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For more than 40 years, researchers have studied Intimate Partner Violence, providing insight into the problem and offering solutions for decreasing the epidemic of intimate partner homicide. With increased awareness, laws and services, intimate partner homicides of males in the U.S. have significantly decreased since 1980. However, homicides of women are increasing, intimate partner violence in teen dating relationships is on the rise, and more than half of all mass shootings in the U.S. have been linked to domestic violence. We recommend that you watch the film before commenting to gain a better understanding of the conversation!

Tracy Schott

Tracy Schott, MSW, MS is the Producer/Director of Finding Jenn’s Voice, the award-winning documentary film about intimate partner homicide featured in Voices4Change. She has presented to audiences internationally on abusive relationships, pregnancy, and the media’s role in shaping the narrative on domestic violence. Tracy is uniquely qualified to tell this story. She received her MSW from the University of California â?? Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare in 1985. She practiced for fifteen years as a child and family therapist with many adult and child victims of abuse, was the administrator of a women’s counseling center, and an adjunct faculty in Graduate Social Work. After witnessing the power of television in shaping behavior and attitudes with her own children, Tracy decided to pursue her interest in creating social change through media. She obtained her MS in Telecommunications in 2000 from Kutztown University. Tracy is the founder of Schott Productions and has produced, written and directed hundreds of projects including short films, TV commercials and content.

Words Matter

Discussion

I recently watched the documentary film “Becoming” about former First Lady Michelle Obama. She says something toward the end of the film that struck me:

 

“When you’re president of the United States, words matter. You can start wars, you can crash economies. There’s too much power to be that careless.” 

 

Words matter. 

 

It seems to me that words matter even when you’re NOT president of the United States. 

 

Words can be powerful tools of healing or weapons of destruction. Words can break down a person’s spirit, crush a child’s dreams, or deflate a woman’s sense of self. I don’t believe that is the intention of most people. I believe that most of us want to inspire hope, bolster self-esteem, and create a better future. We do not do that by using words that divide, incite anger, and diminish others. 

 

Words matter. Especially when they are delivered by someone you love. Like a sharp knife, insults and criticism which attack not only how you act but who you are, cut through your self-esteem and leave you silently bleeding. Domestic violence victims will tell you that an abuser is stealthy in his use of these weapons. The words sneak up on you and take you by surprise. “Wait, did he just say that I’m dumb and ugly? My Prince Charming?” “No”, he says, “I was joking.” But he’s not. He will say these words and worse again, and again, and again. Not all at once but over time. Until maybe you start to believe his words are true.

 

Words matter. When you’re in a relationship with an abuser, those words can destroy your sense of self and create divisions that isolate you from your friends and family. Words are the weapons of emotional abuse that create a place for violence. These words break down your sense of who you are. You begin to disintegrate from the inside out. And when the physical abuse finally happens, a part of you believes that it is your fault. For being dumb and ugly… You’re embarrassed and so sure that you are to blame that you tell no one. You hide your bruises. You don’t want to find out that he’s right: that no one would believe you or care anyway. 

 

Words do matter. 

 

Words that tell you that you are stupid, that no one cares about you, that the reality you’ve experienced isn’t real, that your history never happened. These words can disorient you and make you doubt who you are and what you’ve experienced. And most disturbingly, they can leave you indebted and dependent on the very person who says them. That is a person who has discovered the power of words to tear down others and bolster his own self. 

 

That is a dangerous person. 

 

We know that intimate partner homicide is on the rise in the United States. In 2017, 2237 people were killed by intimate partners. (CDC reference) We also know that abusive relationships don’t start out that way. In my documentary film, Finding Jenn’s Voice, the survivors of attempted homicide with whom I spoke described their abusers as initially ‘charming’ and ‘romantic’. They were ‘swept off their feet’ and made to feel like they were the center of his universe. If you’ve ever experienced that kind of romantic love, you know how addictive that feeling can be. We are hardwired as humans to want to be wanted. Being placed on someone else’s pedestal â?? that’s pretty heady stuff. It’s also a long fall when that pedestal is kicked out from under you. You land hard on a rocky surface, disoriented and confused. That feeling is exactly what an abused woman experiences when her Prince Charming turns out to be the villain in the fairytale. And guess what? Not one punch has been thrown and no bones are broken…yet.

