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Greetings, Connections and the Lessons of 2020

“I see you.” “I am here.”

This is the traditional greeting of members of the South African Zulu tribe.

Fundamentally it is what we all need to feel whole. To be seen for who we are and to be known by others allows us to proclaim that we exist, we thrive, that we are here.

Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, believed that our essential driving force was not our egos but the need to belong and feel significant. We are social beings by nature. We derive our sense of purpose and our sense of self from the reflection we see in each other’s eyes.

Adler believed that social interest was critical to individual and societal wellbeing. Children who grow up with strong friendships and family relationships have higher self-esteem, while children who experience trauma (i.e. abuse, abandonment, hatred) lose their capacity for empathy and are at higher risk to become antisocial.

Social isolation is related to increased risk of illness and is a predictor of mortality (Pantell, M, et al.). Social connection provides a safety net for people who live alone not only in terms of practical assistance but also their physical health.

Domestic violence perpetrators know that removing social connections is an effective means of keeping women trapped in abusive relationships. Not only do abused women lose their support systems, they lose the ability to ask for help or even believe they are worthy of it. As Dr. Evan Stark stated in my film, FINDING JENN’S VOICE, “There are tactics that are designed to isolate women from their friends, their family, their co-workers but also their sense of who they are -because we are not just individuals, we’re individuals in relations.”

If 2020 has done anything, it has reinforced how important our connections with each other are. Social isolation has been the hardest part of this year for me. And I’m not alone.

“I see you.” “I am here.”

Last year, social media usage exploded with our need to document our lives and tell the world that we’re still here. That push to connect with others has landed even the fiercest Facebook nay-sayers into an obsessive checking of the app.

Zoom calls have replaced ordinary phone calls. Whereas in the past, we’d schedule a conference call or even pick up the phone to talk to someone, we now find that we need to see the face attached to the voice and show our own (even when it means climbing out of our PJs and putting on make-up).

Grandparents are learning to Facetime with their families, worshiping via Zoom, and embracing, what is for many, a strange new world of technology. My 82-year-old mother is watching YouTube videos on her iPad to learn all the ways she can use her new Apple Watch to stay safe and connected.

“I see you.” “I am here.”

2020 was the reset to our world.

When the pandemic first hit, it was like God put the world on a timeout. “You just sit there and think about what you’ve done!” And for a short time that happened. The air got cleaner. We learned how to bake bread, grow gardens, and revel in the healing of a nice walk in the woods.

But humans by nature don’t like to just sit and think. We are doers.

We found a way to move past the isolation, using our ingenuity to stay connected.

· Computer geniuses brought forth the tools of technology for all so that we could continue to learn, work and connect with each other virtually.

· Scientists dove into the biology of the virus, producing treatments and vaccines in unheard-of time.

· Healthcare workers, hairdressers, restauranteurs, yoga instructors, veterinarians, filmmakers and more found new ways to do what they do responsibly.

· Artists, musicians, writers and creators of all types used their talents to uplift us and remind us of our humanity.

· And most of us took pride in putting public health first (I wear my mask to protect you. You wear your mask to protect me, my mother, your grandfather…)

We found a way forward. We did what we needed to be seen and known. It wasn’t perfect. But it was progress.

There is no doubt that 2020 was awful. Lives were lost. Livelihoods were shattered. Relationships were stressed beyond endurance. Women in abusive relationships became even more vulnerable. The pandemic brought into stark relief all the inequities in our communities. The poor, weak, and disenfranchised became poorer, weaker, and more disenfranchised. Our entire social structure was challenged.

We learned how fragile we are. But we also learned how to survive. Together.

As we look out on 2021, I hope that the lessons we learned about our world, our society and ourselves will guide us through the years to come. And we remember that what happens to one of us, happens to all of us.

Mostly, I hope that we remember to see each other, if only to reaffirm our own existence.

“I see you.” “I am here.”

Tracy Schott, MSW, MS is the creator of Voices4Change.net, director of the award-winning documentary film FINDING JENN’S VOICE, and owner of Schott Productions. Ms. Schott worked as a child and family therapist, specializing in child abuse cases for 15 years before making the unusual career change to film and video production with a goal of creating social change through media.


