Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Let Santa Forget Christmas for Children of Domestic Violence Victims

As you get ready for your yearly Black Friday shopping craze, take a moment to remember to include some kids on your list that Santa might not be able to give to this Christmas.

When women leave abusive partners, oftentimes they leave with nothing. When these women have children, the children often face a very difficult and emotionally draining transition.

This year many children will not have a Christmas. Many of these will be survivors or children of survivors of domestic violence. This year, make a difference in the lives of these children by giving, no matter how small the gesture may be, to a local toy drive or women’s shelter.

If you live in or near New York City, Safe Horizon needs your help. As the largest victim’s support and assistance non-profit organization in the United States with more than 80 programs for victims and their families, the center acts as a beacon for hope for many NYC women and children in crisis.

This year Safe Horizon needs you to step up for the kids by donating a new unwrapped toy for children who may not have more than just the clothes on their backs. For suggestions on what to donate, check out the Safe Horizon website.

Safe Horizon is accepting toys at 2 Lafayette Street in Manhattan until December 15.

If you would be interested in donating to Safe Horizon and live close to the NYC metro area, I’d love have you at an informal “Shop & Drop” event on December 12. This event is not associated with the non-profit - just a few locals getting togeter to buy for the kids and donate. Email me at miravu [dot] web [at] gmail [dot] com for more details.

A Cold, Hard Reality

Robyn Mendes, 49, was a mother of 3 children. Ms. Mendes was stabbed to death on January 3, 2009, by her daughter’s father, Gary Gomes who also murdered his mother, Katherine Gomes, 61, the next day.

Luz Forty, 38, was a mother of 4 children, 3 daughters and 1 son, ages 16 to 20. Ms. Forty was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Mario Gonzalez, on February 14, 2009.

Tiana Notice, 25, was a young women with her life ahead of her. Ms. Notice was allegedly stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend, James Carter, on February 16, 2009.

Penha Quiterio, 67, was a mother of 1 adult son. Ms. Quiterio was shot to death by her husband, Armelin Quiterio, on March 12, 2009.

Maryse Antoine, 46, was a mother to a 3-year-old daughter and an 18-year old son. Ms. Antoine was allegedly strangled to death by her boyfriend, Souleymane Yacouba-Issa on March 22, 2009.

Silvia Rosa, 44, was a mother of two children married for 20 years to a man with no history of domestic violence. Mrs. Rosa was stabbed to death by her husband, Mizael Rosa, on March 26, 2009.

Linda Auger was a mother of 4 children. Ms. Auger was stabbed to death by her boyfriend on April 29, 2009.

Yuliya Galpernia, 42, was a mother of two children and nine months pregnant with her third child. Ms. Galpernia and her unborn child were allegedly stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Peter Ronchi, on May 16, 2009.

Rebecca Moulton, 27, was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Ms. Moulton was allegedly beaten to death by her boyfriend, David Vincent III, a man with an established history of domestic violence, on June 4, 2009.

Ana Cruz, 39, was a mother of four children and a grandmother of four children. Ms. Cruz was allegedly murdered by stabbing and smoke inhalation by her husband, Benjamin Sanchez on July 12, 2009.

Mary Beaton, 33, was a mother of an 11-year-old daughter. Ms. Beaton was strangled and suffocated to death by her boyfriend, Joseph Beatty, on August 28, 2009.

Giselle Rodriguez, 23, was a student at Fitchburg State College. Ms. Rodriguez was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Alexander Skowran, on September 21, 2009, just days before he was due to appear in court for proceedings related to a restraining order.

According to Jane Doe, Inc., these are the names of the women who have been murdered from January 1, 2009 through September 21, 2009, from the State of Massachusetts alone. This list does not represent the women across the United States and around the world who have lost their lives at the hands of abusers. This list does not include the children who have died as a result of abuse in the home.

One abusive one too many.

Who replaces the void created in the world when these lives are so violently and senselessly ripped away? Who speaks for the children who have lost their mothers or for the women who can never again speak for themselves?

