all things social work

CSA: Boy Scouts’ banned sex abusers posted online

By Carl Prine and Andrew Conte

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 9:48 p.m.
Updated 14 hours ago

Long kept secret by the Boy Scouts of America, the names of nearly 1,900 volunteers banned by the organization for alleged sexual abuse is now online, and it includes 21 Western Pennsylvania men — most of them accused of molesting kids in their care between 1968 and 1991.

Their identities were culled from stacks of cases termed the “Perversion Files” by the Scouts and were released publicly on Monday by Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, a civil litigator who has lawsuits against the Scouts and other institutions accused of fostering a culture of child sexual abuse.

Scouring the rolls, the Tribune-Review counted 88 adult male volunteers across Pennsylvania banished by the Scouts. In Western Pennsylvania, 21 men tied to 23 troops from 1974 to 1991 were placed on the worldwide ban, including five former Scout leaders in Pittsburgh and one each in Arnold, Wilmerding, Butler, McKees Rocks and Duquesne.

Following a recent Oregon Supreme Court decree, the Portland firm of O’Donnell Clark & Crew plans on Oct. 18 to release tens of thousands of redacted pages from the same files, forcing communities nationwide to confront a legacy of alleged molestation covered up by one of America’s most trusted institutions.

“I intended for this to be used by victims and their families as a useful key, a guidepost, for understanding the thousands of documents that are going to be released,” Kosnoff said.

“The irony is that the Boy Scouts of America is a well-organized machine that’s more like a modern corporation than many people realize,” he added. “It documented these cases and retained these files. And they did that for 100 years, perhaps compiling more than 20,000 files against individuals.”

Local Scout leaders refused to comment on the latest round of disclosures, referring Tribune-Review inquiries to officials at the organization’s Dallas headquarters who did not return messages. In the past, officials there have insisted that they’ve reformed antiquated rules for combating the abuse of children, making scouting safer than ever before.

The “Perversion” dossier was intended to serve both as a formal blacklist of suspected sex criminals and as a means to block the accused volunteers from suing the Scouts for violating their due process rights. But in recent years the catalog of alleged violators has aided lawsuits charging the organization with tolerating the abuse of thousands of children in order to protect its institutional reputation.

“The files show that the focus wasn’t on the victims,” Kosnoff said. “People can see with their own eyes the patterns and the scope of the problem in the organization that made this abuse possible.”

Three Western Pennsylvania troops reported multiple allegations of misconduct, a Trib review of the documents shows. Pittsburgh Troop 527, for example, triggered complaints against four volunteers from 1989 to 1991. They included Samuel “Tiny” Nugent, 63, of Erie, banned by the Scouts in 1989 and convicted two years later of molestation.

He’s joined on both the Scouts’ list and the Megan’s Law catalog of Pennsylvania’s sexual predators by Albert William Otte, 55, of Butler; John Stephen Ricci, 63, of Enon Valley; Michael L. Flavin, 61, of Erie; and Raymond Alexander, 65, who now lives in Philadelphia.

Scout officials in Arnold placed Flavin on the blacklist in 1990 after his arrest on molestation charges. Alexander was banned in 1991 after Wilmerding Scouts alleged a lengthy pattern of misconduct dating back 13 years. Accused of violating children in Beaver County, Ricci resigned from the Scouts in 1986, according to the files. Similar allegations forced Otte out of two Butler troops in 1991.

The Trib was unable to reach any of them for comment; none has a listed phone number.

Seven of the 21 local men were convicted in Pennsylvania of sex crimes against children, though the violations that led to blacklisting by the Scouts vary widely. One case involved a 14-year-old boy who dropped his pants, making a fellow Scout “feel weird.” Another blocked a volunteer in Windber in Somerset County, who previously had been accused of molestation. He allegedly tried to give alcohol to boys and take their pictures.

Everyone on the list had the opportunity to appeal their bans, and they either failed to convince Scouting officials of their innocence or never tried to refute the allegations, Kosnoff said.

Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on sex crimes against children does not expire until the victim reaches 50 years of age, except for cases before 1984. That will prevent prosecutors from ever indicting five of the men on the Scout list for allegedly molesting kids in Pittsburgh, Bethel Park, Summerville, Jefferson County; Farrell, Mercer County; and Clintonville, Venango County.

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape spokeswoman Kristen Houser in Harrisburg said the ongoing scandal at Penn State University tied to convicted pedophile football coach Jerry Sandusky and the deluge of data from the Boy Scouts’ files should prod all parents and institutions to redouble their efforts to protect children. Organizations must ensure that they comply with all state laws mandating the reporting and vetting of sexual predators, she said, and they should schedule regular training for both staffers and volunteers on spotting and stopping abuse. Moms and dads can help, too.

