Monday, November 7, 2011

Do The Right Thing

"Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity." 
               ~ W. Clement Stone 1902-2002, Businessman, Philanthropist and Author

The Sandusky/Penn State Case

Each time I lead a Stewards of Children training, discussion ensues about those elements most common to child sexual abuse cases. I remind attendees that what happened in the Catholic Church just reverberated louder and longer than most cases, which are either never discovered or only briefly make it to the local newspaper. What happened in the Church, and now allegedly and very publicly in the Sandusky case, happens around the globe in youth-serving organizations of every kind, in communities in denial, in families - everywhere. Covering up for what one has seen or learned, allowing the predator(s) to move on to other victims, never reporting to the proper authorities, making excuses for someone no one wants to come forward and name (in the Sandusky case, according to legal documents, 2 of those who never reported attributed his behaviors in the showers with boys to "horsing around") - these are common elements in abuse cases, elements that our society too often has turned a blind eye to, allowing abuse numbers to become epidemic and keeping our culture from doing what needs to be done to put an end to abuse.
Already Sandusky's defense attorney has issued statements calling into question the truthfulness of the boys involved and reminding everyone that many of them come from "dysfunctional families," as though that would bolster his allegations that they are lying.* Never mind that one witness, the one deemed most credible by the grand jury, had testified to actually seeing Sandusky anally penetrating one of the boys in a shower. The defense atty. goes on to talk about how it's possible that the boys could have misconstrued a playful pat on the knee (IN THE SHOWER) as something sexual.* Hello? What on earth would he be doing anywhere near them in the shower? Boundaries. Inappropriate behavior. And, given the gravity of the allegations, likely much, much worse.
The mother of one of the boys spoke of her feelings after learning about the charges, "I just got goosebumps, seriously. I just lived with this for so long, and it killed me when people talked about him like he was a god and I knew he was a monster."*
Here is the gist of this post: until we start changing how we think about abuse we will not change how we respond to it. Until we understand that ANYONE - man, woman, older/larger children, white, black, Hispanic, Indian, Native American, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc., etc., - someone we've loved, admired, revered - can be a predator, we will not change the culture from one that, admittedly or not, enables abuse to one that will not tolerate it. Whatever the reasons people have for not doing the right thing, either in creating enforced policies that work to prevent the abuse in the first place or facing down their own personal, internal fears and barriers to reporting, it's time for us as a society to say we won't tolerate it anymore. When the needs and safety of children are truly our # 1 priority, as evidenced in our behaviors, we'll have a changed culture.

* While info for this post came from reading many articles, put much of the available info into an exellent post HERE. I referred to their article for my post and I encourage you to read it and share it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gotta Swim

