplace bullies from years of  working with our Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention partners ,Workplace Bullying Institute founders Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie; and from studying the work of the late workplace bullying  activist Tim Field.

The first four types come from the Drs. Namie,,  and the last four come from Tim Field

See if  the behavior of our people on the Hill doesn’t sound like the types of schoolhouse nemesis we’ve all faced.

1) The Screaming Mimi.  These are the specialists  in “the outbursts”.  Some of the rants are well timed, and some are just uncontrolled.  Either way, it’s not the most effective tactic, although they  rarely know that.  They’re the classic “slam them into the locker” types.   They tend to lose their temper at each other and sometimes the host  in double screened news show interviews. It’s fun to watch for a few minutes, until you change the channel because really nothing of value is being heard or said.

 2)The Constant Critic- Haven’t we all experienced the “know it all”? They rarely know it all, but they’ll let you know they do, both on the floor and on the networks. Like Downton Abbey’s dowager countess, “I am never wrong”, and the elementary school tattle tale,  it’s always someone else’s fault.  Always.

 3)The Two-Headed Snake- I like to think of these folks as the “divide and conquer” champions of the playground.  The “enemy of my enemy is my friend” tactic is at work here. Backstabbing is their game and they do it well.

 4)The Gatekeeper.  This one is my personal favorite when it comes to Congress.  If you can’t do something yourself, then keep someone else  from doing anything at all.  Obstruction, obstruction, and more obstruction.  Nothing gets done, and they like it that way.

 5. The Attention Seeker. The “grandstanders”! The speech makers that everyone starts to tune out are in it for themselves.  They love the attention, they love the press, they love to be noticed.  They’re the class clown with a mean streak, and the show off that no one likes. They don’t play well with others, because it’s all about them.

 6. The Wannabe.  These are the Hill dwellers who just aren’t very competent.  Knowing this,  they’ll make sure others look as clueless as they are.  It keeps the focus off their deficiencies.  If  little Johnny isn’t the best student in class, he’ll make sure little Susie and little Bobby look worse than he does.

 7. The Guru.   In their minds,  they are above all criticism and above reproach.  They may be experts, but in their minds, they’re the only experts.  Possible “teacher’s pet”.  This is the kid with their hand raised-all the time.

 8. The Sociopath.  This is the most dangerous type of bully, with no empathy, no loyalty, no bonds.  Like many sociopaths, they are master manipulators, and can be charming in getting to their goal, which is always to look out for themselves.   Period.

Does any of these sound  like some people we know up on The Hill?  And we want our children to stop bullying?

Ms. Collins asks in her excellent piece“”So, what do you think is wrong with these people?”  I would simply answer, see above.


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How Will History Judge the Anti-Gay Rights Movement?

August 12th, 2013

This was happening when I was in elementary school.

At some point in our lifetime, gay marriage won’t be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.”  George Clooney

And this is still happening now….

Do you ever watch a documentary on the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s and cringe when it comes to scenes of furious white people hurling stones, taunting, and overall verbally and physically assaulting movement activists? In 2013, it seems ludicrous, shameful, and yes, embarrassing.  If you haven’t, do it.  And go ahead, cringe.  We should.

If footage from then seems like coverage of the Dark Ages, consider this.  If you are over 50, that outward display of hatred was happening in your lifetime.

Today’s children routinely study atrocities like the Holocaust, the Salem Witch trials, and the treatment of African Americans and Native Americans, as well as women, in our country. If they aren’t studying them, they should be, and often.   It’s simply history now, that discipline that takes us back to another time while we see the actions and decisions of our ancestors from modern sensibilities.    The behaviors seem almost insane from our point of view today, particular the behaviors of people living in our lifetime, in our country, and perhaps in our own cities.

Jump forward 50 years to 2013 to the marriage equality movement and the overall movement that started out of a bar called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in New York in 1969.  We’ve come a long way.  Just a few headlines from this year:

Supreme Court DOMA Decision Rules Federal Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional


Poll: Support for gay marriage hits high after ruling

As my friend and colleague Jackson Katz said years ago, “That train has left the station”.  And it has.  But, as a person who’s been involved in some movements, I know that for every push, there’s a “push back”. And oh, what a push back.

Let’s just take my beloved hometown, Sioux City, Iowa.  I sing it’s praises all the time, but not on this one.  In fact, Sioux City has a rather disturbing history of “the push back”.  Here’s a few highlights and a few stars of the anti equality bunch that our own children and grandchildren may be reading about 50 years from now…or sooner.

1950’s, Sioux City, Iowa:  As Neil Miller writes about in his classic “Sex Crime Panic”, described here.   “Following the brutal murders of two children in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1954, police, in an attempt to quell public hysteria, arrested 20 men whom the authorities never claimed had anything to do with the crimes. Labeled as sexual psychopaths under an Iowa law that lumped homosexuals together with child molesters and murderers, the men were sentenced to a mental institution until cured.”  If I wasn’t there in the mid 50’s, I was on the way…

2004, Sioux City, Iowa, from The Advocate    “The Sioux City, Iowa, city council has rejected a proposal to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. The council voted 4-1 Monday against adding gays and lesbians to the current city law, which makes it illegal to discriminate against people in jobs, accommodations, and housing on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, religion, ancestry or disability.The Human Rights Commission asked the council to add sexual orientation to that group of protected classes. Mayor Dave Ferris and Councilmen Marty Dougherty and Jason Geary said they voted against the measure based on their religious beliefs involving homosexuals. Councilman Craig Berenstein said he voted no because he wanted more time to study the proposal.Councilwoman Karen Forneris cast the only vote in favor of adding sexual orientation to the law. Five Iowa cities have included sexual orientation in their ordinances—Ames, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines and Iowa City.  That time I was there.  A group of us stood outside city hall to protest that one.  I should have done the same in the mid 1990’s when a religious group objected to my having an LGBT section in my store.  A new council finally went along with adding sexual orientation in 2008, as the state of Iowa had already added it.

2010,  Sioux City’s own Pastor Cary Gordon and the Cornerstone World Outreach  were leaders in the efflort to have Iowans oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices whose ruling was part of a 7-0 unanimous vote that legalized same sex marriage in the state of Iowa.  The three justices were ousted, but later received the “Profiles in Courage” awards from the Kennedy Center in 2012.

2011,  Sioux City’s own, Bob Vander Plaats and The Family Leader gained national recognition for its pledge, “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMILY”, which it asked 2012 presidential hopefuls to sign. Vander Plaats himself also gained recognition, being referred to in one news post as a “kingmaker.”