“‘I’m watching. I know what I’m looking for, and I’ll hold you accountable.’ That’s a message parents can send,” Houser said.

The Boy Scout lists now online likely will affect victims differently, said Christopher Anderson, executive director of MaleSurvivor, a New York-based nonprofit that aids grown victims of sexual assault. Some will recall terrible memories, but others will feel vindicated.

“It will stir up a lot of emotions for many survivors,” Anderson said.

Carl Prine and Andrew Conte are
staff writers for Trib Total Media.
Prine can be reached at 412-320-7826
Conte can be reached at 412-320-7835 or

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CSA: Protect Your Child from a Predator

By Jessica Snyder Sachs from Parents Magazine

When I was in fifth grade, I begged my parents to let me quit music lessons. But I didn’t tell them why. I feared what might happen if they knew what the teacher had done to me after saying he loved me and leading me away to a dark bedroom.

Suffice it to say that when my own daughter started lessons at age 5, I plopped myself down in the same room with a book.

Fortunately, there’s a much greater awareness about child sexual abuse than there was in my youth. In fact, there’s a much greater awareness than there was just 12 months ago, before former Penn State University’s football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing ten boys over a 15-year period. (Sandusky was convicted in June of 45 counts of child sexual abuse.)

That horrifying case has sparked a national conversation about child sexual abuse, as well as a significant increase in calls to hotlines from people seeking support and guidance about preventing or stopping it. In just the first two weeks after the allegations surfaced, the national organization Stop It Now!, which works to prevent child sexual abuse, experienced a 130 percent increase in contacts.

What many parents now understand is that sexual abuse is quite common. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Roughly 90 percent of offenders are relatives of their victim, or acquaintances such as neighbors, family friends, teachers, and coaches. “Child predators can appear to the outside world to be warm, caring, loving, and respectful,” says Robin Sax, author of Predators and Child Molesters and a former Los Angeles prosecutor who specialized in sex crimes against children. “It is these very traits that allow them to continue their horrific acts.”

That’s one reason why the prevention strategies that many of us have heard before aren’t very helpful. Expecting kids to sort out the difference between positive and negative touch can backfire, for instance, because sexual abuse doesn’t always start out feeling “yucky.” It doesn’t necessarily hurt, nor does it have to involve touch. (Such is the case when adults show pornography to kids or get them to expose themselves for photos.) And suggesting your child “yell and tell” if a grown-up makes him feel uncomfortable can be a tall order. This is especially true when the offender is an authority figure who has worked hard to win your child’s trust.

Unfortunately, children will often keep abuse secret because they feel confused, scared, or guilty. “An abuser typically shames his victim or threatens a child with what will happen if she tells,” says Anne Lee, founder of Darkness to Light, a nonprofit in Charleston, South Carolina, dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse. It’s important to encourage children to ask for help if anything makes them feel mixed up or confused, says Linda E. Johnson, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, a chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. But avoid using the word should. By saying “You should scream” or “You should run,” it puts the burden on the child. (And if you happen to share this advice with a child who has already been abused, it gives the unintended message that he was responsible for protecting himself, she adds.)

So how can you best safeguard your children? The best prevention involves having somewhat difficult conversations with your child but making sure they’re age-appropriate. (See “Preventing Abuse” on the next page.) Also, trust your gut. “Go with your instincts if anything bothers you about someone who spends time with your child,” Sax says. That includes the neighbor or person from church who is overly eager to help you out by babysitting or just taking your kid off your hands. Having a bad vibe is not necessarily enough to make a crime report, but it’s plenty to justify your not allowing that person access to your kid. “In a school setting, always report an uneasy feeling to administrators, because they are mandated reporters and are trained to decide whether the situation warrants further attention,” she explains. You are not liable, as long as there is something suspicious that warrants the report.

Prevention and warning signs

Know Who’s In Your Child’s Life

Girl with teddy bear

Since we can’t always be right there with our kids, we need to know that they are always in supervised situations with trustworthy adults. Today many youth organizations have policies such as the Boy Scouts of America’s “two-deep leadership” rule, which requires at least two adults on all outings. If your child belongs to a group with this guideline, make him aware of it so he can tell you if it’s not being used.

