Human Resource Essential Blog
Making Workplaces Safe, Supportive and Sought-After

TAG | violence

Hello Readers!

Happy New Year to all!

Prior to trainings and speaking engagements I’ve never had a change to engage in dialogue with upcoming attendees.  That changed in January when I prepared for a presentation to a chapter of Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  I created a short questionnaire that attendees could answer online and then incorporated the data received into the presentation.  An amazing 87 people responded to the survey!  Many, many of them also submitted essay type questions and it wasn’t possible to answer all of them during the presentation.

My offer to them, and to you, is that in my blogs I will answer a question with a short audio or video recording.  You’ll see the question; then click the recording.

Here’s one:

What do you do if both victim and offender work for the same company?

Click on this video length 3:44 min

 3:44 minutes

3:44 minutes

Or click:

I’m always happy to talk with you about improving your workplace violence initiative.  Just give me a call at (480) 726-9833 or send an email to  Call today! I look forward to hearing from you!


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I have the pleasure of going back to my early roots in human resources training for two new clients to do workshops on communication in the workplace.  I love my work in workplace violence and domestic violence, yet having this change-of-pace is fun and refreshing.  Everyone likes to switch up their work every now and then!

There’s a segment in the training where we have a robust conversation about barriers to communication.  We separate barriers by category and pick them apart for deeper discussion.

One of the segments is Personal Pressures.  And guess what? Now we have an overlap again.  An element, and an important one, in being able to communicate with someone – and their ability to receive your message, is if they’re dealing with violence and abuse at home.  If they are, their ability to be receptive is greatly reduced.

The “noise” in the head of a victim of abuse is like having a conversation with someone while standing under a hovering helicopter.  The din is impossible.  It’s not that the recipient doesn’t want to hear your message.  They just can’t.  Priorities – like staying alive, take precedence.

Training is a crucial way to cut through the “noise”.  It has to be the right training.  How do you get your message across so that the person hears you, trusts you, and knows that you can relate, if not on a personal level – at least on an empathetic level.  Until you can do that correctly and effectively you are only going to add to the mental clutter.  You may even add to fear and humiliation and find that your employee distances her, or himself, from you and others in your organization.

This is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  What have you done in your workplace to recognize and prevent abuse?

At Human Resource Essential, my partners and I are honored that our work increases emotional intelligence of management, HR and supervisors in effective tools for recognizing and assisting employees who may be victims, or offenders, of abuse.  Knocking down one barrier at a time.

Would you like to know more about this? I’m always happy to talk with you about improving communication at your workplace.  Just give me a call at (480) 726-9833 or send an email to I’d love to hear from you.

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Thoughts on Workplace Violence on 9/11

Source: theguardian

Source: theguardian

Dear Readers,

On September 10th I had the privilege of providing a seminar on Workplace Violence (WPV) at Lovitt-Touché Insurance.  During the presentation I reviewed the four categories of WPV, the fourth of which is violence perpetrated by those that have a vendetta against what the organization stands for.  That segued to talking about the heinous events of Sept. 11, 2001; and the fact that the following day would be the 13th anniversary of remembrance

It’s always rewarding to know that my information and message resonates with attendees and that they walk away with an immediately actionable plan.  One attendee even blogged about it. 

I would like to share her thoughts with you.


  1. SEP, 2014

Thoughts on Workplace Violence on 9/11

By Danielle M. Tantone, Sales Executive, Lovitt & Touché

September 11, 2014

September 11, 2001: A day none of us will soon forget. For me it was the day I bought my very first home.

I had just moved back home to Arizona from New York City a few months earlier and was staying at my mom’s house. I was excited to head to the title company that morning to make my home purchase official. My sister came in and woke me after learning that the first plane had hit the World Trade Center. We all stood in front of the TV, jaws dropped, trying to figure out what was happening. The reporters were eerily silent as we watched live while the second plane hit, then each building started crumbling to the ground. Throughout the morning, we were glued to the news about the tragedy that was striking our country. Even at the title company, the escrow officer had a tiny TV perched on her desk so we wouldn’t miss an update. It was a day I will never forget.

Last night, I took my kids to the Healing Fields Memorial at Tempe Town Lake (definitely worth a visit if you are nearby.) More than 400 volunteers had placed an American flag for each of the 3000 people whose lives were lost on 9/11. Each flag had a laminated card attached that detailed who the person was, where they worked, what they were doing that morning etc. Some were flying off to an exciting destination. One man was on his way to bury his son who had died a few days earlier. Many were first responders who had willingly headed into the rubble to save others’ lives. My kids were especially interested in the several flags marked by a teddy bear to signify a child who had died. We purchased one of the children’s flags for our home flagpole.

But what struck me, especially since I had just come from a seminar on Workplace Violence earlier in the day, was just how many people represented there on that field had simply gone in to work like any other day, to their office which just happened to be in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, when a plane crashed into their place of business with no warning and no instigation.