It’s been 59 days since my friend Susan died, seemingly out of the blue. She hadn’t felt well for months and believed she had Lupus. The late diagnosis of T-cell lymphoma was dire and shocking; her death three days later overwhelmingly sad, something I’m still trying to come to terms with.
I’d known Susan almost my whole life, but for most of that we were acquaintances, thrown together at times by circumstance as our parents were friends. Occasionally, amidst the hubbub of the large social circle gatherings, we’d chat, briefly, exchanging smiling, cordial niceties. It wasn’t until a few years ago, as women in our early 50’s, that we became real friends, forging a bond over hours-long discussions about life, love, loss and career. We’d tried new restaurants, savored older favorites, visited art galleries, attended local events of interest, emailed and texted often (she lived in CT, I in MA). 
Susan had offered me the guest room in her home when she knew I was planning to spend more time in the area, my hometown. It didn’t take long to feel at home in her charming little French country-adorned cape, letting myself in and out, tending to and playing with her adorable, rambunctious Tibetan Terrier, Daisy, (“she’s so spoiled!” Susan would say, with a gleam in her eye), even bringing my teenage daughter for a couple of overnights.
A journalist by training and by nature, Susan was curious, questioning, adventurous. She’d traveled the world for years working for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, winning awards for her work there and beyond. Then, in mid-life, knowing she needed to up her professional competitive edge, she’d attended law school. She had a keen understanding of the need to broaden herself to stay competitive in a young man’s industry where she was an aging woman and she was unafraid to venture forward. Or rather, she plowed through any fears in her typical manner. “It was sink or swim, Susan,” she’d said to me, relating her story, “and I had to swim.” Indeed, that was her mantra and one I’d hear again when she studied for yet a third bar exam, many years after finishing law school and passing 2 others. She’d assessed her career situation, determined her needs and gotten to it. Exhausted by the frenetic pace of the studying, she’d looked at me at one point, exclaiming, “I gotta swim. Just gotta swim.” In the end, my friend swam, indeed, gloriously, passing the CT bar and landing, at age 55, a coveted spot in a local law firm more typically occupied by someone much younger.
Susan’s thoughtful self-examination was prominently featured in a 2005 Lisa Belkin piece in the New York Times. Her other trademark, self-confidence, an attribute she knew she possessed (“I’ve just always been self-confident,” she would say to me, matter-of-fact, no trace of arrogance), propelled her, be the circumstance professional or personal.
In this regard, she and I were polar opposites. I’d struggled with self-confidence my whole life. When I was getting ready to publish my children’s book we would talk, often, about the importance of self-assuredness. It had taken me several years to gather the confidence to move forward with the book and moving through the inertia was like trying to run with glue on my feet. Susan knew some of my childhood sexual assault story and was a huge supporter of my work educating adults in abuse prevention. She cheered me on, compassionately, through my stops and starts, encouraging my own strength.
One evening, during a conversation with a mutual friend, she stumbled upon a piece of my story I had not yet shared with her. Her ever-curious nature propelled her:  “What’s the story with that?” she’d emailed me. I’d shared some of my story before, but this piece, a healing piece that had moved and inspired me, I kept very close, sharing with maybe a handful of people. I had to decide if I was ready to share with her.
On my next visit, out to dinner at a favorite restaurant, Susan asked me again, and I shared some. Back at her house I shared more and the conversation continued until late and at breakfast outside on her deck the next morning. She listened thoughtfully, providing feedback, sharing bits of her own relevant life experiences. A true give and take. Still, it was an emotional thing for me to share the story and at one point, as we were cleaning up, I told her just how vulnerable I felt. She stopped what she was doing and turned, dead serious, to me.  “I want you to know you can trust me with this, Susan,” she said, “so I’m going to tell you something about myself that almost nobody knows.” She did, and in that moment, I knew I’d shared my soul with someone I could trust, who had compassion for my journey, and who cared that I felt safe. Trust has not come easily for me in my life. This friendship was rich. Truly a gift.
On the way home to MA from her funeral, I stopped with my daughter and mom in Mystic. Normally a quick run into Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, I’d preferred this time to stop where we could sit by the water. While my mother and daughter chatted at the food bar, I sat looking out at the water, thinking about Susan - her suffering, her loss of life and my loss of my friend. My eyes filled with tears. Instantly, I could picture her and hear her saying, “Gotta swim, Susan…ya gotta swim.” I know, I heard myself say. I know. I might have to alternate strokes for a while, perhaps tread water or float for a bit, but I “gotta swim” - I know it…. and, with lessons and memories from a wonderful, meaningful friendship that will live as long as I do, I will.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"This Is Grotesque"

Kudos to ad man (and fellow UPenn '79 grad) Donny Deutsch for excoriating a recent ad campaign from France featuring young girls in lingerie. Asked for his opinion on the Today show, Deutsch was direct and unwavering in his outrage: "This is grotesque...I hope the authorities look at them." "Disgusting." And for me, the most important statement of all: "The kids are victims here."
Yes, they are. Everyone, every adult, who participated in the creation and distribution of the campaign is complicit in the victimization of the coiffed, adorned, photographed and viewed around the world children. I will not even link to the Today interview or accompanying article because doing so would further circulate the images.
Let's be clear: anyone who claims that this is all in fun, or girls just dressing up is lying. And the photographed girls aren't the only people affected by the images: every viewer, young and old, male and female, walks away with an image and a strong message, normalizing such sexualization. We have far too many pedophiles in the world now; we don't need to be offering further stimulation in the form of legitimized child pornography.
Child sexual abuse is an insidious problem, epidemic in its proportions. Part of my job is to wake up adults as to how their thoughts and actions, intentionally or not, perpetuate CSA. The other part is to educate them on what they can do to prevent it.
I encourage you to speak up, express your outrage. Refuse to purchase products marketed in such a manner and the outlets that feature the ads. Take a stand. Our children's safety and well-being depends on it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Teaming Up For Prevention

YMCAs all over the country are getting on board to bring child sexual abuse prevention education to their communities. Ys have a wide reach and a unique ability to engage local populations, enabling them to raise awareness of this insidious issue and the urgent need for adults in the community to know how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to it. ALL adults - not just those of child bearing age or those affiliated with youth-serving organizations.
Has the Y in your community taken on Darkness To Light's prevention program? I encourage you to inquire; if they have, get on board yourself -get trained and get the word out. If they haven't, urge them to do so. There is seed money out there for them to use in growing the program. Remember, this program was the Crime Prevention Program of the Year in 2007. It is 3rd party evaluated and evidence-based. It changes behaviors. We know it works.
Take your community on the road to cultural change and the end of child sexual abuse. Get educated and TAKE ACTION!
Learn more:

So True

"Inspiration is that state where mind and heart are connected"
                                  ~ Deepak Chopra                                   


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Brockton Educators Step Up

Yesterday, 65 educators in Brockton, MA participated in one of the largest, most vibrant Stewards of Children trainings I've ever led. I was joined by three of our newest MA facilitators - all adjustment counselors for the Brockton schools - as well as Kim, Amy and Julie from the Old Colony YMCA. Especially gratifying to see was school Superintendent Matt Malone joining in, listening thoughtfully as staff from all arenas in the school system shared insights and observations based both on their professional experiences and the Stewards training. The overwhelming consensus was that the trainings should continue, extending to paraprofessionals and parents, and that discussion should continue on "best, safest practices" policies for the schools.
That's just the kind of thing we facilitators hope for when we offer Stewards trainings; the point of our work is to move people to action - the tangible extension of intention - in hopes that one person at a time, one policy at a time, our culture, our society, will emerge a less enabling place for predators and a far safer place for children.
Go, Brockton!



- adjective

achingly painful in any language

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Walking On Campus Against Sexual Assault

The sun was shining, a warm breeze blowing, and 100 walkers, mostly young adults, gathered to walk and raise awareness about sexual assault. In fact, this first ever Sexual Assault Awareness Walk on the University of Bridgeport campus in Bridgeport, CT, held on April 15th,  not only raised awareness, it also raised almost $2000 to benefit The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County. This wonderful Center is dedicated to "strengthening women and families and eliminating violence and abuse through education, intervention, advocacy and community collaboration" and what a hard-working, dedicated team it has to execute its mission.
The Center honored me by asking me to speak at the walk. Below is the text of my speech, dedicated to the young people who made this walk come alive and who will soon be the adults leading the way in what I hope will be the cultural change that makes abuse no longer possible.

I’m honored to have been asked to speak here today. I was born in Bridgeport, spent the earliest years of my life here, many hours at Seaside Park. I’ve had friends and family who’ve attended or taught at UB over the years.
One thing that was not here when I was growing up was the Center for Women and Families. That what we are doing here today will help them continue to do their great work on behalf of this community is very gratifying. To so many the Center has been a lifeline, a crucial piece in their recovery from assault or their ability to successfully extricate from a difficult life situation and move on to thrive. That kind of compassionate, tireless, guiding arm in a community is invaluable and I for one, am grateful for their presence here, the true devotion of their fine staff and on a personal level, an opportunity to have met many of them with an eye toward collaboration. I can’t think of a better way to have an impact in this community than a partnership with the Center for Women and Families.
The other very gratifying thing about participating here today is YOU. I know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; it’s also Child Abuse Prevention Month – but I often find myself saying during April “EVERY month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month or EVERY month is Child Abuse Prevention Month” – because it is. We, and so many other organizations across the US, gather during April to mark this month in recognition of the issues, but violence happens around the clock, and the calendar, and so must the work to prevent and respond to that violence. Sexual violence, of adults or children, is so often assembled around silence and shame, secrets and conspiracy. 
But here, today, by your assembly, there is no silence or shame, there are no secrets. The only conspiracy is one against the violence. You/we are standing proud, with a loud clear voice, speaking out, shattering silence saying – we stand together. This cannot happen any more. We won’t live in denial – we acknowledge this tough topic, so often taboo, here today. We are here to say there is a problem, we know it, we are facing it and we are willing to put ourselves out there to help make it stop.
Whether you’re talking about assault against adults or – as in the work I do, against children – the only way to battle the silence, the shame, the secrets, & conspiracy is education. The Center works tirelessly in that vein and so do I. And while I wrote a children’s book that facilitates discussion with even the littlest ones about their safety and boundaries, the major focus of my work, my prevention education efforts, is with adults.
And that is often not an easy task. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard – “it just doesn’t happen here that much” – or “I don’t believe those statistics, they’re overblown” – or “he or she would never do such a thing” - I’d be a very rich woman. To get many adults to even acknowledge the problem and the need for education is the first task. But here, with YOU all, I have this tiny spark of hope, that maybe, just maybe, with this up and coming generation of new adults, my job might get a bit easier.
For as we will step off today on our walk, soon you all will be stepping off into your full-fledged adult lives. YOU will be the decision makers, in your personal lives and in your communities. YOU will be the leaders, the policy makers, the next generation of parents.YOU will be directing the organizations that serve your communities and YOU will have the power – power to create policies in your towns, your schools, your faith-based organizations, your businesses, in every part of your lives – that just might make abuse less likely to happen.
And as we head toward the lighthouse I can’t help but analogize that YOU will be the light. YOU will be the beacons. The light needed to end sexual violence is man-made, woman-made, people made. Adult awareness, education, and action, action that matches intention is what it will take so that we no longer need a Sexual Assault Awareness Month or a Child Abuse Prevention Month. Wouldn’t it be a great day when April can go back to just being the home of Easter and Passover, April showers, April fools, the beginning of spring?
That’s what I work toward every day – to get adults to understand their personal power and the effect their choices have for the safety of their children and their communities. I often speak of the need for a social and a cultural shift in the way we think about and approach the problem of sexual abuse. Cultural change is a slow process- like our walk today, one step at a time- but looking out here at you, at all the promise and hope in the face of a very real and difficult, painful problem, I have to believe we are moving forward.
In yoga there is a saying, a word “namaste” – often delivered with a nod to another – like this – and it means “the light in me honors the light in you.” So today, here at this gathering of determination and hope, the promise of a better, safer future, I say to each and every one of you, thank you for your time, your efforts, your passion, your determination.
 Thank you for working to end the blight of sexual assault. Namaste.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