Similarly, check whether your child’s day care, school, and after-school programs have an open-door policy, along with either an actual open door or a window into every room where kids spend time. (Many classrooms have at least a small window built into each door.) Ideally, this should be combined with regular, unexpected visits by supervisors. In fact, for any situation that’s innately private (such as counseling), there should be a door with a window, so you always have the chance to observe, says Johnson.

If you use a nanny or another unsupervised caregiver, don’t stop with a check of her background and references. Occasionally drop in unannounced. And make it clear that you don’t want your child left in someone else’s care without your permission, since it’s possible that a friend or a family member of the caregiver could have sexual- behavior problems, says Johnson. This is particularly important if care takes place in a home where other grown-ups or older kids may be around.

Get to know the coaches, clergy, teachers, and other adults in your child’s world and observe how they interact with her. Show up to practice, involve yourself in activities, and volunteer in the classroom. And if anything feels off, talk to other parents and compare notes. “Listen up when they express concerns or uncomfortable feelings, and strategize as a group about how you can ensure the safety of one another’s kids,” says Kristen Houser, vice president of communications and development for the anti-sexual violence coalition Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, which founded the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

It’s also crucial to become acquainted with your children’s friends. Pay special attention to friendships involving older kids, which can lead to vulnerable situations. More than a third of those who sexually abuse children are under the age of 18 themselves. In many instances, a child may not grasp that his actions toward another child are harmful, says Deborah Donovan Rice, executive director of Stop It Now!

Recognize Red Flags

Only one in five kids who have been sexually abused will report it, says Robin Castle, child sexual abuse prevention manager at Prevent Child Abuse Vermont. (The majority of survivors wait until they’re older to talk about it.) “It’s very, very hard for a child to disclose, even under the best of circumstances,” she explains. So you need to watch for warning signs. “If your child tells you that he doesn’t want to be around a particular person or take part in certain outings, take him seriously,” says Lee, who speaks from personal experience. As a child she was abused repeatedly by an uncle who told her no one would love her if they found out what she’d done. She kept quiet but tearfully dreaded annual gatherings at the family’s summer cabin.

Some children may show physical signs such as unexplained urinary infections, redness, or swelling in the genital area. Other kids may have stomachaches, headaches, or sudden bedwetting. Behavioral signs can include angry outbursts, sleep problems, withdrawal, or a drop in grades. Sexual precociousness is another worrisome sign; perhaps the child starts making sexual comments or showing inappropriate sexual behaviors. Of course, none of these actions points specifically to sexual abuse, but they may warrant a consultation with a child psychologist or a pediatrician who’s been trained in child abuse.

Above all else, keep this in mind: “If you suspect that your child—or any child—has been abused, the most important thing is to not investigate it on your own,” insists Johnson. Extensive questioning may jeopardize an ensuing investigation. Instead, immediately report your suspicion to your state child-protection-services agency (find a state-by-state list at

How to Talk About Abuse

If your child ever discloses abuse to you, you have one main responsibility: “Listen for all you’re worth, and be loving and supportive,” says Johnson. Incidents reported by children are rarely false, experts agree. There’s no template for this discussion; it depends heavily on the child’s age, the possible suspect, and how long ago the potential abuse may have occurred. But you should follow certain guidelines. First, have the conversation in private. Be aware of your body language: Lean forward, make eye contact, and get close to his eye level to help your child feel more comfortable, says psychologist Julie Medlin, Ph.D., coauthor with Steven Knauts, Ph.D., of Avoiding Sexual Dangers: A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Child.

Immediately reassure your child that you believe him and that he did the right thing by telling you. Keep your questions open-ended (“What did you do together?” “What happened next?”), avoiding detailed ones that are suggestive, such as “Did he put his mouth on your penis?”

Unfortunately, some parents deny the abuse (“Your Uncle John would never do such a thing!”), blame the child (“How could you let this happen?”), or become hysterical (“I’ll kill him!”). Such responses can cause kids to shut down or alter their story out of fear. Instead, reiterate to your child that you are not upset with him and that it’s not his fault.

If there’s any good news here, it’s this: “Sexually abused children who receive support and help can and do heal,” says David Finkelhor, Ph.D., director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. Research has shown that the majority of sexually abused kids grow up with no significant mental-health or behavioral problems, he adds. The factors that appear to help include social support, strong self-esteem, and a child’s understanding that she was not to blame for the abuse. Child psychologists and psychiatrists with specialized training can help kids begin the process of overcoming the trauma. This is why it’s so crucial for children to speak up. “Keeping the secret can subliminally reinforce feelings of shame that can be harmful later in life,” says Houser.