I hope as our descendants study the history of our nation, as well as our own home town, some of these things will be looked at with new eyes and looked at hard.  My sense is that the cringe factor is and will be strong, as it should.  Just recently there has been a controversy concerning the appointment of a gay man, Scott Raasch, to the Sioux City Human Rights Commission, following the uncovering of some unpleasant comments Raasch made to anti gay rights Pastor Cary Gordon three years ago.  Gordon has asked for Raasch’s removal. The city council has just yesterday stated that Raasch will stay on the commission.  That was the push,  I await breathlessly for the push back.

I also await the day when we, as a country, and as fellow humans recognize and learn from our own cringe worthy actions and behaviors, that gay rights and marriage equality are simply human rights, and deserve our full and unqualified support.



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Violence Starts With Words

August 1st, 2013

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s always been my feeling that we don’t come out of the womb with hateful thoughts.  As Rogers and Hammerstein said in South Pacific, “You have to be carefully taught”. Having worked in violence prevention for many years, I found something my colleague Dr. Alan Heisterkamp uses frequently in training young people.  It’s called “the pyramid of violence”.  It’s a brilliant tool, and it’s more than academic theory.  There are too many real life examples of this pyramid.

I use this pyramid above when I talk about bullying.  In the documentary “Bully”, Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen highlight 5 cases that all started out with level one bullying and moved up the pyramid to, in two cases, lead to the victim’s suicide.  David Long, father of Tyler Long,  tells the story of kids at school taunting Tyler and telling him to “go hang himself”.   Tyler hanged himself in his Georgia home at the age of 17.  In some extreme cases, the victim may act with violence not only against self, but others.

The pyramid of domestic and sexual violence

This pyramid above is used to demonstrate the escalation of violence in domestic violence cases.  One is highlighted in  HBO documentary, ‘Private Violence”.   Domestic violence usually starts with words and escalates from there.  In at least 3 cases a day in America, the violence escalates to murder.  Janet, whose family was interviewed for the film, knew that her husband was capable of killing her.  In her case, she was killed at the age of 42 in December of 2009 in her North Carolina home.  When we repeat “rape jokes”, call women “sluts” a la Limbaugh, we are putting down half the planet.   Degrading women makes it easier to see them as less and  As Gloria Steinem says, “if you say that half of the human race is less than the other half, which is a lie, the only way to enforce that lie is violence”.

It can get worse.  No one could have imagined that a modern developed Western European nation could have perpetrated mass killings in the mid 20th century.  It was led by a mad man named Adolp Hitler, but many in that nation followed, and followed blindly.    The pyramid below demonstrates how the process evolved.  Adolph Hitler didn’t just get elected one day and suddenly announce a master plan to exterminate the Jews.  That process took years and started with words until it reached what Hitler called “The Final Solution”.

None of this is new.  From the “witch” burnings in Medieval Europe (most of the victims being women), to the Spanish Inquisition, to 1990’s Rwanda, and even in our country, with the systematic removal of Native Americans from their lands, humans have found ways to believe that hating others for their race, their religion, their gender and their sexual orientation is justified and therefore, acceptable.

Psychotherapist Howard Halpern, in a brilliant New York Times piece in 1995, gave a spot on summation of gradual escalation of hate and violence.  He said, “ Social psychologists and demagogues have long known that if ordinary citizens are to be provoked to violent actions against individuals or groups of fellow citizens, it is necessary to sever the empathic bond with those to be attacked by painting them as different and despicable.   We are unlikely to harm a friendly neighbor because she has strong views about equal rights for women, but if we call her a “femi-Nazi,” she becomes “the other” — evil, dangerous, hated.  We are unlikely to harm the couple down the block who are active on behalf of protecting endangered species, but if we call them “environmental whackos,” they become “the other” — weirdos who must be vilified and suppressed as enemies to “normal” Americans. When our shared humanity with those with whom we disagree is stripped away, it becomes acceptable to blow them up. The answer is certainly not to censor such speech, but those who recognize this danger must challenge it wherever it exists, even in those with whom we politically agree.” 

As Halpern said, we must recognize this danger and challenge it wherever it exists.  It exists close to home for me,  whether it be Iowa Congressman Steve King asserting that immigrants are drug mules or anti gay activist, Iowan  Bob Vanderplaats who called homosexuality a “public health” risk, to the collection of Republican state senators in my state who opposed an anti bullying conference for students by what they called ” groups who pervert the Bible, teach our youth to engage in dangerous behavior”.

Sticks and stones do break our bones, and it starts with words that hurt.



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All Grown Up and Still Bullying at Work

June 19th, 2013

The 2010 Workplace Bullying Survey, courtesy Workplace Bullying Institute

“I think adults need to know they’re doing the same thing. It’s not just kids. There are adults that are out there bullying, and they need to be kind.”  Ellen DeGeneres

As a supporter of school bullying prevention programs for almost 15 years, I am encouraged.  More and more states have passed anti bullying laws,  more school systems have begun implementing programs, the reception of the documentary “Bully” has been overwhelming, and we’ve finally collectively decided that  the “kids will be kids” excuse isn’t working anymore.  As thirty percent of students in the United States are involved in bullying on a regular basis either as a victim, bully or both and over 13 million kids are suffering from bullying, the movement needed to happen, and it needs to continue.  Thankfully, as the “Bully” team went through the process of making the documentary, we found fierce advocates.  They came from everywhere.  Kids, parents, teachers, the media, celebrities, and Congress on both sides of the aisle stepped up and spoke out.

But, where are we when the mirror turns to us big kids?  I’ve found less support there, and it doesn’t surprise me.  It’s harder to turn the spotlight on ourselves.   A Huffington Post piece I did in October, 2012, called “Who Did You Bully today?”,  made the point  that until we stopped bullying each other, we won’t see the results we want to see from our kids.  I named multiple sectors of adults (including me) who bully, from the home (the first role models kids have, and the most important place to stem violence), to the workplace, to Congress, to cyberspace, and yes,  the constant, mind numbing barrage of reality shows.  A lot of these big boys and big girls in all of these places continue to not only not be kind, but to be brutal to each other on so many of our adult “playgrounds and school yards”.  I’ve written about the link between violence in the home and violence in school, and the data backs it up.  But, as the workplace, for us, is similar to our schoolyard, where we interact, socialize, work, play, learn, grow, and spend much of our waking hours,  I decided to check into that again and see just how we are doing.

It’s not good.  As you can see above, 35% report being bullied at some time in their work life, and another 15% witnessed it.   Putting the numbers together, WBI says, with a well place exclamation point, “An astonishing 54 million Americans directly experience it!”.  I get the exclamation.  That’s abysmal news.   The Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention actually co-sponsored the first national survey with WBI and Zogby in 2007, and those results were similar, and disheartening.

