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January 28

Honor your Journey – January, 2018

Sharing my story to help end passing the trash

I’ve been sharing my very personal story of abuse in a very public way for almost fourteen years now. When I began my public speaking career, I was laser-focused on educating as many people as humanly possible. I read every article, contacted every school where an abuse case had just been publicized, and wrote countless posts and blogs with the intention of raising awareness. I couldn’t get enough, and I was determined to spend the rest of my days doing all I could to stomp out educator sexual abuse. It became a vital part of my identity.

More recently, I started to notice a shift inside of me. Initially, it was hard to identify. As I began to honor this shift and listen to my mind and body, I recognized some troubling signs. I was getting numb. I was experiencing fatigue. Abuse stories were the norm everywhere I turned. I erroneously assumed everyone had an abuse history. I was tired!

When the reality of my changing viewpoints became illuminated, a wave of panic ensued. I had come to cherish that part of my identity that was the advocate, the truth-teller, the silence breaker… what would it mean if I didn’t follow the same fiery path? Would I become a disappointment to others? Would children be more at-risk if my voice quieted down? Confusion and doubt plagued me.

I started making a few changes in my daily routines which included pairing down my exposure to abuse-related social media. My work focus shifted from sexual abuse to teaching cute little kids how to swim. Intense training for a half Ironman morphed into practicing gentle yoga, meditation, and Reiki.

I needed self-care! Fourteen years of my life had been devoted to a really intense topic, and it had taken its toll. Balance was needed. What surprised me was that the more love I gave to this balance, the more renewed love I had for my advocacy work.

I felt compelled to write about this after a particularly difficult week. The US gymnastics team’s medical doctor was just sentenced for sexually abusing more than 150 athletes. Something in me became unhinged watching impact statement after impact statement being read by those incredibly brave, strong women. I got triggered – something that doesn’t happen to me nearly as often as in my past. And I got angry with myself for getting triggered. So back to social media I went –  posting, sharing, venting, etc. I noticed that many other survivors and activists were struggling with the news, too.

In case you don’t have an understanding of what the impact of triggering can look like for a survivor of sexual abuse, here’s an honest example. My husband and I were being intimate, and Larry Nassar’s face kept popping into my head. I kept picturing what he actually did to those girls, which led me to remembering what my abuser did to me. It’s pretty tough to stay present in the moment with your loved one when your mind floats to a past that was less than pleasant.

What makes me happy is knowing what to do next. This was a clear sign to me that I need to step back a bit. Does it mean that I have failed? Hell no! If I get triggered once in a while, have I made no progress on my healing journey? Absolutely not. Healing is not linear. I liken it to a spiral staircase. We may revisit the same issues, but we’re on a different level.

Perhaps getting overwhelmed helps to remind me what survivors who are new to this whole life-after-trauma thing go through on a regular basis. It’s strangely and joyfully hard to remember sometimes how much of a mess it all can be in the beginning.

So, I will continue to speak out, train, educate, collaborate, encourage, and celebrate survivors’ victories. I will also listen to my body, practice self-care, and watch cute puppy videos when I need to. I’m destined to screw it all up from time to time. And that is really okay.

Bottom line: Honor your journey, whether you’re just starting out or well on your way. And if you stray from your healing path, the good news is it will be right there waiting for your return.

 

 

 

 

 

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September 14

The Dr. Oz show, September, 2017

Relief showing in my face here! Dr. Oz - what a warm and compassionate man he truly is.

Relief showing in my face here! Dr. Oz – what a warm and compassionate man he truly is.

On September 12, I had the humbling opportunity to tape a segment on the Dr. Oz show in New York City. I was asked to share my story of educator sexual abuse with Dr. Oz and his viewers.

I don’t think when I accepted the opportunity that I knew quite what I was getting myself into. We were bracing for hurricane Irma here in Florida, so I was in serious hurricane prep mode. As I flew away from my loved ones, I said lots of prayers for their safety. It was tough being away from everyone with such uncertainty of the huge approaching storm. But I knew an opportunity to raise awareness on this scale doesn’t come along every day. My heart knew where I needed to be.

When you watch a show like the Dr. Oz Show, it’s pretty tough to realize how much effort goes into its production. I had no idea just how large a team is involved in pulling off a TV show in this day and age. I talked with one of the show’s producers for several days prior to the taping. She was fantastic to work with in so many ways. She prepped me; she encouraged me; she validated me; she reassured me. The effort and care she put into each phone call, text, and email with me was impressive. Leave it to NYC women – they rock!