Though as a child I chose not to disclose my abuse—fearing that it would cause turmoil in our close-knit community—I thrived anyway. But I am well aware that I’m more fortunate than many people who have been through a similar experience. When I try to understand why I came out of the experience relatively unscathed, I believe it stemmed from my self- confidence and my refusal to take any blame. Both were inspired by my parents’ unconditional love.

Preventing Abuse: An Age-By-Age Guide

Depending on your child’s developmental stage, you’ll need to focus on specific issues and address (or avoid) certain topics.

Ages 2-4
Use the right language. “Skip the euphemisms,” says Robin Sax. “Call a vagina a vagina and a penis a penis.” This decreases potential confusion and improves your child’s ability to discuss sexual situations.

Explain what’s private. Tell her that besides herself, her parents, and her doctor (and caregiver if your child’s still in diapers), no one should touch her private parts. If anyone does, she can tell you and you won’t be mad.

Give him ownership of his body. Has a stranger ever ruffled your child’s hair, telling you how cute he is? Your tendency may be to politely tolerate the behavior. But it’s a great teachable moment. Saying “I don’t feel comfortable having someone we don’t know touching my kids” models to your child that it’s okay to say “no” to touch—even from outwardly “nice” people.

Be a safe refuge. You may think this is obvious to your child, but explicitly state that she can tell you if she ever feels confused or scared about anything and that you’ll help and love her no matter what has happened.

Break the taboo around sexuality. If your 4-year-old asks where babies come from, for instance, give her a brief, honest, and age-appropriate answer. “If we tell a child she’s not old enough to know, or to not ask such questions, then we’ve given the message that this subject is off-limits,” says Robin Castle.

Ages 5-8
Reinforce boundaries. Support your child if he wants to say “No, thank you” to hugs or kisses from relatives. If your son is squirming away as Grandma leans in give him a kiss, you can say, “Vincent isn’t really in the mood for a kiss right now, and that’s okay, isn’t it, Grandma?” suggests Linda E. Johnson.

Head off guilty feelings. Don’t wait until you suspect something is wrong. “Kids need to hear that it is never their fault if someone behaves sexually with them and that they can always come to you,” says Jolie Logan, CEO of Darkness to Light. In doing so, you help take away the perpetrator’s most powerful weapons—shame and fear. Bathtime is one opportunity to talk about bodies and boundaries, says Logan (“I want you to understand that people shouldn’t touch your private parts, or ask you to touch theirs”). Or use current events: “There are grown-ups who like to do inappropriate things with children, and it’s my job as a parent to keep you safe. You can always come to me if you feel uncomfortable.”

Teach Internet safety. Many experts consider kids this age too young to be online by themselves. Use parental controls to limit her access, and explain that people are not always who they claim to be online. Insist your child never disclose personal information, and ask her to tell you if she ever feels uncomfortable about messages she receives.

Ages 9 and up
Continue the conversation. As children near adolescence, their peers could sexually threaten them. Indeed, your child’s own budding sexuality may get him into situations that offenders may readily take advantage of. Look for chances to talk about this; it can include brainstorming ways for your child to avoid or get out of uncomfortable situations with peers. Reinforce that it is never a child’s fault when someone mistreats her.

Monitor devices. Kids can easily, and often accidentally, access porn through smartphones and gaming systems such as Nintendo Wii and Sony PSP that can be connected to the Internet. “We’re seeing a record- high number of these cases in our practice,” says Dr. Julie Medlin. “Most parents have no idea that their kids can access porn so easily in this way, nor do they understand just how much of a negative impact such exposure can have on the child’s sexuality.” Consult your device’s user guide to enable parental controls and limit access to certain games with mature content and to manage Web browsing, chat features, and purchases.

Help identify trusted adults. Many children cannot bring themselves to disclose sexual abuse directly to parents, Sax says. So she encourages teaching kids to seek out adults whom they feel comfortable turning to when something is bothering them. She adds that they should continue to tell until someone acts on the issue. By law, teachers and school counselors must report suspected abuse to authorities, and in 18 states (and Puerto Rico), all adults who suspect abuse are required to report.

Where to turn for help

Childhelp USA maintains a 24-hour National Child Abuse Hotline.

National Children’s Alliance has nearly 700 advocacy centers nationwide and helps with the process of reporting and recovering from abuse.

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has a free, confidential, secure service that allows victims past and present to get help via its phone and online hotlines.

Stop it Now! also offers a phone and an e-mail Helpline dedicated to sexual-abuse prevention. Its Ask Now! advice column features actual situations so people can seek guidance for their own concerns.