 

I’m here to tell you that there’s someone in your world, maybe your sister, your neighbor, your coworker or your friend who needs to hear different words. 

Tell her it’s not her fault. 

Tell her she deserves better. 

Tell her she’s not alone.

 She may not believe or even hear you the first, second or third time you say these words. But somewhere inside, your words can nourish her parched sense of self, and help her heal - from the inside out. Eventually, she’ll hear you and it just might save her life. 

 

Because your words matter.

 

Your words may not start wars or crash economies, but they can be the seeds of hope and healing for her, for ourselves and for our world.

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“The free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends and dips his wings in the orange sun rays and dares to claim the sky. 

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.” 

Excerpts from Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

A cage is a cage is a cage.

My particular cage is a lovely historic Pennsylvania farmhouse, with ample food in the kitchen, daffodils in the garden, dogs to keep me company...and a safe relationship. But as the marvelous Maya Angelou poem Caged Bird reminds me, thanks to Covid-19 I’m not free to ‘claim the sky’ as my own, so I’m forced instead to ‘sing of freedom’ (which is admittedly far more eloquent than whining.) 

I feel no lack of guilt for this longing. I am healthy, while others are dying. I’m hungry because I’m tired of cooking, not because I have no food. My business has been impacted, but I’m not in danger of losing my home. I miss my seeing my friends, but we stay connected on our computers and phones. My husband may be getting on my nerves (and I on his), but he’s not abusive. 

This cage gets me thinking about the women I know who have been in abusive relationships. Is this how their cage feels? I’m guessing my experience only touches the surface of theirs. While I don’t fear being literally strangled by my partner, I do feel the stranglehold of anxiety and fear that comes from not being able to control my own life. 

Intimate partner violence is not well understood by most people who have not experienced it. The threat of black eyes and broken bones under the guise of power and control are just as devastating as the actual black eyes and broken bones. Threats to hurt children and kill pets, withholding financial support, forced pregnancies (and abortions), and social isolation are all ways that victims of domestic violence are controlled by their partners. Up to 35% of women killed by their intimate partners have no history of physical violence, but they all are killed by controlling men. 

We hear the question all the time....Why does she stay? 

We know that leaving is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. According to Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, the pre-eminent Johns Hopkins researcher of intimate partner violence and creator of the Danger Assessment, victims of domestic violence are 4 times more likely to be killed while attempting to leave their abusers. 33% of all intimate partner homicide victims are killed while attempting to leave the relationship. Clearly, exiting an abusive relationship is not as simple as packing your bags. 

I’m also considering how much energy it takes to accomplish the simple things when you feel a loss of control. As many of us have learned over the past 2 months, powerlessness can lead to anxiety and depression â?? both of which can make it impossible to do the easy things we’d normally do without effort. If I had to pack up my things and those of my children while hiding from an abusive partner who may have threatened that he would kill me if I left, would I have the energy to do that? Considering that right now I struggle to find the energy to put on pants in the morning, I doubt it. 

But they persevere. I’m in awe of what victims of domestic violence endure to keep safe. Everyday. They juggle the demands of their abusers with the needs of their children and the expectations of their jobs. The protective masks they wear everyday shield them from a world that doesn’t understand their experience, from embarrassment and ridicule, but also potential support. The world is unaware of their experience. We can’t comprehend the reality that 27% of U.S. women live in physically abusive relationships, and have their daily movements monitored, limited and controlled. We’d rather ignore it or worse, blame them for being there. 

Victims of domestic violence that do get out usually face financial devastation, lost relationships, physical and emotional scars, chronic anxiety, and the knowledge that controlling your own destiny is a gift that can be taken away. 

Perhaps at this moment in time, we are in a position to begin to understand their experience. 

We need to remember what this feels like and remember to sing for those who are forced to live in cages all the time in hopes that they too will one day ‘own the sky’. 