The morning of the taping was intense and surreal at times. I can’t even remember how many staff members I met. One thing they all had in common was clear – care. They all cared – about me, about the quality of the show, and about each other. There was a special energy in this studio that was heart-warming. I’m so pleased I got to experience that.

Honestly, I was so caught up in the energy from the first phone call through walking to the back stage, that I hadn’t really absorbed what I was about to do. And then the show began. And it all hit me at once. I stood watching a monitor as the panel was talking with Dr. Oz. I was surprised with some of the thoughts swirling through my head: Wow, who is going to see this? Is Mr. Baker going to see this? Am I safe? Am I crazy for telling the world my story?

I was watching the panel speak and waiting for my interview. So many thoughts were swirling in my head at this moment.

I was watching the panel speak and waiting for my interview. So many thoughts were swirling in my head at this moment.

It always astounds me that after 13 years of public speaking, writing a book, and providing interviews with various outlets that I can still have these thoughts! One would think that I’ve got it down pat by now, nothing to sweat. I suppose I want to share with others the dark thoughts that can still taunt me. Speaking your truth is not always easy. But it’s always, ALWAYS important. I guess I’m sort of grateful that I can still “freak out” before an interview or presentation. It reminds me of just how much these words need to be told and, more importantly, need to be heard. I’m just grateful that the years of practice in sharing my story have provided me with the gifts of coping skills for the little “freak-out sessions.” I can recognize them, respect them, and let them go. I want to offer that to anyone reading this who fears speaking his/her truth. Just because you may shake or cry and panic speaking your truth does not in any way diminish how profoundly beautiful your action is! Embrace it all – good, bad, and ugly. You will get through it, and it will get easier.

The interview went well. Dr. Oz was so great to work with. It was a bit hard for me to focus initially. Here I was, sitting across from a man I have seen on television for many, many years. There were monitors, bright lights, staff and crew running around, and a live audience. I just kept focusing on my breathing throughout the interview to keep me grounded, and it seemed to help me quite a bit. When our interview was finished, I was able to exchange handshakes and hugs with Dr. Oz, the entire panel, and all the supervisors. It felt as though everyone was on that stage together for this show.

The air date for the show is Thursday, October 5th. You can go to doctoroz.com and click on the tab “check listing” for exact time and channel information. I hope this show enlightens viewers on warning signs to look for in abusive teachers and the importance of speaking out. As I have always maintained, the vast majority of teachers are incredible and would never harm a child. Let’s empower all these wonderful folks on what to look for in the abusive ones and help keep our kids safe.

Dr. Oz show panel. What a great experience.

Dr. Oz show panel. What a great experience.

So honored to receive this opportunity

So honored to receive this opportunity

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December 9

Interview on Norwood Digest with Jack McCarthy – November, 2015

Last month I had the opportunity to speak with Jack McCarthy on his cable show, Norwood Digest. We discussed the issues of educator sexual abuse, grooming, warning signs, prevention education, and much more. It was very powerful for me to come back to my home town and share my story in this way. Jack made this experience a very positive one, and I’m so thankful he helped raise awareness. As always, please share if you think others can benefit from watching this.

Click here for Norwood Digest interview

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November 11

WCVB Editorial

Well, I find myself a very fortunate person this week. It seems that WCVB channel 5 feels as passionate as I do to raise awareness about educator abuse. Since my interview with channel 5 aired last week, the station has continued to air the segment every day through Monday. Sunday morning, the General Manager of WCVB, Bill Fine, created an editorial addressing the age of consent, and he included parts of my interview. I am grateful for this assistance in magnifying my voice in this march toward justice and safety for children. If you feel so inclined, please share this video. You never know who it may help. Thank you!

Click here for editorial

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August 22

Work to be done

I watched a story from my home state of Massachusetts today, and my heart grew heavy. Karen Anderson from Channel 5 in Boston investigated teachers’ licenses being revoked in the past 5 years. What she found was 142 educators had their licenses revoked, and over half (78) were due to sexual misconduct. This equates to an average of 15 teachers per year.

Many important points were addressed in this story. Massachusetts, right along with many other states, need laws in place such as the SESAME Act, where background checks are more stringent, passing the trash is forbidden, and criminal charges are possible regardless of the victim’s age. The teacher who abused me groomed me for two years. Just a few short weeks after my 16th birthday, he kissed me. The minute I turned 18 (while I was still a senior in high school) he committed an act that turns my stomach to this day. My point is, a student is vulnerable regardless of what age the government determines a teenager can consent to having sex. There is a boundary between student and teacher that absolutely should not be crossed, and age and gender should be irrelevant.