Originally published in the November 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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CSA: Huge Win for Victims of Child Abuse Imagery

On October 1, 2012 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that victims depicted in child abuse imagery have a right to restitution when a defendant is found in possession of the images, regardless of whether the defendant created or distributed them.  This ruling is significant for victims of these crimes, whose images are often spread widely among networks of criminals who view their abuse, resulting in thousands and thousands of viewings.  Imagine knowing that images of your abuse as a child are being viewed around the world for years, with no way to halt this re-victimization.  The reality is that every time a victim of this abuse has his or her image viewed, the victim suffers new harm.  Full restitution is absolutely necessary.  NCVLI has been working on this and related cases from the beginning – submitting an amicus brief on the issue and publishing a Bulletin (available on our victim law library, or by clicking here.) on the importance of restitution for victims of child abuse imagery.  Read the New & Noteworthy Court Opinion of this recent decision here

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Smart People Podcast: Episode 45 – Brené Brown

Love her!  –Joy


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The Perfect Marriage: Science Begins To Explain Why Antidepressants and Talk Therapy Go Hand in Hand


By Alice G. Walton

12/26/2011 @ 11:13AM

Antidepressants have been used for a number of years to treat mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and we’re relying on them more and more as the go-to treatment. This being the case, researchers know oddly little about how they work – or, more specifically, why they work. Another mystery is why when paired together, antidepressants and talk therapy are so much more effective than either method alone. Now, a new study may explain why the marriage is so successful.

What we do know about how antidepressants function is that they help increase the amount of neurotransmitter between nerve cells. The problem is it that this doesn’t necessarily translate into the behavioral changes that can follow. Some newer evidence has suggested that depression is linked to brain inflammation and/or the destruction of neurons, and that the reason that antidepressants (and exercise, for that matter) work is that they foster the growth of new nerve cells.

According to a new study, antidepressants may indeed set the brain back to a more “plastic” or youthful state, so that the stage is set for talk therapy to work its magic.

The researchers looked at how the antidepressant drug fluoxetine (Prozac®) affected the stress responses of mice. It’s been known for some time that fluoxetine may make certain parts of the brain more plastic, so the researchers wagered that the drug may also affect areas of the brain important in learning about stressful and non-stressful situations.

To test this idea in mice, first the researchers paired a tone with a painful shock to the feet (a la Pavlov). It doesn’t take many trials for mice to freeze whenever they hear the tone alone, in expectation of a shock; and these mice did just that.

But after this pairing, the researchers set out to “extinguish” the link by playing the tone without the shock. Adult mice are notoriously poor at unlearning the connection once it’s formed: even if they stop reacting to it somewhat, just one more pairing can send them right back into freeze mode. Young mice, on the other hand, are much more adaptable to this extinction training, and have almost no trouble unlearning the association.

As the researchers suspected, mice who were given fluoxetine during extinction behaved much more like young mice, in the ease with which they stopped reacting to the tone. And when they were reintroduced to the shock later on, they weren’t so quick to fall back on their previously stressed behavior. On the other hand, mice who were not given fluoxetine “renewed” their fear response much more quickly upon getting shocked again.

So, if adult mice given fluoxetine behave more like young mice in how quickly they can learn and unlearn new relationships in their environment, what’s going on the brain to explain these behavioral changes?

The brains of the mice who were treated with fluoxetine also looked “younger,” particularly in the cells in their amygdalas, the area of the brain that governs the fear response. One type of cell-adhesion molecule, normally expressed in younger cortical neurons, was more abundant in the mice who had been given fluoxetine. And a protein that normally increases as an animal ages existed in lower levels in the fluoxetine-treated mice. Other changes also indicated that the fluoxetine-treated brain had taken on a “development-like plasticity.”

If the mouse brain is acting like it’s younger, more plastic, more open to new experiences when it’s bathed in antidepressants, what does this mean for human beings battling depression? It could mean that antidepressants help set up the brain to be more receptive to the changes that psychotherapy can bring about. A more youthful-acting brain could be more sensitive to the methods used in therapy: learning new ways to cope, dealing with stressors, and instituting new thought patterns could take root more easily in a more plastic brain.

This study is important since it’s really the first to take a stab at an explanation for the why drug-psychotherapy combo is more effective than either method alone. Theoretically, the explanation makes a lot of sense, but more research will need to be done to explore the mechanism more fully – especially in humans.

Concerns have long been raised about why antidepressants don’t work in some people or actually have a negative effect, as well their efficacy compared to placebo and the higher likelihood of relapse that is associated with them. Understanding more about how antidepressants work in the brain is critical, given the number of people on them, and the fact that there are so many unanswered questions about them.