To read the entire poem, Caged Bird by Maya Angelou, click here


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“Now we see everything that's going wrong With the world and those who lead it We just feel like we don't have the means To rise above and beat it So we keep waiting (waiting) Waiting on the world to change – John Mayer, 2006
Those are the lyrics to a wonderful John Mayer song. And they’ve been running through my head all morning. During this strange time of quarantines and lockdowns and lockouts, it’s easy to feel like we are just waiting for it to end so that we can get back to our normal lives. But I have the feeling that we will emerge from this experience with a new normal.
What will that look like?
We can hope that we will have a better perspective about what is important, appreciate freedom and health, and be a more caring worldwide community. But what about the others? The already marginalized members of our world: the homeless, the people living in poverty, the victims of domestic violence?
This pandemic is rightly forcing us into isolation to protect the spread of the virus. But I worry for those members of our community who are already in forced isolation. Will their fortunes grow when this is over, or will their plights be just too hard for the rest of us to think about? Will they fade ever farther into the recesses of society? Will they find resources that much harder to access? Or will we as a community think about them more?
What can we do?
It starts with this:
Imagine… Imagine having your every movement monitored and controlled. Imagine not being able to leave your house, not because of the threat of disease but because of the threat of physical harm. Imagine having no say about your daily activities and that your very life depends upon listening to someone else. Imagine feeling like there is no end in sight to this isolation and no way out. And imagine, that in spite of all this, you get up every day and take care of your kids and do your work and try to create a normal life. That imaginary life is the reality for domestic violence victims every day.
My hope is that we can use this time to think about the others who experienced forced isolation before the virus appeared and will continue to do so long after the rest of us have emerged from our safe homes into a brave new world.
We don’t need to wait for the world to change, we can change it now.
Become a #Voice4Change.
Spread the word.

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March 8th is International Women's Day
Why does half the world's population need a "day"?
International Women's Day is about equality, about changing the world to eradicate injustices made simply because half of us were born with the XX chromosome. I'd like to say that my essence, my brain, and my spirit have nothing to do with the fact that my reproductive organs lie inside my body. I'd like to say that in 2020, gender should not dictate our wealth, health and safety. I'd like to say these things. But the statistics defy me.
-> Women in the United States make $.79 cents on every dollar a man makes.
-> Women sit on less than 17% of the seats in the board rooms of corporations worldwide.
-> Women account for 23% of government roles in the United States
-> Maternal mortality rates are unacceptably high worldwide. In the U.S, the Maternal Mortality rate has doubled over the last 20 years, resulting in the highest rate of death among all developed countries.
-> Stories of sexual harassment, rape, and child sexual abuse have become so common that we've become numb to the devastating reality behind these statistics.
   o 1 in 5 women in the U.S and 1 in 3 women worldwide has been raped
-> Violence against women and girls is of epidemic proportions:
   o 1-3 women worldwide experience intimate partner violence
   o 27% of women in the U.S. are abused by an intimate partner
   o 50,000 women are killed worldwide by intimate partners and family members each year
Imagine if 1 in 3 people worldwide had Corona flu virus. That would result in a huge mobilization of our resources worldwide.
But that isn't happening when we look at society's response to intimate partner violence. For the last year, the Violence Against Women Act has sat on Senator McConnell's desk without a vote for reauthorization, as the Whitehouse has quietly stripped victim rights and services that have been in place for more than twenty years. Meanwhile domestic rates of intimate partner homicide have more than doubled over the last 5 years to over 6 homicides per day. Is my life really worth so much less than that of my husband and sons? Are my granddaughters going to continue to wonder why their bodies are the topic of political campaigns, the target of sadists, and a weapon of war?
I dream of a day when my grandchildren won't have to have 1 Billion Rising Days, Take Back the Night, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, #MeToo movements and an International Womens Day.
When women and men are valued equally, when sexual and physical abuse of women is no longer tolerated by entire cultures, when opportunity is no longer determined by your gender... then we will no longer need a "day".
Until then, let's start by ending sexual, physical and emotional violence against women. Follow Voices4Change.net where we bring together the research of the experts and the voices of survivors to educate, empower and end domestic violence. Become a #Voice4Change.