Click here for the 5 Investigates story

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August 10

KidSafe Foundation expands into Orlando, Florida

I’ve been waiting months for this announcement! I am so excited to be heading up this expansion. More children are going to learn how to keep themselves safe – a dream come true for me:
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

KidSafe Foundation Expands To Orlando, Florida

August 10, 2015– The KidSafe Foundation is proud to announce the opening of their new office in Orlando, Florida.  Since 2009, KidSafe’s mission has been to make sure every child receives sexual abuse prevention programming and every adult is taught to be the first line of defense in a child’s safety. In Palm Beach and Broward Counties KidSafe has educated over 45,000 children and more than 18,000 adults. Research shows that 95% of abuse and exploitation of children is preventable through education. KidSafe believes that all children deserve a voice and to learn how to keep themselves safe, and every adult deserves to learn how best to protect their children. 

To further its mission to prevent child sexual abuse, bullying and internet dangers, KidSafe Foundation is expanding to Orlando, Florida. “The statistics regarding child sexual abuse are staggering. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually exploited before the age of 18. We are thrilled to expand to Orlando and be able to make an even greater impact in protecting children.” said Sally Berenzweig, MEd, MA Cofounder & Executive Director of KidSafe Foundation.

This new expansion marks the third KidSafe location in Florida. Andrea Clemens, MSW, author, public speaker, activist and KidSafe Certified Trainer, will head the new office.  Ms. Clemens adds “I am thrilled to bring the KidSafe programs into Central Florida. There is no denying that there is a growing need for prevention education for our children, parents and teachers. I am excited that the Orlando community will now be empowered, find their voices, and have the opportunity for children to live safer lives – free from abuse.” For more information, please call 855-844-SAFE (7233) or contact Andrea Clemens by email at: Andrea@kidsafefoundation.org

About Andrea Clemens

Andrea received her master’s degree in clinical social work from Boston University and has been educating school faculty, students, administrators, parenting groups, mentors, and the general public about educator sexual abuse for over ten years. She is the author of Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Educator Sexual Abuse. Andrea has participated in both local and national radio and television shows, including the Montel Williams Show and Fox News Live.  

 

About KidSafe Foundation

KidSafe is a 501c3 nonprofit founded in 2009 by Sally Berenzweig MEd, MA and Cherie Benjoseph LCSW – child safety experts, mental health professionals, educators, authors, public speakers, and moms on a mission to keep all children safe from child sexual abuse, bullying and internet dangers.  KidSafe has taught over 40,000 children and has educated over 15,000 adults in sexual abuse prevention, internet dangers and bullying prevention programs. For more information about KidSafe Foundation, visit www.KidSafeFoundation.org

 

Contact: Sally Berenzweig – Cofounder & Executive Director KidSafe Foundation

Sallyb@kidsafefoundation.org

561-715-1077

kidsafelogo

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July 7

Bill Cosby – July, 2015

Word is spreading like wildfire today that in 2005, Bill Cosby admitted to purchasing Quaaludes with the intention of drugging women with whom he wished to have sex .

I am writing this today, not to speculate on his guilt or innocence, but instead to address a critical dynamic. When multiple rape allegations against Mr. Cosby arose a year or two ago, I had  conversations with various people who insisted that the accusers were fabricating their stories. So many people were incredulous that our dear, old Mr. Huxtable was capable of committing these heinous crimes against women. I often would question their disbelief, and I would be met with reasoning that perpetuated myths across the board.

“Why would he ever do something like that? He’s a nice guy.”

“Those women are just out looking for money or their 15 minutes of fame.”

“If it really happened, why did they wait so long to come forward?”

“Bill Cosby is one of the biggest entertainers out there. No way.”

Suddenly today I’m watching people with their mouths agape, shaking their heads, and waking up to the possibility that yes, Bill Cosby could possibly have raped women. Dozens of them.

Predators have no one profile. They have no singular race, gender, or socioeconomic status. People still tend to believe that a predator looks like a monster. Quite the contrary; the majority of the time, predators are charismatic, manipulative people , often holding positions of power.

Many times victims are blamed, are not believed, or are scorned for speaking their truths. What a cruel world we live in – to perpetuate a silence that can undoubtedly damage a victim’s very soul. I suppose if we start believing all the victims of sexual crimes in the world, the accountability that would need to be constructed would require a  major overhaul with  many systems.

I do not know if Bill Cosby is guilty or innocent of these crimes. What I do know is that we have a lot of work to do to educate people on sexual violence, predators, and victim advocacy. We all need to speak up about what’s right and look out for each other. That may be a start…

 

 

 

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