"My Heart Sang"

It's been the rare post for me that professes the emotion of loss and longing, regret and reconciliation. I do here. I've sat with this poem for quite a while; now, with the end of Child Abuse Prevention Month, I've decided to share it. Moving ahead, through fear and grief, acknowledging their presence and place along my road, has allowed me to embrace the joys of the heart, even when, long ago, expressing and recognizing that joy was impossible. That, in fact, is one of the reasons I work so hard for abuse prevention; every child deserves to grow up happy and whole, able to fully embrace the vast experiences of life without looking back in regret.
So today, recognizing what woke my senses and had me feeling alive, I honor what my heart held...and I am grateful for it.

My Heart Sang

My heart sang
when he sat with me,
if only for a little while.
I loved his face, his hands, his long, beautiful legs,
the sound of his voice.
We could talk about nothing much
or get on some political bent.
It didn’t matter.
Whatever it was –
the thought of him, the feel of his arm next to mine,
that he chose to be with me for a little while –
it made my heart sing.
I wanted to dance, too,
but I couldn’t.
That wasn't to be.
No song to sing, seven-year-old me cowered deep within.
I have to make my peace with that
and say goodbye.
It’s too late.
Long over.
That young man - he’ll always make me want to sing and dance,
that’s just how it is.
I’m too tired to fight it anymore.
It just is.
That other man – the heart-piercing, soul-squelcher of that little girl –
because of him, I missed my dance.
And yet, all these years later, still, there is joy for when
my heart sang.

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 10th saw a great Stewards of Children training here in MA! As usual, discussions were thoughtful and enlightening, moving and motivating and, in the end, each person walked out with a clearer vision of their piece in the child sexual abuse prevention/response pie. Among the dynamic attendees were Mary Byrne and Bo Budinsky, featured in the photo with me here.
Mary and Bo are active with a sexual assault and trauma center, Day One, in Rhode Island and their faces can be seen not only in this photo, but of late, with other survivors of sexual assault on the side of public transportation buses in RI. They are the faces of Day One's survivor advocacy group, One Voice. Representatives of One Voice spoke out at a recent Rhode Island State House event marking Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Their mission is to encourage other survivors to reach out, speak up, get help and put shame and fear behind them.
I loved meeting Bo and Mary and have such respect for the great work they are doing. You can read more about Day One and One Voice here. And, as always, I urge you to learn more about child sexual abuse prevention by visiting DarknessToLight's website and/or contacting me at

Friday, April 1, 2011

Child Abuse Prevention Month

Welcome to April - home of April Fools' Day, April showers (they bring May flowers). Easter, Passover and, since 1983, the congressionally-designated Child Abuse Prevention Month. You can read about the history of CAPM here. Anyone who knows me knows that, to me, EVERY month is Child Abuse Prevention Month - every day, every hour, every minute. The fabric of Child Abuse Prevention Month - getting educated on the facts, understanding the risks, learning how each and every one of us adults can prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child abuse - needs to be woven into our thinking, throughout our culture, so that the choices we make on behalf of children best protect them. This is not a 30 day endeavor - it's 24/7, a life-long commitment. Darkness To Light uses a seat-belt analogy to explain this best: when cars were first invented, there was no such thing as a seat belt. But after seeing accidents happen, injuries and death occurring, the seat belt idea was born. At first, seat belts in cars were an option - people had to pay extra and request to have them and only those who wanted them (or could afford them) had them installed. When it was understood just how many lives could be saved with their use, seat belts became more and more popular until one day, they were mandated. Then, not only were they mandated to be in each and every auto, but it was also required in many places that people buckle up ("click it or ticket"). Wearing seat belts, proven to save lives and reduce injuries, had gone from nonexistence to a piece of our social and cultural fabric. As more and more people got on board, social and cultural change occurred. Now, very few people venture into their cars without buckling up, as one would hope it would be.