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Have you spoken today?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yet Another Reason Why I'll Never Live in Belgium Again

The US Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, released an alert today warning Americans abroad of a foiled terrorist plot in Europe’s capital. An incendiary device was found near the vehicle of a member of the foreign diplomatic corps. Thankfully, despite the involvement of the wholly inadequate Belgian Federal Police, the device was removed safely.

Last December Belgium gained the world’s attention following the arrest of 14 terror suspects in Brussels and neighboring city Liege who were allegedly plotting an attack on a European Summit to be held in the capital city.

If you’ve spent a significant amount of time in Brussels, you’re probably used to the often subway disruptions for Schumann, the Metro stop directly below the European Commission. You’ve probably been witness to the various demonstrations that take place from time to time from activist groups. You're probably more than used to the uncomfortable interactions between nationalities, especially that between the Arab community and the European natives. The city is rife with tension.

Despite the importance that Brussels holds in acting as the center of European government, the news this morning neglected to even mention this latest attempted act of terrorism. Then again, despite all of the demonstrations and shady activities I’ve witnessed in the European capital, the only incident I’ve ever seen on the news was that which involved the arrest around the European Summit in 2008.

Is the lack of coverage a result of selective or stifled media coverage? Who knows, but back in the days of real, investigative journalism, one might think it would be interesting to cover terrorist groups plotting attacks in the capitals of industrialized countries.

Just one more reason why I’m glad to be State-side again - media sensationalism in the US would have this blasted all over every channel, on every show, in every paper.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Today’s Winner of the Most Ridiculous Use of Green Marketing Claims: CVS’ Greenbagtag

I couldn’t help myself being drawn into a curious, dumbfounded haze this evening while making my weekly after-work-chocolate-fix purchase at my local CVS Pharmacy. Fixated on the overflowing rack of green and brown paper with a bright green leaf, I stared in disbelief trying to make sense of how this Green Bag Tag is "green" in any sense of the word.

How does it work?

For 99 cents, shoppers can purchase this plastic “green bag tag” to hang from their reusable grocery bags and scan at the register to claim a reward dollar on every 4th visit to the store. So, for $1, you, the shopper, is paying to be rewarded for continuing to shop at CVS.

What makes this product “green”?

Absolutely nothing.

This tag, while doing little more than promoting shopping with CVS, is sold on a paper card and is made of plastic. Kudos for using recycled paper for the packaging, but is this tag even necessary? Considering that the CVS rewards program is already done electronically, is it really necessary to add to the waste stream and to add to the pollution muddying our air through the production of unnecessary no-value-added plastic? Do consumers really need two rewards cards from CVS?

Even if it promotes the use of reusable shopping bags, is it useful? Will consumers even remember to attach their CVS Green Bag Tag to their reusable shopping bags and then remember to bring it to the store?

Assuming the consumer actually remembers to use the tag and brings it with them to the store, how many would actually redeem and then use the reward dollars, which are of course only redeemable at CVS?

Great marketing strategy CVS! Get your customers to buy into a product that can only be used when shopping in your store. Set it apart from their current rewards program so that they will forget to use it. And, don’t forget to call it something politically savvy like “green.”

I love saving money. I love (nearly) everything green. But, I can’t bring myself to look at this product without a whopping, “HUH??”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blog for Your Mother

Add your voice to raise awareness on violence against women by making a commitment to blog on November 25, the United Nation‘s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women kicks off 16 Days of Activism, spearheaded by Rutger’s University Center for Women’s Global Leadership and the UNFPA, to raise awareness and promote activism in ending gender violence.

The 16 Days campaign begun with CWGL as a statement in linking November 25 with International Human Rights Day on December 10 in order to drive home the message that violence against women is a global human rights issue.

The UNFPA identifies 16 forms of gender violence:
1 - Sexual violence as a weapon of war
2 - Prenatal gender selection
3 - Female genital mutilation
4 - Date rape
5 - Bride Burning or other dowry-related violence
6 - Child marriage
7 - Human trafficking
8 - Domestic violence
9 - Crimes committed in the name of passion or honor
10 - Abduction of children and adolescent girls during war or combat
11 - Bride kidnapping
12 - Sexual harassment at work
13 - Physical or emotional violence by an intimate partner
14 - Exploitation of domestic workers
15 - Femicide
16 - Forced sterilization and other coercive reproductive practices

On November 25, join the Blogger’s Unite community in speaking out about violence perpetrated on our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and global neighbors. Take a stand by making a commitment to post a blog entry on one of the many forms of violence against women.