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Brené Brown (she’s really awesome…)

Apparently, I need to create a category just for Brené Brown.  I can’t get enough of her!  Some of my favorites…

TEDxHouston – Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability


TEDxKC – Brené Brown – The Price of Invulnerability

Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect


Ordinary Courage Blog


the wo/man in the arena

(Brené Brown, September 15, 2011)

Ellen + friends

I have a post-it note above my desk with this reminder on it:

“At the end of the day and at the end of my life, I want to know that I contributed more than I criticized.”

It’s a touchstone for me when I’m feeling vulnerable about sharing my work in a world where it’s easy to attack and ridicule. It’s also helpful when I find myself using perfection, sarcasm, and criticism to protect myself or to discharge my own discomfort.

I also turn to this quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech Citizenship In A Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne (1910):

The Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;

who strives valiantly;

who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

but who does actually strive to do the deeds;

who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I’m constantly reminding myself that I can’t wait until I’m perfect or bulletproof to walk into the arena because that’s never going to happen. We just have show up and let ourselves be seen – that’s my definition of “daring greatly.”


freak flag

(Brené Brown, September 21, 2011)

We’ve all got one. And they’re not small like the kind you wave in the air during a parade. Freak flags are beach-towel big.

When it comes to our freak flags, we only have two choices: Fly it or fold it up and try to hide it . . . on our person.

Freak flags can’t be stuffed into drawers, shoved under sofa cushions, or kept in the trunk of our car. They go where we go.

We can try to fold it up and stick it under our jacket or up our pant leg, but it’s not very comfortable. They’re big and itchy and hot. I’m pretty sure that’s why there are so many angry people – their flags are riding up.

No matter how good we are at folding, flattening, and concealing who we are our flags, everyone knows that we’re hiding one somewhere. I mean, c’mon, it’s the size of beach towel! The bottom line is that it’s hard not to notice us when we’re working so hard to conceal our vulnerabilitiy flag.

The truth? No one is “normal” and we’re all someone’s “other.” 

In a world where we’re constantly comparing and judging and shaming, I find so much peace in knowing that the one thing that we share in common is our flag. Our freak flag.

What do you think? Fly or fold?

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Brene Brown: The Power Of Vulnerability

Many thanks to my friend Lydia who shared this.  Now, I only need to watch it about 500 more times…

My entire research career has been fueled by a commitment to bring to light the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that we all experience but never discuss — to find patterns and connections in our experiences so that we can learn more about the journey from fear and scarcity to love, belonging, and worthiness.

The most difficult and most rewarding challenge of my work is how to be both a mapmaker and a traveler. My maps, or theories, on shame resilience, wholeheartedness, and vulnerability were not drawn from the experiences of my own travels, but from the data I’ve collected over the past dozen years — the experiences of thousands of men and women who are forging paths in the direction that I, and many others, want to take our lives. As I discussed in the talk, I’m a surefooted and confident mapmaker. As a traveler, however, I stumble and fall, and I constantly find myself needing to change course.

Exactly one year ago, I received an email from the curators of TEDxHouston congratulating me because my talk was going to be featured on the main TED website. I knew that was a good thing, a coveted honor even, but I was a little nervous. In a culture of reflexive cynicism, I felt safer in my career flying right under the radar. Looking back, I’m not sure how I would have responded to that email had I known that having a video go viral on vulnerability and the importance of letting ourselves be seen would leave me feeling so uncomfortably (and ironically) vulnerable and exposed.

This past year has been an experience that I can only describe as equal parts terrifying and exciting. There’s been unbelievable support, long overdue debate and discourse about these silenced topics, and — the thing that makes me the most excited — the development of new communities committed to cultivating more conversations about the emotional landscape of our lives. For better and for worse, there have also been some tough lessons on finding balance, asking for help, and seeking out constructive, respectful debate and feedback without letting in too much of the downright mean-spiritedness that’s rampant in our culture.

The way I see it, 2010 was the year of the TEDxHouston talk, and 2011 was the year of walking the talk — literally. As I crisscrossed the country talking to folks about my work — some as enthusiastic as me about my topics and others totally resistant — I confess that there were times when I thought to myself, “What was I thinking? I’m ready to trade in my new ‘vulnerable and open’ mantra for that old, reliable family motto of ‘lock and load.'”

But as hard and, frankly, as weird as it’s been at times, I didn’t trade in my mantra, nor did I give up on what I learned from the research: Vulnerability is not weakness, nor is it optional. We can’t opt out of the uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks that are woven through our daily experiences. Like it or not, vulnerability is coming, and we have to decide if we’re going to open up to it or push it away.