Let’s Use #Active Voices this Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Intimate Partner Violence is an epidemic that kills more than 4 women each day in the United States and 50,000 each year worldwide. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the stakes have grown even higher, with isolation and stress increasing the risks of homicide. Sadly, this DVAM, the voices of survivors are drowned out by the noise of politics. In this post, Social Worker, Filmmaker and Writer Tracy Schott challenges us to use an #ActiveVoice to change the conversation.

I’m always amazed when people can name all their teachers. I remember one.

Mrs. Schultz was my 5th grade teacher at Northern Area Elementary School. I can still see her all these years later: a tall thin woman with steely blue eyes and gray hair pulled back in a bun. One day, Mrs. Schultz intercepted a note I’d written and passed to my best friend. I expected to be punished, publicly humiliated even. Instead, she quietly took my note, corrected the grammar and told me to re-write it, admonishing me to use the English language properly when I wrote and spoke. She also instructed me to use the active tense.

‘The passive tense is for victims, not heroes!’

Writing in the active tense takes discipline.

Living in the active tense takes courage.

Six years ago, I brought 11 women together while filming my documentary film, Finding Jenn’s Voice. I called these women my heroes. They were all victims of intimate partner homicide attempts. For some of them, this was the first time they had publicly shared their truths, and the truth was devastating:

· Five were brutally physically attacked.

· Four were strangled until they nearly died.

· Three were shot and critically wounded.

· One lost her 2-year old son.

I was recently reminded of my 5th grade lesson from Mrs. Schultz. And as I examine these statements, I realize how easy it is to use the passive voice when describing domestic violence. While these statements are true, they are also incomplete. According Xterra Web, there are 5 instances when the Passive Voice is useful:

1. When it’s irrelevant who performed the action

Really? Why don’t we need to know who committed these atrocities? Where are the perpetrators? What if we put them in front of these statements instead of the victims? How does that change our perception?

· Five men physically attacked their girlfriends and wives with fists and weapons, leaving both physical and emotional scars.

· Four men, needing to control their girlfriends and wives, strangled them to the brink of death.

· Three men pulled the trigger with a handgun in close proximity in an attempt to kill the women they had professed to love.

· One man brutally stabbed to death his own 2-year old son to punish his mother for escaping his abuse.

That’s a little harder to ignore…but there are other more sinister reasons to use the passive tense.

2. When you don’t want to acknowledge responsibility.

By using the passive language, we help perpetrators not to be responsible for their actions. And the sad reality is that most domestic abusers are not held accountable.

· Three of these men went to prison.

· One shot and killed himself.

· The other seven men continue to live their lives, without retribution and without ever acknowledging or taking responsibility for the pain they inflicted on these women.

3. To emphasize an object.

When we put the emphasis on victims, it makes it easier to blame them, dehumanize them, and make them responsible for their perpetrators’ actions. You’ve heard the questions…

What did she say to upset him?

Was she drinking?

Why doesn’t she just leave?

Even the well-meaning term Violence Against Women doesn’t acknowledge the abuser and encourages the focus to be on victims: how can she protect herself, avoid abuse and escape a dangerous situation?

4. To de-emphasize an unknown subject.

By not saying his name, the perpetrator becomes irrelevant to the conversation. As if the abuse can happen without him! The reality is that most of the services, research and data are focused on victims. Not perpetrators. So how do we break the cycle of abuse if we don’t focus on the abusers? Why is it up to the victim to break the cycle?

5. For more formal writing in the third person.

By talking about this subject in the third person, we distance ourselves from the problem and make it easier to forget that 27% of women (more than 1 in 4) will become victims of intimate partner violence in her lifetime. That affects us all!

When we make it personal, we create a narrative that is harder to ignore.

My heroes, the women who shared their stories in Finding Jenn’s Voice, are actively using their voices to change the way we talk about intimate partner violence. They are sharing their experiences, challenging our preconceptions, and asking all of us to stop passively accepting the statistics.

Please support them. The next time you hear, “she was abused, she was raped, she was killed” ask, “who hurt her, who raped her, who killed her?”

This October, while recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let’s use our #ActiveVoices to change the narrative.