More details on the blogging event are available at the Bloggers Unite website.

Rutgers University Center for Global Women’s Leadership - 16 Days of Activism
UNFPA - 16 Days of Activism

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

6 Months to May

Firey Flower, Courtesy of Artie Fiorno, all rights reserved

Just a passing thought...wishing it were Spring as the trees begin to dwindle into a barren Winter...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leave the B*st*rd: Summoning the Courage, Utilizing Resources to Leave an Abuser

When I was debating whether to leave Youssef, we were living in a country where I was not a citizen, where my ability to communicate was restricted by my less than fluent understanding of the language, and where I had little knowledge of or access to resources to help me. Money was tight, every hour of my day was controlled, and he held all of the cards.

What prompted me to plan an out? Several important things converged. He gave me a really terrible beating. A friend reached out to me. My mother sensed something on the phone. I began to have problems with my visa. I read something that shook me.

Domestic abuse escalates - emotional abuse to physical abuse to sexual abuse. Once the abuser has mastered the first three, what’s left? There is only one place the violence can escalate from there. I was terrified that he was going to kill me.

If you are in an abusive relationship, reach out for help. Take a look at the links in the bottom of the post for some helpful resources and consider some (non-professional, personal) advice below:

Make a plan.
Keep it secret. Do not tell him you’re leaving him. Do not tell your friends. Do not let him know in any way that you are planning to leave. Abusers often escalate when they are afraid of losing their victims. Keep yourself safe by keeping your plans secret.

Cover your tracks.
If you have visited websites geared specifically at domestic violence resources, delete internet cookies and the browsing history for the relevant pages each time that you are finished using the computer and never view these sites when he is at home with you.

Take almost nothing with you. The more you pack, the more noise you make, the more dust you disturb, the easier it would be for the abuser to sense your plan.

If you’re an expat or living out of the country, contact the local U.S. Embassy once you leave. Just like in cities across the US, different countries have different track records with removing abusers from the home and protecting the abused. The only difference here is that if you’re not a citizen you technically do not have rights. Do not trust that just calling the local police will resolve the legal issue or offer any sort of protection.

If possible, go somewhere that will make it difficult for you to return. For example, leaving Belgium while I was in the middle of resolving my residence permit meant that legally I could not reenter the country without applying for a visa. This happy accident was immensely helpful in keeping me from making the mistake of returning to him.

Reach out for support.
If you haven’t already done so, contact a women’s support group that specializes in finding housing solutions for victims of domestic violence in crisis. Memorize the emergency number of a local women’s shelter. Call the shelter. If that does not work, call the police or the rape or women’s crisis center at a hospital, if you’re outside of the country, get to the Embassy. You will not sleep on the street.

Reach out for more support.
Follow up on counseling to help you deal with and process the emotional trauma that you experienced. Here’s the cliché…healing takes time. It will be difficult. You may feel like the world has ended. You may suffer from depression or panic attacks. You may feel completely and utterly confused wondering why you still love someone so horrible. You may want to go back. You are going to need to invest real time and real effort in healing.

Start living again.
Ok, so it’s not that easy, but it sure does sound nice…

Important Resources
National Domestic Violence Hotline
United States Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women
International Hotlines
US Embassies

Mini-Guide: Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

When I came back from Brussels, desperately aware of my personal financial crisis, jobless in a stifled job market, I scoured the internet searching for an opportunity, any opportunity, to make money. After a little trial and error, intense research, more trial and error, followed by frustration, I found a wealth of opportunity, surprisingly easy to infiltrate, right at the tip of my fingers. All it took was looking in the right places.

One word to the wise on finding work online: be careful of the gimmicks. Never, ever pay to work.

I’ve summarized below some of the sites that I’ve used over the last few months with links to a few of my favorites.