The only choice we really have is how we’re going to respond to feeling vulnerable. And contrary to popular belief, our shields don’t protect us. They simply keep us from being seen, heard, and known.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past decade and experienced firsthand over the last year, it’s this: Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose.

Even if letting ourselves be seen and opening ourselves up to judgment or disappointment feels terrifying, the alternatives are worse: Choosing to feel nothing — numbing. Choosing to perfect, perform, and please our way out of vulnerability. Choosing rage, cruelty, or criticism. Choosing shame and blame. Like most of you reading this, I have some experience with all of these alternatives, and they all lead to same thing: disengagement and disconnection.

One of my favorite quotes is from theologian Howard Thurman. He writes, “Don’t ask what the world needs; ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” Vulnerability is not easy, but it’s the surest sign that we’ve come alive.

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Brought to you by RAINN, self-care for survivors of rape, abuse, and incest…BUT also good reminders for any human.

Self-Care for Survivors


Good self-care is a challenge for many people and it can be especially challenging for survivors of rape, sexual assault, incest and sexual abuse. It can also be an important part of the healing process.

Physical self-care is an area that people often overlook.

  • Food
    • Food is a type of self-care that people often overlook. People are often so busy that they don’t have time to eat regularly or that they substitute fast food for regular meals.
    • It’s not always reasonable to expect people to get 3 square meals a day (plus snacks!) but everyone should make sure they get adequate nutrition.
  • Exercise
    • Exercise is one of the most overlooked types of self-care. The CDC recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.
    • Exercise, even if it’s just a quick walk at lunchtime, can help combat feelings of sadness or depression and prevent chronic health problems.
  • Sleep
    • Although everyone has different needs, a reasonable guideline is that most people need between 7-10 hours of sleep per night.
    • See this Medline Plus article for more information about getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Medical care
    • Getting medical attention when you need it is an important form of physical self-care.
    • Some survivors put off getting medical care until problems that might have been relatively easy to take care of have become more complicated.

Emotional self-care will mean different things for different people. It might mean…

  • Counseling
    • This could mean seeing a psychologist, a clinical social worker, or therapist.
    • Local rape crisis centers often provide counseling or can connect you with a provider. Call (800) 656-HOPE or go to to find a center near you.
  • Keeping a journal.
    • Some survivors find that recording their thoughts and feelings in a journal or diary helps them manage their emotions after an assault.
  • Meditation or relaxation exercises
    • Relaxation techniques or meditation help many survivors with their emotional self-care. For example:
      • Sit or stand comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Place one hand over your belly button. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and let your stomach expand as you inhale. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth, sighing as you breathe out. Concentrate on relaxing your stomach muscles as you breathe in. When you are doing this exercise correctly, you will feel your stomach rise and fall about an inch as you breathe in and out. Try to keep the rest of your body relaxed—your shoulders should not rise and fall as you breathe! Slowly count to 4 as you inhale and to 4 again as you exhale. At the end of the exhalation, take another deep breath. After 3-4 cycles of breathing you should begin to feel the calming effects.
  • Emotional self-care can also involve the people around you. It’s important to make sure that the people in your life are supportive.
    • Nurture relationships with people that make you feel good about yourself!
      • Make spending time with friends and family a priority
    • If you have trouble finding people who can support your experience as a survivor, consider joining a support group for survivors.
  • Be wary of…
    • Friends or family who only call when they need something
    • People who always leave you feeling tired or depressed when you see them
    • Friends who never have the time to listen to you
    • Anyone who dismisses or belittles your experience as a survivor
  • You can deal with these people by setting limits.
    • You don’t have to cut them out of your life (especially with family, that may not even be an option!) but choose the time you will spend with them carefully.
    • Make sure that your time with these people has a clear end.
    • Cut back on the time you spend with people who don’t make you feel good, or spend time with them in a group rather than one-on-one.
    • Screen your calls!! There’s no rule that says you have to answer your phone every time it rings. If you don’t feel like talking on the phone, call people back at a time that’s more convenient for you.
  • You can deal with these people by letting some go.
    • If there are people in your life who consistently make you feel bad about yourself, consider letting those friendships or relationships go.
      • This can be a difficult decision. Remember that you deserve to have people around you who genuinely care about you and who support you.

Another challenge can be in finding time for fun leisure activities. Many survivors have full time jobs, go to school, volunteer and have families. Finding time to do activities that you enjoy is an important aspect of self-care.