It's no different for preventing child sexual abuse. Child protection policies regarding CSA haven't always existed in schools and other youth-serving organizations, but slowly, as it becomes clear that there are tools for prevention, recognition and response, and that those are effective tools, our culture is changing. S-L-O-W-L-Y. There is still plenty of denial, plenty of choices that don't put the children first, plenty of folks who want to look the other way or point fingers after the fact, but there are also, now, adults, and many of them, who are "getting it." Each and every adult trained in abuse prevention brings to his or her community the benefits of that education, be it in working to put in place effective policies for their faith organizations, their schools, scouts, sports or arts orgs., or effective policies for themselves and how they manage their home lives and interactions with their neighbors and friends. In fact, neighbors who sit and talk about abuse and how they can work together to prevent it are the rungs in the ladder toward reaching the cultural change we need to optimally keep kids safe.
So, to all of you I say, please, this April, take the time to learn how to prevent abuse. Share what you learn with your adult friends. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your local youth-serving organization leaders, talk to your community leaders. Talk, too, with your children, at an age-appropriate level, about abuse, boundaries, bodies. Let them know that no one has the right to do certain things to them, to ask them to keep secrets from you and that if anything happens to them, they need to tell you, you will believe them and you will make it stop. I encourage you to check out and - they are information-rich sites that can help you towards this end. Take an abuse prevention training, online or in-person. Both sites have resources to enable you to take trainings with ease. If you will be in the Boston area on April 10, please contact me at and register to take, for free, the 2.5 hour, award-winning Stewards of Children training. It is the only 3rd party evaluated, evidence-based child sexual abuse prevention training for adults in the U.S. and it was the 2007 Crime Prevention Program of the Year for the National Crime Prevention Council. 2.5 hours, for free - aren't your children worth that?

(seat belt sign courtesy of PhotoBucket HEYxCOURTNEY)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Senator Brown Shares His Story

Senator Scott Brown revealed in an interview to air on "60 Minutes" that he, like 39 million other Americans, was sexually abused as a child. He supported me and my efforts; I support and salute him for sharing his truth with us.You can read my original post about Senator Brown here:

Thank you, Senator.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Have Your Say! has held "listening sessions" in major cities around the U.S., seeking input as it works to create a new uniform Federal Youth Policy to improve education and youth outcomes in this country. I attended the Boston session, where I spoke about requiring evidence-based child abuse prevention trainings to any and all adults working with youth. The session was fascinating, with folks from all over New England speaking about the issues they believed would pave a better path for U.S. youngsters.
FindYouthInfo has a website and is seeking input from all those who wish to contribute. I have included the link where you can not only contribute your thoughts, but also read summaries of the various listening sessions. I encourage you to click on the link and have your say: reiterate your belief that all adults serving youth in the public education community be REQUIRED to be trained in abuse prevention. We know evidence-based training changes peoples attitudes and behaviors and it is readily available with the Stewards of Children training.

The time is NOW to have your say!
I hope you will take a few minutes to help further the cause of abuse prevention and see something so important woven into the fabric of this new policy. Thank you so very much.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Exponential Prevention

One of the best things about what I do is seeing the people I've trained go on to do their own trainings. Tony Calcia, the VP/COO of the Hockomock Area YMCA, is one of those people. Probably one of the most enthusiastic folks I've met along this road, Tony is passionate about getting out there to educate not just his staff and associates, but, also, the public, about how they as adults can keep kids safer. Tony was in one of my very first facilitator trainings in 2010; now he and 2 of his staff, also trained facilitators, are planning their first Stewards of Children training for 60 people. The MA Y's as a whole are in the midst of a child sexual abuse prevention initiative, stemming from events last year in Melrose (you can read more about that here). That initiative is looking beyond MA to, hopefully, involve many Y's across the country. Given the enormous presence and power of Y's in our communities, their ability to effectively organize and engage people, offer education and opportunities for building a better life, their impact on child sexual abuse prevention could be enormous, both within their facilities and in the homes/lives of the people they serve.
I'm honored to have been a part of that effort and I'm excited to see it move forward. Go, Tony and team!