Demand Studios
Hands-down the best online freelancing opportunity is with Demand Studios, DS as we writers lovingly call it. While DS has one of the most stringent sets of standards for writers and editors, it is clearly worth the application process. With consistent work and on-time payments at a fair rate, Demand Studios is a great place for a serious online SEO content writer to work.

Constant Content
Another amazing website to work for, Constant Content, allows freelancers the freedom to choose what they want to write, and, even better, set the price for their work. The site has editorial standards and a very supportive community of writers.

Associated Content
AC, a slightly controversial website, pays less than Demand Studios and has little editorial oversight on the quality of its content than DS and CC. Did I also mention that it pays less? AC pays primarily based on a revenue share model, meaning that you get most of your revenue from the number of clicks your articles receive, which can be very frustrating if you're new to the site. However, Associated Content allows a lot more freedom in terms of the types of content that the site will post.

Other revenue share sites include: HubPages, Suite101, Helium

Freelance Marketplaces
There are also several freelance marketplaces that allow writers to bid on projects. Typically, these sites require quite a bit of time to develop a reputation and bid on projects. Also, because the pool of freelancers is so large, with workers around the world bidding on the same projects, the pay through these sites is typically less than adequate. The other downside to online freelance websites is that many times, in order to get a payout, the worker loses money in payment processing.

Some of the freelance sites are: Elance, RentACoder, Guru

Blogging and Website Development
Using Adsense to monetize a self-hosted blog or on a free blog hosting site like Blogger is also an option to generate money online. While the Adsense pay is typically much less, for the most, part than actively writing for DS, AC or CC, blogs feel a lot less like work and a lot more creatively malleable.

For self-hosted sites, affiliate marketing links and advertisements are also options. While many serious online workers, swear by website development and blogging as revenue streams, for the freelancer who is more of a writer than a web developer, the learning curve is a bit steep, not to mention the time investment for a financial return is a bit difficult to manage when finances are tight.

A Million Options
There are a multitude of freelance options online, many more than can be summarized in one blog post. If you’re just starting out, take advantage of learning from the structure that editorially mediated sites, like Demand Studios or Constant Content, offer before stepping out into some of the more fluid, time-intensive options. Once you get your feet wet, you’ll quickly find, that the web has a lot more not-so-secret hidden opportunities than you thought.

Good luck in your online endeavors!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Jaunt Sans Style - Continental Flight 787 Newark to Orange County

Two words Continental - What happened?

As a former super-trekker, I’ve flown nearly every major [and minor] airline. Tonight was the first in more than six months that I’ve boarded a flight, and, wow, a lot has changed.

If you haven’t heard the news yet, Continental is no longer a part of The Sky Team Alliance, which includes partnerships with Delta Airlines, Air France, Alitalia and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to name a few. Now a part of the Star Alliance , famous for its partnership with US Airways, Continental has moved its entire loyalty program, including all of its members. This is unfortunate news to those of us who leverage our Delta Skymiles for free travel on Continental.

Had I known this, I would not have inched my way to the back boarding line in bewilderment realizing that I no longer had my super-special frequent flyer privileges. I also would have probably booked another flight. Feeling out in the cold with a major shift in my consumer status with an airline with whom I’ve done a lot of business, I boarded my flight to Orange County, head hung low, inch by inch as the endless line of non-Continental members slowly shuffled onto the plane.

As you can imagine, Newark to Orange County is a fairly long flight, just under 6 hours. So, I’m sure you can understand my amazement when I saw the amenities the plane had to offer. Flying a 737-800, Flight 787 was scheduled to run with a small plane designed more for regional travel than for transcontinental treks. To make it more unbearable, the plane was not equipped with televisions (as the Continental website promised). So, with no in-flight movie or any other form of entertainment, we began our 6 hour flight in a plane designed to make the masses feel more like sardines neatly tucked into a rectangular can than valued customers.

My lack of super-duper-elite-member status explains the amazing seat assignment I was given on the flight, last row directly adjacent to the restroom and the food preparation area, an odd combination of functional spaces. As the flight drew on in its first hour, the smell of convection oven factory-farm burgers-in-a-bag and blue nastiness from the toilet began to mount an attack on my eyes and nostrils with its insidious potency.