“Bully” explores the mental, physical, and emotional toll on the victims and their families.  It’s hard to watch Alex being brutalized, and the despair of the Longs and the Smalleys, who suffered the cruelest loss-the suicide of their children.  We don’t have a film like that to show damage from the workplace, but it’s there.  The late Tim Field, an early advocate of workplace bullying prevention, said, ” Nothing can prepare you for living or working with a sociopathic serial bully. It is the most devastating, draining, misunderstood, and ultimately futile experience imaginable.”.

Here’s a slice of what it looks like, according to WBI.  Is this happening to you, or someone in your workplace?

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done
  • Is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s).
  • Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.
  • Requires consequences for the targeted individual
  • Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.
  • Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
  • Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll
  • Constant criticism
  • Mobbing or targeting by a group
It’s classic bullying, and looking at the list, eerily similar to what can happen to children.   The outcome looks similar to what children experience as well.  Here are the consequences to our bodies and our minds according to a WBI online survey in 2012. “The top 15 health problems from bullying, ranked from most to least frequent, were:Anticipation of next negative event; Overwhelming anxiety; Sleep disruption (hard to begin/too little); Loss of concentration or memory; Uncontrollable mood swings; States of agitation or anger; Pervasive sadness; Heart palpitations; Insomnia; High blood pressure (hypertension); Obsession over personal circumstances; Intrusive thoughts (flashbacks, nightmares); Loss of affect (flat emotional responses); Depression (diagnosed); Migraine headaches”
It’s real, it’s pervasive, and all of it needs attention, just as we’ve started attending to our kids.  I have hopes that the current school age generation may learn early what we adults haven’t.  I also have hopes that because of the anti school bullying and violence prevention movement, we can give today’s children the social and emotional tools to recognize bullying in themselves and in others.  But, if we continue to treat each other this way, wherever we interact as grown ups, can we continue then to expect more from our kids?  Let’s learn to model respect, kindness, and decency.  Kids watch us, they listen to us, and we can make a difference.  But, let’s look in the mirror first, and go from there .
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The Advocate

June 6th, 2013


We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel

I met domestic violence advocate, speaker, trainer, and survivor Kit Gruelle in 2005 in Del Mar, California.  The meeting was almost random, and might not have happened if I wasn’t in the right place at the right time.  But I was, and I’m glad I was, because I had the great fortune of meeting the woman above.

Kit had a dream.  She wanted to gather footage of  the leaders of the anti battering movement in America, and tell their story, along with the stories of victims and survivors of domestic violence.  She called the project “Private Violence”.   No one had done it quite like that before, and as I like to be first to jump in when I feel it’s right, I jumped in.   I knew this one wasn’t going to be easy.  Documentaries are a beast to fund, even with the best teams.  Domestic violence, while one of the most damaging  forms of violence in our country, and our world, isn’t at the moment a “hot button” issue. It should be.

We both knew it would take a long time.  We didn’t know how long.  Just putting the pieces together, finding the funding, landing on the best team to film and craft it, and gathering champions has been an eight year process for me, longer for her, but she’s never given up.   It’s nearing the finish line as I write this.  We’ve both agreed that, as the mothers of four children between us, it’s the longest pregnancy either one of us has ever had.  The second documentary supported by Waitt Institute, “Bully” on the other hand, was funded, filmed, signed, sealed, and delivered within three years.   Kit’s been at this one for over 10 years.  It takes a special kind of soul to wait that long and work so hard, with sometimes no end in sight.  Kit’s that kind of special soul.    Alfred Hitchcock once said,  “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.”  If God is directing this one, He or She might be sending angels to stand at Kit’s side, but those angels are taking their own sweet time.

Like some other earth angels I know who devote every day to fighting violence, Kit has a pretty simple stated goal.  “I want to end domestic violence in America”.   She hopes this film will help move some needles towards that.  I think it will.  I’ve seen it happen.  When I spoke with “Bully” director Lee Hirsch today, I told him that one of the many reasons “Bully” succeeded, or so I thought, was his absolute pure passion for the issue.   Lee had been where some of his characters were.  Kit has too.  I’d never heard her complete story of surviving an abusive marriage until a couple of years ago.  She doesn’t talk about it a lot.  It was horrific.  We don’t call her a victim, she’s a survivor and she wears a lot of purple, in homage, to survivors like her, and the tens of thousands (just in the last decade), who didn’t survive.

Her advocacy for victims and for survivors began over 25 years ago, when she found the work she loved and the women who needed her unflinching support.  She overdoes a lot, lending her heart, her ear, her voice and her hands to countless women.  While she’s doing that, she finds the time to be a mother of three grown children, a grandmother, a speaker, a fund raiser, and, with our smart, serious, and savvy director Cynthia Hill, a co- producer of the film.

Cynthia Hill, left, Gloria, and Kit filming "Private Violence" this year in New York. I never support a film without a Cynthia.

Kit’s back story is as varied as the jobs she does.  She’s lived elsewhere, a lot of elsewheres,  but her heart is in the mountains of North Carolina.  She went back to school and graduated from Appalachian State last year, in her late 50’s.  Her grandfather, Johnny Gruelle, was the creator of the Raggedy Andy and Anne dolls.  Her great grandfather,  the Reverend Robert James Bateman, went down 100 years ago on the Titanic at 51, reportedly after holding a worship service on deck, asking the band to play “Nearer thy God to Thee”, and giving up his seat in the lifeboat to his sister in law.  That sounds like someone Kit would be related to.

Kit and author and activist Gloria Steinem this year.

Along with our co-executive producer Gloria Steinem, Kit is one of those women who just drops bombshell statements I can’t believe I’m hearing without even knowing it.  I could sit in a room with the two of them for hours just to listen to what comes out of their mouths.   We were talking about about emotional abuse several months ago,  and a woman who’d “only been hit once”.  Kit knew that that was all it took to establish power and control, and sometimes it didn’t take that.  “Cindy, violence is just a punctuation mark”, she said.   She thinks the system should be turned on its ear, with offenders leaving the home, not victims, calling shelters “refugee camps”.  That one came from her colleague, advocate, speaker, and former law enforcement officer Mark Wynn, who agrees with her and coined that phrase.  Listening to a radio show last month, Kit explained to the host that the pile of pink files she carries around with her are all restraining orders taken out by women who were, in spite of leaving, killed by their former partner.  Pointing to the stack of over 30 files, she said, “I sometimes call these last wills and testaments”.

The film has morphed into something a bit different, as documentaries can do.  It now tells the stories of several women, who had left an abusive relationship, some with tragic consequences.  But, she does have the footage of movement leaders and enough of it to train multiple sectors.  It also, and importantly, answers the age old question, “why doesn’t she just leave?”.  And, yet another thing that’s changed about the film is that during the filming, Cynthia discovered that one of the most fascinating characters was Kit herself.  She was reluctant, but she’s in there now, speaking for victims, survivors, and advocates like her.