#RaiseYourVoice in support of domestic violence survivors!

Tracy Schott, MSW, MS is the creator of Voices4Change.net, director of the award-winning documentary film FINDING JENN’S VOICE, and owner of Schott Productions. Ms. Schott worked as a child and family therapist, specializing in child abuse cases for 15 years before making the unusual career change to film and video production with a goal of creating social change through media. Schott Productions is based in a farmhouse near Reading, Pennsylvania.


Words Matter

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 violence, 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, that number was up 19% from 2014 (Fridel & Fox, 2019). The data tells us that 1 in 4 women will be physically abused by an intimate partner in her lifetime. 1 in 4 women! Think about that. Whether or not we acknowledge it, we all know victims of domestic violence.

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 — 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.


Lessons From The Cage

“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 from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? Copyright © 1983 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, tulips 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 if “estranged from” or have left their abusers. Thirty-three percent of the intimate partner homicide victims in her national study were killed somewhere in the process of leaving 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 — 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.

Tracy Schott, MSW, MS is the creator of Voices4Change.net, director of the award-winning documentary film FINDING JENN’S VOICE, and owner of Schott Productions. Ms. Schott worked as a child and family therapist, specializing in child abuse cases for 15 years before making the unusual career change to film and video production with a goal of creating social change through media. Schott Productions is based in a farmhouse near Reading, Pennsylvania.


Marketing or Creating?

So, one of the things I’ve learned is that when you’re busy and working in film, it’s really hard to find the time to do that “self promotion thing” called marketing. Writing a blog, updating your website, adding new content to your vimeo, youtube and website….takes time.

But in the interest of creating…well… interest in what’s going on in Schott Productions world, here’s a quick rundown:

  • Producer Sue Lange and Director Andrew Pochan are in production on DUST NUGGETS, a  feature film about a band that will take you into that crazy world of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Eric Roberts and Robert Picardo are both appearing in the film. Poster attached!
  • FINDING JENN’S VOICE continues to show its relevance. Just back from the Conference on Crimes Against Women in Dallas, prepping for an appearance at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference, getting ready to release a police training program, and working on a digital platform for the film.
  • In preproduction on FROM THE RIVER,  a documentary on the history of Reading and Berks County.
  • In development on BLACKOUT GIRL, another documentary examining the intersection of sexual assault and addiction, featuring Jennifer Storm, and directed by Sylvia Caminer, who by the way just won an Emmy.
  • And LE BON CHEF… a dramedy penned by Sue and Tracy – seeking investors!

 

Dust Nuggets Poster - Updated


What’s New at Schott Productions?

It’s been quite a while since we posted anything… so here’s quick update (i.e. excuse as to why we’re so poor at self-marketing!) We’ve been kind of busy:

  • FINDING JENN’S VOICE – our award winning documentary film about Intimate Partner homicide has been very well received by professional audiences everywhere, who just love to bring Tracy to their conferences and educational events…so she’s been on the road a bit, dividing her time as a filmmaker/social worker!
  • We have 2 new documentaries in development – BLACKOUT GIRL (with author Jennifer Storm) on the relationship between trauma and addiction; and a cool project on the history of Reading and Berks County PA (actually started shooting this one!)
  • We recently shot FRANKLIN STREET STATION – a pilot for a television show created by Santo Marabella and directed by Tracy
  • We’re in development on another television project (a dramedy of sorts) called LE BON CHEF, which Tracy is co-writing with Sue Lange.
  • There are a number of commercial and corporate projects in house (that actually pay the bills!)
  • AND Tracy is the Creative Director of ReadingFilmFEST for the 4th year…IMG_9123

 


Finding Jenn’s Voice Educational DVDs Available!

FJVposter

We’re happy to announce that DVDs for educational screenings are now available. The DVDs include the full film, plus extra content not previously seen. Additionally, you’ll gain access to online content to help your organization discuss the film and gain insight into the issues of intimate partner homicide, intimate partner violence and the risks of pregnancy.

Click here to learn more!


Contact Us

800.995.5963

info@schottproductions.com

Schott Productions
" ... finding and sharing the stories of our lives that matter"