Of course the flight would not be complete without a medical emergency, Directly to my left, as I was typing my review of the disgusting odors of the rear of the plane, a man exited the restroom by way of gravity. Falling just to the left of my leg, the man, so swaggerly dressed in slightly smallish sweatpants and a t-shirt, groggily grumbled himself into a complete loss of consciousness.

Kudos to the crew for their quick attention as they proceeded to give the man oxygen and called for a doctor on board. With a self-proclaimed doctor monitoring the man‘s pulse and an oxygen tank installed over his mouth, I was asked to move to another seat, closer to the coughing children, while the crew debated whether to request an early landing for a medical emergency. Instead of landing, the afflicted man was propped up directly behind me in my former seat with an oxygen bag covering his face.

As the flight drew on, at about half-way through, the crew begins its meal run distributing trays of factory-farmed, processed-beyond-recognition-almost-food in neat, orderly boxes organized by subunit. As well as this flight was going, hope that my meal request was actually going to be honored, waned and faded into oblivion. As the second to last row, the only option available was factory-farmed cow with a side of lettuce that the airline passed off as salad. The flight attendant rolled her eyes when I explained that I had a special request and left never to return. I notified another member of the crew that my vegetarian meal was missing and he followed up by offering to give me more lettuce, not salad, just lettuce. So, I pushed the 2 inch by 3 inch by 1 inch container of lettuce back at him. His remedy? Hard rolls from first class and a packet of [non-vegan] cookies. Ugh.

As a bizarre twist, the non-vegan cookies, Brussels by Pepperidge Farm, just go to show how very bizarre my luck really is. See previous blog post

Serendipitous Reunions

So, here I am staring at it. The remnants of pre-cellular communication at Gate C72 at the Newark Airport where I poured nearly all the change I had into a pay phone to let my Mother know that I landed safely back in the States. I didn’t expect to see that today.

When I left Youssef earlier that morning I had nearly nothing, just a suitcase, a few Euros and a plane ticket home. No cell phone, no US Dollars, no job. I had no idea what I was going to do. I spent most of the time in the Brussels Airport and on the plane crying. When I landed in Newark, I was so numb and empty and alone.

I exchanged my few Euros for Dollars at the currency exchange in Terminal C and went looking for a phone before my connecting flight. Lugging my heavy, overstuffed bag across the terminal, I came to the first phones that I could find. I called home to hear my Mother’s voice crying with joy, elated that I made it.

Several months later I’m sitting at the same Gate, staring at the same pay phone that announced my entry into safety. This time, however, I’m here in a different capacity, from victim of domestic abuse fleeing from her abuser to businesswoman hopping a late afternoon flight to Orange County, California. What a contrast!

So today, am I still broken and lost and confused? Absolutely. Do I still want to cry? Do I still have panic attacks? Do I want to jump out of my skin and scream demanding an answer for what he did to me? Absolutely. Would I ever go back? Never.

If you’re involved with someone who hurts, scares, humiliates or belittles you, stop waiting and just leave. Don’t tell him that you’re leaving. Don’t take everything with you. Don’t second guess yourself or worry about your job. Don’t even tell your friends. Just leave.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Getting Started...What Is This Blog All About?

Last November, I stepped off a plane in Brussels, Belgium, for what I thought would be the path to the rest of my life, which of course revolved around a tall, dark and handsome mystery man. After six months, I realized how deep a mistake that life-changing event was.

Had that been the only major mistake I’ve made in my life, this blog would probably be focused solely on domestic violence. Unfortunately, in my human “I-know-what-I’m-doing” approach to disaster combined with the most bizarre luck on the planet, I have mistakes-a-plenty.

So, what is this blog all about? It’s partly a sounding board for the personal perspectives of a woman facing unique challenges in rebuilding her life. More than that, I hope that this medium will become a useful collection of resources on how to face challenges impacting many of us, from women’s issues to career development to dating mishaps.

Thank you for reading and interacting with this blog!