If I were navigating the terrifying waters of leaving an abusive situation, fearing for my life and my children’s lives, and facing an often hard to manage judicial system, I would want Kit at my side.  When the film we’ve worked on does come out, she will be at my side, and I’ll be at hers.    Kit, for all you’ve done, all you do, and all you will do, thank you.



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Cindy And Eric’s Silver Linings Playbook

May 30th, 2013

July 2, 2011,one gloriously happy day among many

My husband came out before I did, and he did it publicly. It was 2005.  He was living in Austin, Texas then and was approached by the Austin American Statesman to be a part of  stories of  Austin celebrities who’d struggled with mental illness.  He was by joined singer Shawn Colvin,  former NFL player Hollywood Henderson, and a former Lieutenant Governor. Eric was well known at that time for his years as an award winning radio talk show host there, and he was used to speaking his mind.  He’d never spoken about it on the radio.  He’d left the business and was working in the mental health field himself by then.  In the story, he spoke about being diagnosed with depression in his early 20’s and then bipolar disorder in his early 30’s, and he was glad he did.  He’d been well for many years.  He’s well now.

Eric tends to be gutsier about things like that.  I worry too much about what everyone might think.   I always have.  It took me years to discuss my early bout with post partum depression and my later battle with a perfect anxiety storm several years ago.    My rounds with illness are few and far between, but when they come, they’re pretty harsh.  .  Happily, I’m well now too.

I call it “coming out” because it is.  There’s a great big mental health closet in this country, and it’s bursting at the seams.  An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.  That’s over 50 million of us.  We either need a bigger closet or more people to step out of it.  I get why they don’t.  It’s not because they aren’t brave.  They are.  It takes guts to live with mental health issues.  They don’t because it’s rare to find someone who gets what they have.

When I heard about the plot of the much lauded  Silver Linings Playbook , based on the novel by Matthew Quick, that looks at the relationship of a young man struggling with bipolar disorder and a young woman who is recovering from tragedy, struggles with relationships, and has a big dose of anxiety on top of it,  I had to see it.  It was, in a strange way, our story.  And, as good issue films can often do, it started a conversation.

One friend told me it hit too close to home.  Another friend stated pretty clearly that although the film had a happy ending, she was frankly worried about the young couple dealing with not only one mental illness, but two. She had a point.  Relationships are hard and relationships where one partner struggles with mental illness are most likely harder.  But what if they both  have one, like the characters played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do, and like my husband and I do?    I wasn’t as worried for them.  When I see happy Hollywood endings, I know there’s more to come, (someone once said that the next scene after the credits roll  is usually about the fight over who’s taking out the garbage…) but I felt that this couple would make it, maybe because… we did.

I’ve known my husband for 12 years, and have been with him for four years.  We reconnected when I was fairly newly home from treatment for anxiety in 2009.   Our first conversation was about that, and that’s when he told me about his own battles with what Winston Churchill called “The Black Dog”.    I knew vaguely that he’d had depression, but I didn’t know the extent of what he’d gone through.  I heard the whole frightening story in that first conversation.  Here’s what he’s said about it, not only to me, but publicly.  He first became ill in the early college years at Beloit.  Then it hit.   After a horrifying stay in the hospital, and multiple types of treatments, he says, I was then able to recoup my sanity, work six years in a neighborhood butcher shop in Manhattan and resume my college career, which included  graduating Summa Cum Laude at Hunter College and acceptance into the graduate school of journalism at the University of Texas.”   A home run there, I’d say.

He goes on to talk about when it came back in his early thirties.   It was during those years in Austin that my true diagnosis became apparent when I was stricken with a ferocious onset of mania after which I was hospitalized and given my true cross to bear, bipolar disorder. It was a cross I did indeed bear well as I was able to become a successful journalist, radio talk show host and ultimately a certified peer specialist whose charge it was to assist others living with a mental illness in coming to grips with their own so-called demons.”  Knocked it out of the park again.

For a guy with that harsh an illness, he’d hit a whole bunch of home runs and it seemed he was most likely home free.  But still, it gave me pause.    The Eric I knew was a calm and centered guy, seemingly a perfect foil for my buzzy anxiety driven moods.  And he was.  But what if HE got sick again’?  It hadn’t happened for close to 30 years so there was no indication that it would, but still, I worried.  Not excessively as  people with anxiety disorders like me do, if they’re not managing it right, but I did worry sometimes.  I’d gotten so much stronger, and I was proud of my recovery, and I knew I couldn’t let anything put that or me at risk.

We moved on to courtship and romance, and all that fun stuff.  We were married in 2011.  I was in the best, healthiest, and most important, the happiest relationship of my life.  We could play like kids, but we were both grown ups.  Then he got sick.

It was Valentine’s Day 2012.  We were still newlyweds.  I knew he’d been feeling off, and had had a slight medication change, but he just hadn’t been 100% Eric.   But… he was functional.  I was looking forward to a planned night out to dinner and his usual roses and card and all the little wonders he’d do on special occasions.   What I got was a call from his department head at the community college where he taught.  She wanted to know if he’d gotten home all right, as she thought he might be having symptoms of a heart attack.  It wasn’t his heart, we made sure of that.  It was his brain.  It had stopped functioning the way you need to function when you want to go through life and go through it well.  If you’ve ever seen someone you love like that, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It’s quite simply…terrifying.  A  “brain illness” (that’s what we call it) is particularly excruciating, not only for the person suffering through it, but for those who love them. You don’t know when it will end, and as psychiatry is still somewhat “trial and error”, you don’t really know IF it will end.

It ended and it ended well.  We got through it.  Strangely, as Eric got worse, though, I got stronger.  Someone had to be.  He’d done it for me as I was recovering and had been there, as my family had.  My turn, then.  Gradually, after a few one step forward, two steps back dance, he pulled out of it.    The meds that had stopped working for him were changed and they landed on the right “cocktail”.  He went back to therapy.  And one spring day, he was almost suddenly after several months, my Eric again.

I’m not sure if we have an actual “playbook” to manage what we manage.  “My Eric” is now the calm, centered, funny, thoughtful, and brilliant man I fell in love with.  But the struggling Eric was “My Eric” too. The  “In sickness and in health” clause we’d agreed to in June of 2011 was tested earlier than I’d thought it would be.  But we got through it.  We are actually better than ever right now.  We were tested.  We passed. And, if it comes back again, to either of us, we’ll pass that time too.