  • Get involved in a sport or hobby that you love!! Find other people who are doing the same thing!
    • Knowing that people are counting on you to show up can help motivate you.
  • If you have a spouse or partner, make a date night and stick with it.
    • Turn off your cell phones (within reason. If the babysitter needs to be able to find you, consider leaving him/her the number of the restaurant so that you can turn off your ringer!)
  • Treat leisure appointments as seriously as business appointments. If you have plans to do something for fun, mark it on your calendar!


Make your self-care a priority, not something that happens (or doesn’t happen!) by accident.

Parts of this section were adapted from materials provided by Domar, A., Self-Nurture: Learning to Care for Yourself as Effectively As You Care for Everyone Else.
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How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts

In late 2009, Lynn Zwerling stood in front of 600 male prisoners at the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland. “Who wants to knit?” she asked the burly crowd. They looked at her like she was crazy.

Yet almost two years later, Zwerling and her associates have taught more than 100 prisoners to knit, while dozens more are on a waiting list to take her weekly class. “I have guys that have never missed one time in two years,” Zwerling says. “Some reported to us that they miss dinner to come to class.”

Zwerling, 67, retired in 2005 after 18 years of selling cars in Columbia, Maryland. She didn’t know what to do with her time, so she followed her passion and started a knitting group in her town. No one came to the first meeting, but the group quickly grew to 500 members. “I looked around the room one day and I saw a zen quality about it,” Zwerling says. “Here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting. I thought, ‘It makes me and these people feel so good. What would happen if I took knitting to a population that never experienced this before?’”

Her first thought was to bring knitting to a men’s prison, but she was turned down repeatedly. Wardens assumed the men wouldn’t be interested in a traditionally feminine hobby and worried about freely handing out knitting needles to prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes. Five years passed before the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup accepted her, and Knitting Behind Bars was born. “I [wanted to teach] them something that I love that I really believe will make them focus and happy,” Zwerling says. “I really believe that it’s more than a craft. This has the ability to transform you.”

The men were reluctant at first, complaining that knitting was too girly or too difficult. But Zwerling assured them men had invented the craft, then gave them a five-minute knitting lesson she swears can teach anyone. Suddenly, Zwerling says, the men “found the zen,” and got hooked. Now, every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m., they come to class, leaving their crimes and the hierarchies of prison life behind.

They started by knitting comfort dolls, which they gave to children removed from their homes because of domestic issues. Then they moved on to hats for kids at the inner-city elementary school many of the prisoners attended, Zwerling says. “If you look at them, they’re covered with tattoos, they’re rough looking, and many of the young guys don’t have all their teeth,” she says. “But it doesn’t feel rough. They’re very respectful and grateful and very happy to knit.”

The prison’s assistant warden, Margaret Chippendale, believes the men involved with KBB get into trouble less often. “It’s very positive because you can see when you go into the room, the dynamics of their conversation; very calm, very soothing,” Chippendale says. “It radiates even when they leave the room and go out into the institution.”

Richy Horton, 38, served almost four years at the Pre-Release Unit and reluctantly joined KBB about 6 months before he was released. “I was like, I’m not going to that thing,” Horton says. “And then I went, and you were actually speaking to real people. People can’t really understand [that in prison] you’re completely separated from anything normal or real in the world. You’re always told what to do and when to do it, so to have people come in and treat you like a human being means so much. They came in and they were like my mom.”

Horton and the other men formed deep friendships with Zwerling and her fellow volunteers, Sheila Rovelstad, 61, and Lea Heirs, 58. “They tell us their stories and dreams,” Zwerling says. “And some of them lie to us. They don’t want us to know the really terrible things they did.”

Each week the men eagerly await the women’s arrival, then promptly get to work. “It takes you away a little,” Horton says. “You have to watch what you’re doing, otherwise your stitches will become loose or tight or you’ll skip stitches. It almost makes you feel like you don’t have to be anything. You’re all sitting there knitting. You can just be yourself.”

Horton was released from prison last December and now works in construction. He believes his involvement with KBB helped him get out of jail and onto parole, showing the parole interviewers his small but positive effort to help the outside community. He continues to keep in touch with the women of KBB and is currently knitting a beaded scarf. “They’re not normal people,” Horton says of Zwerling, Rovelstad, and Heirs. “They’re almost like saints.”

To donate to Knitting Behind Bars, visit their Etsy shop, or contact Lynn Zwerling at

Photos courtesy of Lynn Zwerling

Via the Baltimore Sun

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He’s one of many…

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  –Plato

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