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It was snowing. I was enjoying the beauty of that early spring storm while working from home on the paperwork for my newly formed video production company when a friend called. She was driving through that storm to her 27-year-old niece’s funeral. Jenn had been murdered by her married boyfriend. She was two months pregnant.
It was a gruesome story of love, betrayal, and pre-meditated murder. The stuff of murder mysteries, television crime shows, and B-movies. Trina wanted me to tell Jenn’s story.
My gut reaction was “NO!!” Crime was not my thing. On impulse however, I ‘googled’ pregnancy and homicide and came across a study stating, “Homicide is the leading cause of death during pregnancy.” Wait a minute – what? A part of me inside was still screaming “no!” to the idea of doing a documentary as I heard the words “yes, we need to tell Jenn’s story” come out of my mouth.
So began a journey that brought me full circle in a career that started 25 years earlier as a social worker and therapist with victims of child abuse. The social worker in me needed to understand what happened. The filmmaker needed to tell the story.
At first, I didn’t understand this murder to be related to intimate partner violence. There was no known history of physical abuse in Jenn and David’s relationship. It was an emotionally abusive relationship based on manipulation. Eventually, I learned that power and control were more predictive of intimate partner homicide than physical abuse. It was a huge “ah ha!” moment when I realized that Jenn was indeed a victim of an abusive relationship. I just needed to “look beyond the black eye”.
Over the course of the next four years of producing FINDING JENN’S VOICE, I spoke with more than a dozen domestic violence researchers across disciplines, law enforcement, Jenn’s family and friends, and ultimately nearly 40 survivors of intimate partner homicide attempts. I learned that up to 35% of intimate partner homicides have no previous history of physical abuse. But nearly all have elements of coercive control. By talking about abuse only in physical terms, we are missing opportunities for preventing these murders.
In the U.S., there are more than 3 women murdered by their intimate partners every day and that number is rapidly increasing.
Intimate partner homicides frequently occur when the victim is trying to leave the relationship. Which makes it quite obvious: we need to stop asking why she doesn’t leave.
If fact, we need to change the entire social narrative about intimate partner violence.
Researchers have a deep understanding of intimate partner violence. But that knowledge isn’t understood by the general public. Instead, we see pervasive media bias against victims of abuse and victim blaming across society in both rape and domestic violence cases.
The survivors in FINDING JENN’S VOICE shared their experiences at great personal risk and sacrifice. Their stories can help us understand, predict and prevent intimate partner homicide.
All we need to do is listen…

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This Valentine's Day, become a Voice4Change...because love shouldn't hurt.

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Each day in the United States more than 4 women are killed by their intimate partners Jennifer Snyder was a veterinary technician who lived near Allentown, Pennsylvania. She was a shy girl who loved animals, her family and children. She was just 27 years old when her boyfriend of nearly 3 years, a married veterinarian with whom she worked, shot her 3 times and left her body in a ravine near the Lehigh County Zoo – one of her favorite places in the world. Jennifer was 2 months pregnant. A week later, her aunt contacted the filmmaker and asked her to tell Jenn’s story. A quick internet search revealed research showing that homicide is a leading cause of death during pregnancy. Thus began a journey of unraveling this story of the man who “snapped”, to reveal a pattern of abusive behavior that had nothing to do with broken bones and black eyes, and everything to do with controlling the life (and death) of this young woman. Sadly, Jenn’s story is not unique. Each day in the United States more than 4 women are killed by their intimate partners. Up to 35% of these women have no previous history of physical abuse. But there are warning signs. Finding Jenn’s Voice examines the nature of abusive relationships beyond black eyes and provides a stark look into the epidemic of violence toward women. This film and website honor the memory of Jennifer and all the voiceless victims of intimate partner homicide.

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Voices4Change

Discussion

The goal of the Voices for Change campaign is to decrease the tragic statistics surrounding intimate partner homicide by increasing understanding, changing the way people view the victims impacted by it, and ultimately improving their ability to respond effectively. For more than 40 years, researchers, legislators and clinicians have worked to understand and eliminate intimate partner violence. Laws have been enacted, services are being provided, and awareness has been increased across society. In spite of these efforts, intimate partner homicide continues to be a leading cause of death for many women. Changing the statistics requires a more a fundamental shift in how our society views intimate relationships. Changing the statistics requires changing the conversation by engaging communities in productive dialogue about power, control and intimacy. The Voices for Change campaign reclaims the voices of those silenced by intimate partner violence while issuing a call across society to build healthy relationships. The campaign will strategically employ FINDING JENN’S VOICE to mobilize partners in the field, organize resources and tools, and engage in activities to promote preventative measures that save lives. The Voices for Change campaign has 4 target populations: police, healthcare and mental health professionals, educators and the media. The campaign is tailored to meet the specific needs of each group. For each target, the campaign has solicited feedback and collected data (metrics and anecdotal) to further refine and define its objectives.

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