I’ve heard this line before.  I don’t know when, but I always liked it.  “The world breaks everyone, and some are strong in the broken places”.   We didn’t break and I hope this story, as hard as it was for me to tell,  can help just one of the millions who has or has ever had a dark time, or loves someone who has a dark time.  It IS dark, it is scary, and it is cloudy, but sometimes, at the end of that, there is a silver lining.

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You Didn’t Talk About This At The Country Club

May 20th, 2013

From Leslie Morgan Steiner’s  book”Crazy Love”

Updated October 12, 2014

Kit, it might be good if you’d provide a statistic. I’m no expert, but it’s my understanding that domestic violence only affects poor, uneducated people.  Lawyers, doctors, and professors do not beat their wives and children.”  Sociology professor to Kit Gruelle

One of the scenes I found most compelling when I was looking at footage a couple of years ago for the upcoming HBO documentary “Private Violence” is the one above.  My friend, colleague, and narrator, subject and special adviser to the film, reads this from her sociology professor in a scene we hope will challenge one of the age old myths of domestic violence- that it doesn’t happen to people who grew up like me.

I was raised  in a family of privilege in the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s in a small city in Iowa.  We had a lovely home with a swimming pool, in a pretty neighborhood.  My father owned his family cattle business, my mother was a community volunteer and a member of the Junior League.   My parents’ friends were CEO’s, doctors, lawyers, and “pillars of the community”. We had great vacations, summer camp, and college educations provided.   We spent much of our time at the Country Club, playing with the children of those pillars of the community.

I don’t think I’d ever heard much about family violence.  I’d never seen it in my home, because there wasn’t any.  I don’t remember any friends who ever spoke of it.  It just wasn’t discussed.  As Gloria Steinem says frequently, “there was no word for domestic violence,  it was just called “life”.  It wasn’t a life I knew.

The first time I heard from a victim of this secret subject was when I was in my first year of college.  The story was from an older woman, I’ve just called her “Emma” when I’ve told her story.

Emma was a neighbor, a woman of wealth and position, a college graduate with a lovely home, a grandmother. Emma was the May Queen at her University, where she graduated in 1922.  She was knocked down by her husband in the hallway in that lovely home in the 60’s, and hospitalized with a broken back.  The man wasn’t her first husband, they had no children together, and she was fortunate as she had means, owned the home, and was able to get him out of the home with the help of family. So many women aren’t that fortunate.  He was never charged with anything.  Few men like him were in those days.

I was stunned by her story, and was certain that this was a rare case, particularly among people like that… like us.  My social work education and career opened my eyes to the scourge of family violence, the victims, the perpetrators and the kids permanently scarred who witnessed it.  Perhaps this fueled my later support of violence prevention.  Or perhaps it was for Emma, who had her back broken.

One of the myths of domestic violence is that there is what my friend, colleague, and long time domestic violence victim’s advocate Kit Gruelle , receiver of the rather stunning note above, calls “the typical victim”.  She scoffs at that phrase. To her the “typical victim” isn’t typical, and whatever the unenlightened think it is, as she says musically, “it ain’t that”.  And, it isn’t.

We still too often see “that” victim as poor, struggling, and uneducated, as did her professor, when she was completing a degree in social work.  The note wasn’t written in the 1960’s.  It was a couple of years ago.  And though Kit says today that many of her teachers were absolutely amazing and well versed in domestic violence, this one, a PhD in Sociology, wasn’t.

When we began gathering stories for a history project of just a few of the millions of victims of domestic abuse, Kit wanted to make sure we had footage of women who’ve experienced abuse who didn’t fit “the profile”.  She knew of many.  She can leave the names off and tell you their stories.  She found one during the filming, who not only told us her story, but told readers of story in her book “Crazy Love”, told countless interviewers, and recently told close to a million people via a TED talk.  Her name is Leslie Morgan Steiner and her talk, viewed over 2,000,000 times is here.   It’s powerful, it’s honest, and it’s worth watching.

Leslie, in 2009 to CNN, summarized the attitudes some of us still have of families with power, stature, wealth, or celebrity.  It was shortly after after the highly publicized story of the assault of Rihanna by Chris Brown, “ Like Rihanna, I had a bright future in my early 20s. I met my abusive lover at 22. I’d just graduated from Harvard and had a job at Seventeen Magazine in New York. My husband worked on Wall Street and was an Ivy League graduate as well. In our world, we were the last couple you’d imagine enmeshed in domestic violence.”

She’s right.  We wrap a bubble around those of status, fortune, fame and privilege.  We have footage from years ago of Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime sponsor and supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, talking about that bubble. He speaks of  people who don’t want to think it happens in the house next door and says, “It DOES happen in your town, it DOES happen in your neighborhood..” And it does.

Dr. Susan Weitzman, who spent years researching what she calls “upscale violence”, and authored the 2000 book  “Not to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages” has profiles of both victim and perpetrator on her site.  She echoes much of what Kit Gruelle has to say about what Dr. Jeanne King calls “Domestic Violence, Tiffany’s Style”.   There are specific challenges to this type of case, including societal disbelief, peer pressure to remain silent, and the difficulty of taking on someone with wealth, position, and power.   Gruelle says, “Because their husbands are men of position and this guy has a very public persona, it adds another complex layer for the victims. Everyone in the community has their mind made up about this guy.”  

As more high profile cases of abuse “Tiffany’s style” keep coming to light, it’s worth remembering that the “typical victim” isn’t so typical any more and perhaps never was. I still go to the Country Club with my mother, and I sometimes look around the jovial and gentile crowd and think about the stories that might always be hidden, that may never be talked about, but stories and experiences surely, for the victims and the families, that won’t be forgotten.

Emma, this one is for you.


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“The Home Town I Never Had”

May 6th, 2013

Courtesy G.R. Lindblade

“Sioux City is the home town I never had”  Henry Corra

Here was the story in CNN’s site today.  “SIOUX CITY SUX AND THAT’S OK” By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor , Sun May 5, 2013

Actually, it was a rather affectionate piece about a city with such an unfortunate airport moniker that the citizens had the gumption, the heart, and the humor to start a cottage industry out of the name.  That’s the Sioux City I know and the Sioux City I love.  As much as the town sometimes frustrates me, I’m an eternal cheerleader of where I grew up.  Those of us who love the place can pick on it anytime.  But, I get fiercely protective when it gets dismissed as a dismal little berg in the middle of flyover country (those of you who think that know who you are and I know who some of you are too:)) .  In my own little “Sioux City native” world, there are two types of people.  Those who get my hometown, and those who don’t.  Period, the end.

Let’s start with a couple of examples of  “those who don’t” and let’s start with you, Harrison Ford, who supposedly famously commented that the city stinks. Ok, so he had a point at that time, but damn, that was harsh.   All right then, next are the legions of people who don’t always see any of its perks and none of its charm and continue to call it “Sewer City”.  I’m not sure why they don’t move, I’ve never been able to figure that out.  It gets worse.  A  Huffington Post review of the documentary “Bully”, partially filmed here (because we said they could:)), by Jordan Zakarin starts , “As a blizzard batters nowhere Iowa…”.  Excuse me?  Oh, dear.  Jordan, do fly over anytime, we’ll wave at you, we’re nice.  I would imagine though, that Jordan did get that impression of nowhere partially from the film.  As much as I love Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen and “Bully”, and as much as Cynthia and Lee actually like Sioux City, the main highlight of the Sioux City landscape we see in the film seemed to be one train crossing.

But still, I’m including them in my gang of outsiders who are fond of the little tri-state river shire we called “Siouxland”.  They practically lived here for a year or so, so they get a key…

They particularly liked finding strange little restaurants here.

These are a few more of my friends who not only “get” Sioux City, but are actually serious  Sioux City fans…

Henry loved filming here, and liked to hang out here too....

Speaking of film makers, my brother in all but name, New York film maker Henry Corra, fell in love with the place in the 1990’s, when he landed here to take over the advertising campaigns at my brother’s company, Gateway.  Henry, a cinema verite master trained by the legendary Maysles Brothers (Grey Gardens), is the director of the  highly acclaimed films “Umbrellas”  HBO’s “George” , Showtime’s  “Same Sex America” and the Emmy nominated “NYC77″, among many others.  Henry was once described as the man “big agencies hate” because he stole away the multi- million dollar ad business of Gateway from the likes of McCann Erickson back in the day.  In my mind there were three reasons.  He got Ted Waitt, he got Gateway, and he totally gets Sioux City.

Peter said he always felt at home here.

My friend Peter Bayless, a London advertising man who changed careers and became BBC’s Masterchef in 2006, stumbled into our rolling fields with the rest of the Gateway crew in the 1990’s as well.  Peter told me that when he first landed here, he felt completely at home.  Well, why shouldn’t he?  Sioux City’s green and rolling hills are a lot like the mother country, without the castles.  (Ok fine, with more billboards and strip malls and stuff…).  When he last visited for my birthday, he and his wife actually briefly considered staying here.     His good friend at the time, another one of the “Mad Men” we had here, didn’t get it.  He’d say things like “what do you DO there dahling?”.  I told him I did enough to keep me there for fifty some years, thank you very much.  But absolute Iowa fan, so there.

I reminded Harry Lennix the other night here that he once called Sioux City "the oasis".

Harry Lennix, a Chicago born Los Angeles based actor who’s been featured in films like “The Matrix”, “The Human Stain” and the upcoming “Superman, Man of Steel”, met our own English Sioux City transplant Fiona Valentine at Northwestern University in Chicago years ago.  He’s visited here a number of times to teach master classes and speak to students and generally mingle with all of us.  He loves to visit his dear friend, but he also told me of the charms of Sioux City in 2007, when on a cross country drive, he decided to stop here again.  He said it was like an “oasis” for him.  He must like it, because he keeps coming back and this time his lovely wife Djena Graves Lennix came with him.  We liked her, too.  Fiona, who has lived all over the place, landed here almost 20 years ago and never left.   I’ve never seen a bigger cheerleader for the cause than Fiona.  I think we’ll keep her.

Biggest Sioux City cheerleader ever, Fiona with Harry just last week.

Londoner David Prais, with his wife, a local, Elizabeth Haar Prais at their own "royal wedding" party at Pembridge

David Prais was one of my favorites of the “rogues gallery” of Englishmen who landed here with the rest of the Gateway crew almost 20 years ago. Gateway spawned a lot of romance in those days, and like many employees who connected that way, he married one of my favorite people, Eli Haar, a local girl.  Here’s a blurb about David I found, ” In 2000 the title to its ancient Lordship was purchased by entrepreneur David Prais. This meant that he was able to style himself David Prais, The Lord of Pembridge. He and eight friends celebrated their affection for the place by naming the new business they started together in 2002 The Pembridge Partnership.”  And I thought that was an urban legend.  In any case, David and Eli visit family and friends here often and “His Lordship” has admitted his soft spot for the place.

Last but not least, there’s a native of Manhattan, from a show business family, who landed here after an award winning radio career in Austin, Texas.  He not only gets Sioux City, he loves Sioux City.  He’s not a fan of everything here, but he loves the size and pace and loves the people, particularly me.  I think we’ll keep him, too.

My husband, Eric Blumberg. He's staying here.

So to Mr. Jordan Zakarin, (who wrote a nice review for Bully, by the way, and I thank you), I sometimes write pieces for your site, so  I’ve decided I should connect with you and invite you here for some of that “hometown feeling” that Henry Corra appreciates.  You’ll like it, you’ll really like it. I promise.  If you can’t come, we’ll understand, but seriously, where else can you get a hat like this? :)






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Tale of Two Documentaries

April 16th, 2013

“Bully” 2012


“Private Violence” premieres October 20th at 9 p.m. on HBO

Updated October 6, 2014

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities

In the next couple of weeks, two films that are near and dear to my heart will premiere on national television screens, one week apart.   As it is not only “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” and  “National Bullying Prevention Month”, there is some symmetry to that. “Bully” will open the PBS Independent Lens season on October 13th.  “Private Violence’ will premiere on HBO on October 20th.  As early supporters of both projects, we at Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention couldn’t be happier about that.  But their road to the finish line, couldn’t be more different.

A national phenomenon, when released in March, 2012, “Bully” had the “buzz’ from the start. It struck a powerful chord, in its riveting and authentic footage of children and families devastated by bullying.  Kids tormenting kids hits us at a basic level, and it’s a powerful punch. “Bully’s” path to completion was relatively swift, as enthusiastic funders signed on beginning in late 2009. When it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011  to audience and critical praise, ”Bully” was quickly bought by the Weinstein Company, ensuring  its theatrical release, and thrusting it into the national consciousness.  Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen’s story, that was in its first stages when they found us in 2009, was and is a perfect meshing of the right time, right place, and right issue.  The skill and passion of the filmmakers has helped spark a movement  no one could have predicted, which is more than a good thing, it’s a great thing.

“Private Violence”, a film I came on board with in 2006,   is a very different story.  Cynthia Hill’s direction, Kit Gruelle’s voice and vision throughout, and Deanna Walters frightening and extraordinary journey weaves the experiences of domestic abuse survivors and advocates, as it challenges, and consequently explodes the myths behind domestic violence.  It finally answers the age old question, “Why doesn’t she just leave’?

While this documentary is driven by the same hopes, concerns, and passions as “Bully”, and is now perfectly timed due to the recent NFL controversy, the supporters and crew of “Private Violence” faced a tougher path to completion. Production and post production of “Bully” took about two years to fund.  “Private Violence”, premiering on HBO October 20th, was started nearly 8 years ago.  For all of us who worked to see that film completed, it was a long road.

It happened faster for “Bully” and that didn’t completely surprise me.  In my 20 years of philanthropy, I’ve seen children’s issues get funded first.  They are the  future, and we have to work with them now.  It also had never been done.  It was desperately needed and it was time.

But we have to see that the first time some children see or witness violence isn’t the school yard.  It’s where they live.  Approximately 8.2 million children were exposed to family violence in the last year alone.

As early backers of both films, the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention believes that violence in the home and bullying in school must be treated as co-equals.  They are inextricably linked, and the data backs it up. A 2011 CDC study told us that kids who witness violence in the home are more likely to be bullied, and more likely to become bullies themselves.  New research now also looks at possible links between bullying and dating violence. Prevent Connect cites the following, “Young  adolescents who perpetrate bullying become involved in romantic relationships earlier than those who do not bully, and are more likely to report verbal and physical aggression in their earliest intimate relationships” (Josephson and Pepler, 2012)

Bullying is universal and non- gender specific. Who doesn’t relate to being bullied at some time in their life? Family First Aid reports that  about 30 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have been involved in bullying, either as a bully or as a victim and we’ve all seen it, either as a victim, a perpetrator, or a witness. That’s a frightening number.  Too many children are a part of this.

However,  according to Futures without Violence, “approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner – a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth.”  We need to consider these frightening statistics, as we need to understand that bullying and violence are modeled first in our families. Gloria Steinem, an early supporter of  “Private Violence”, suggested that the term “domestic violence” should be changed to “original violence. “ It’s what makes people feel that it’s inevitable or that it’s normal or both”, she said. “If you have violence in the home then it normalizes it everywhere else.”

Though we have stalwart advocates on both sides of the political aisle in both movements, we need to move past the national disconnect that still happens with some policy leaders and the general public, who don’t see how intertwined these two issues are.  As we advocate that prevention should start with kids, let’s not forget that bullying prevention education can be paired with the critical piece of age appropriate relationship violence awareness programs that can help change the attitudes and behavior of young people as they begin to enter adulthood.

Dickens’ famous quote “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” could describe what we, in the violence prevention movement, feel today.  As many strides as we’ve made, we still have a long way to go. Linking violence in its many forms and helping kids, educators, and families connect those dots is vital.  As a Futures Without Violence ad campaign suggested, “Teach them early, teach them often.” With dating violence and bullying prevention, teach them together.


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The “Mean Reds”

April 7th, 2013

This weird little painting I did in 2007 kind of looked like anxiety to me, so I called it “Anxietree”

For Tim

 Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds? 
Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues? 
Holly Golightly No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?  Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961

Almost exactly four years ago, I was on my brother’s private jet, escaping Iowa and an incoming early spring blizzard and on my way to someplace warm and beautiful and ..  I’d rarely been so miserable.

The warm and beautiful place was a rather posh and  famous rehab facility, where I knew no one, and where I would end up spending 42 of the most difficult days of my life.  It was one of those places that treat multiple things.  Depression, pain, trauma, eating disorders,  and drug addiction were all on the menu. My “choice du jour”, at the doctors insistence, was “anxiety disorder”.  What drove me there was what a man who was there called “a perfect shit storm” of  kind of …horrible stuff.  Everything had started collapsing around me, my health, my nerves, my relationships and actually, my life.  I thought my work was ok.  I worked hard and sometimes I worked smart.  That’s what my family does.  But looking back, that wasn’t the best time in my career.  I was accomplishing things externally, but I wasn’t handling it all very well, when I went and looked inside.  That’s what an anxiety disorder can and does do.  Inside, it feels like that tree-dark, foreboding, and frazzled.  In my case, it was called “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”.  Doesn’t sound too specific, does it?  It isn’t.

As I think I’m pretty orderly (most of the time), the word “disorder” bothers me.  I like things a certain way and disordered isn’t a way I’d choose.  But it chose me and I think it chose me early in life.  Looking back, I don’t remember too many days when I wasn’t fretting about something.  As a child, I was a good student, and generally a well behaved girl, but I was fearful.  I would avoid things that challenged me, or could hurt me.  I was social and had a lot of friends, I was in activities, even activities where I had to perform.  I must have pushed myself hard, because the fear seemed to usually be there.   I learned at the posh place that an anxiety disorder can have a number of causes, but they are never sure which one takes us over the edge and makes our brain work (or not work) the way it does.  It can come on because of trauma, or it can be inherited.  Whatever mixture comes together to create it, though, essentially produces a chemical imbalance.  When that happens, it needs to be treated, and treated right away.  By the time I was headed to this rehab place, I needed treatment, and fast, or so everyone thought.  I now agree.

My brother (the one that flew me to that place and paid the gargantuan bill) used to say to me, “You worry too much”.  He has stopped saying that.  He knows why I do, and he’s actually pretty good now at helping me through it at times, as are my friends and my other siblings.  They now get why Cindy’s so worried and preoccupied sometimes and that makes a world of difference to me.

Some anxiety happens to everyone.  But this is heavier and  different from the normal anxiety we humans face in stressful life situations. It’s persistent, it’s painful, and it can be debilating when you fall into an episode.  Here’s a quick version from the Mayo Clinic of what an anxiety disorder can look like in the mind and in the body:

  • Constant worrying or obsession about small or large concerns
  • Restlessness and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or your mind “going blank”
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy or being easily startled
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating, nausea or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat
But wait, there’s more…or at least there was more for me.  All of these things above took me to a dark place four years, where depression crept in and sat beside the anxiety.  They can go hand in hand.
It took time to start to treat a lifetime of anxiety, fear and worry, whether rational or not.  The episode I had was a long time in coming, and treatment wasn’t going to be quick.  And it wasn’t going to be easy.  It still isn’t.  But it CAN get better.  That isn’t a platitude or a campaign slogan, it’s true. It can.  There are people that can help, but a lot of the work is up to you.  I spent 3 years in therapy following my stay in posh rehab.  I took the medication they recommended. It worked.  The therapy worked too, or it has so far.
Not everyone with anxiety will have to go away, as I did.  Treatments are different for different people.  The menu of choices can be long.   But if you are suffering from this, and it persists for months, get the menu and pick something.  It’s not always going to go away on its own.
If you are reading this, and if you are feeling any of this, there are a few things I can tell you that helped me along the way.
1) Talk about it.  Don’t do this by yourself.
2) Breathe.  Not shallow breathing, breathe deep.  All sorts of breathing techniques. Look them up and do them.
3) Move.  A lot.  Try to do something every day.  Anxiety can kill brain cells, exercise can rebuild them.
4) Get outside and walk.  Not easy in winter.  Try to find something else during that time or walk inside.  Big struggle for me still, I’m a walker and I like to do it outside.
5)Immerse yourself in something you love.  It’s good therapy.
6) Medication is up to you and whoever is treating you.  It helped me, but everyone is different.
7) Think about and work with a professional on what kind of anxiety you have specifically.  There are a lot of types, from panic disorder to phobias to social anxiety.
8) Learn to say no.  We move too fast, we live too close together, we work too much, and we brag too much about how busy we are.  Stop, slow down.

 9) Take care of yourself first.  You have to, or you can’t take care of anyone or anything the way you want to.
10) Try to unplug yourself when you need to. We’re inundated with technology. You don’t always have to be connected.  I struggle with this one all the time.
11) Know that you aren’t alone.  More than 40 million people suffer from anxiety disorders in this country, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA).  In fact, anxiety disorders are on the rise in this country, which makes total sense to me.
12) It’s ok to be straight with people about your struggle with anxiety, but only when you feel comfortable doing it.  It took me a long to share this, and this is hard for me to do,  but I’m hoping that if it helps one person who reads this, it’s worth it.
13) Laugh.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.  Seriously.  If you can, be around people who crack you up (in a good way).
I had a happy ending, if you can call anything an ending, as I’m still here, and I’m still working on all of this.  My relationships have never been better, and I’m doing some of the best work I’ll probably do in my life.  And, I’m happy.  But I had to walk through the fire first.  I’m not there yet, completely. I struggle all the time with this, but not like I used to.  I have some good tools in my toolbox now, good professional support, and good people who love me .  My brother Ted said to me during all the hell I went through, “We just want Cindy back”.  They got Cindy back, and I got Cindy back too.


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The Upstanders

March 25th, 2013

MVP kids, Sioux City, Iowa, 2012

“It takes courage to stand up, it takes courage to do the right thing. The important thing is when somebody stands up and does the right thing, you have to stand there with them, you have to stand side by side with them. Not behind them -side by side and show them, we’re in this thing together.” –Sioux City Schools Director of Secondary Education Jim Vanderloo

Three nights ago, I watched the  home made video of the aftermath of the horrific Steubenville, Ohio rape of a 16 year old girl.  I can’t describe it.  Nothing I can type here can match the lack of humanity and decency I heard in the words coming out of that piece of rough film.  The starring character, the one that found the whole episode amusing, encounters one faint voice of protest, a voice that wasn’t loud enough.  The loudest voice ruled.   I kept having to turn it off.  But then I decided to go the distance and watch the whole 12 minutes and 29 seconds.  As a violence prevention supporter for 20 years, and a social worker for almost 10 years before that, I told myself I should have been better prepared.  I wasn’t.  I had trouble sleeping.  When I woke up the next morning, I suddenly remembered watching a “scenario” that had an eerie similarity to the prelude of what led up to the events of August 11, 2012.

It was about ten years ago, in a middle school gymnasium in Sioux City, Iowa.   I watched a scene where an intoxicated teenage girl, who was barely able to walk, was being led out of a party by a teenage boy.  The scene was set up to feel the tension of that moment.  Suddenly a girl, and another boy she knew, sensing the danger, approached and intervened to take her to safety.  It wasn’t real, it was a scenario, written by a program called “Mentors in Violence Prevention” and acted out by high school future “mentors” in an all day training.  The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Model, co- founded by internationally known speaker, author, and activist  Jackson Katz 20 years ago at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, is a gender violence, bullying, and school violence prevention program  that uses the  “bystander” model gives students choices in how to approach potentially dangerous situations involving bullying and gender violence by creating real life scenarios like the one above.

I’d watched the training before.  The Waitt Foundation had supported MVP since our colleague Judy Stafford approached then assistant principal  Dr. Alan Heisterkamp in 2000 in Iowa  to see if he’d implement the program at our pilot high school.  But I do remember that day thinking that by choosing a “real life” scenario, this program could make a difference.  It has.

MVP asks both young girls and young boys to be what is called “an active bystander”.  Another word being used today is “upstander”, a term that became more well known during the time the “Bully” movie premiered, and one used frequently now as part of the movement that grew out of the 2012 documentary.

I don’t think it matters which term is used.   Both terms make sense when you are asking kids to go outside their comfort zone and have the courage to stand up for their peers to prevent the violence we hear about too often in this country.  The term “bystander” isn’t that new.  As Alan Heisterkamp, now a violence prevention trainer and consultant at the University of Northern Iowa and our partner at Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention,  says,” Bystander strategies have been around since the early 1970’s. The recent rise in popularity of the bystander education model and the social norms approach in bullying and violence prevention can be attributed to numerous research studies that have yielded positive results.  Today, we know more about the impact that active bystanders, sometimes referred to as “upstanders”, have on reducing the frequency of harmful or abusive behaviors among youth and adults alike.”

He’s right.  Newsweek wrote in 2009 about studies he did at our pilot high school over 10 years ago.   “One study found that after the Sioux City School District in Iowa implemented the MVP program, the number of freshman boys who said they could help prevent violence against women and girls increased by 50 percent. The number of ninth-grade boys who indicated that their peers would listen to them about respecting women and girls increased by 30 percent.  New data can be found here.

Alan was one of the first trainers to work with MVP in high schools in combination with another powerful curriculum we’ve used for many years called “Coaching Boys into Men’.   This “Futures Without Violence” program, piloted in 2005, uses the power of adult mentors, particularly athletic coaches with young male athletes, in changing cultures to prevent gender violence and sexual assault.   A 3 year evidence-based CDC study in 16 Sacramento, California high schools showed that student athletes who participated in CBIM were more likely to call out abusive behavior among their peers than those outside the program. CBIM is now used in dozens of locations across the country and plans on expanding their map, as does Mentors in Violence Prevention.   See

Now, more than ever, we need to create more “upstanders” and not only among our youth, but in partnership with parents, school staff, and finally, the whole community.  Can we prevent every incident of violence, bullying, or sexual assault?  I think not.  But changing the power of the old message, “boys will be boys’ and “kids will be kids” is a step in the right direction.  We’ve had young people approach us with stories of “standing up”, not standing by. We’ve heard the stories from kids who’ve worked with both of these programs.   The “Bully Project” has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of kids talking about what the power of a voice, a gesture, or a supportive intervention can do.  Looking at the kids above, and hearing those stories, I have hope.



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