Stephanie Angelo, who presented a seminar entitled Workplace Violence: Pay for Prevention or Finance the Results on the eve of the 13th anniversary of September 11 yesterday, said that although there is no way to completely insulate our places of business from violence, with education and preparation we can lessen the impact of these and smaller acts of violence that can affect our workplaces.

Stephanie shared national statistics that show workplace violence occurs more often than many of us realize in the US today, and while we hear about the catastrophic high profile acts of violence by people and organizations who have a vendetta against a company, organization or Nation, the vast majority are simple assaults, and many are caused by someone who has a relationship with the organization or someone who works there. Many are related to domestic violence.

Recent tragedies around the country have focused attention on workplace violence in the United States. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides an annual count of fatal work injuries in the United States, including homicides. From 2006 to 2010, an average of 551 workers per year were killed as a result of work-related homicides, Stephanie said.

She said that about four out of every five workplace homicide victims in 2010 were men, but a substantial difference exists when relatives and other personal acquaintances are the assailants: only three percent of homicides to men, but 39 percent to women.

Although Workplace Violence is something we may not want to think about, the interactive and lively seminar reviewed four categories of Workplace Violence and included a few quick tips per category. Stephanie showed participants how to:

  • Understand the four types of perpetrators to be on the lookout for
  • Understand how intimate partner violence and stalking come into the workplace
  • Review workplace violence policies
  • Consider additional workplace safeguards and resources
  • Review procedures for conducting safe suspensions, layoffs and terminations
  • Become aware of assumptions we make

Stephanie helps businesses decrease workplace violence in their environment. She offers advice, consultation, coaching, speaking and training services that save US companies $2.5 billion in lost productivity alone each year. With decades of experience in violence’s effects on the workplace, she ensures clients receive ideas and skills which immediately motivate them, increase their ability to address this challenging issue, and ensure state and federal compliance. The result is decreased turnover, positive changes in morale, and clear improvement in corporate culture.

The seminar was arranged by L&T VP Sales Executive Elise Thorpe, who has been with our company for seven years and specializing in employee benefits for 20. Elise and Stephanie met several years ago through one of the Human Resources associations they are both involved in.



If you’d like to have a seminar similar to the one I presented to Lovitt-Touché just give me a call at (480) 726-9833 or send an email to I look forward to hearing from you.


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Professor Drops Gun

gun - back atcha

There’s been a lot of talk about guns in schools, teachers “packing” so they can “protect students” and so on.  It’s something that has never made me feel more comfortable.  I think there is more room for error than anything else.  A college student once told me that she was more worried about the “crazy teachers going off” than anything else.

And here we have an example of the whacky things that can happen:

Professor drops gun, shoots self in foot

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I Have a Question


I have a question.  They say the only dumb question is the question not asked – so I’ll ask mine.

Will the Grand Jury in the Ferguson shooting death of Michael Brown get to ask questions about Police Officer Darren Wilson’s home life and back story?  Because, it’s important.  Time and again following an act of workplace violence people say the assailant “just snapped”, and why did he/she snap?  Wouldn’t it be fair to at least ask the question here?  What’s the back story?  What was going on in the officer’s life?

When I wrote the book Serrated I was stunned to learn how much vital information was with-held from the Jury.  How were they really supposed to make an informed decision?  Well, they couldn’t, and didn’t, because it was all predicated on them learning only selected bits of information.  So again I ask: Will the Grand Jury get to ask questions about Police Officer Darren Wilson’s home life and back story?  Just asking.


I’m always happy to talk with you about improving your workplace violence initiative.  Just give me a call at (480) 726-9833 or send an email to I’d love to hear from you.

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Will you help me achieve my goal?


Not an hour ago I was at a Starbucks with a friend and fellow business consultant.  He asked me what my goals were for this year.  One of them, I told him, was for tragic crimes of domestic violence to come to a screaming halt.  I want domestic violence to lose its taboo and for people to see and accept that it’s affecting their lives.  Especially the perpetrators.  Because if you help them, you help the victims too.

What I came home to in the newspaper was a profound reminder of exactly what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t seen what was in today’s paper, take a look:

When we have a robust and ongoing discussion about domestic violence and every workplace in our state mandates training and policies then the outcome is quite simply more people who see themselves edging towards the emotional cliff.  Killing or permanently harming those we love because the relationship isn’t working out is a horrifically permanent “solution” to a temporary problem.  Relationships end.  It’s a fact of life.  It’s hard.  I get it.  But life WILL go on and it WILL get better.  And you don’t have to go through it alone.  There are so many resources available.  Need to know more about them?  Let me know.  I’m happy to help.

Slayings in Tolleson, Phoenix Leave 4 Dead in Violent Start to New Year

Jan 2, 2014

Two sisters were found dead in a Tolleson home on Wednesday after police said they were slain by their father in a murder-suicide. Meanwhile, police in Phoenix arrested a father on suspicion of first-degree murder. Authorities said they believe he killed his 13-year-old son with an ax on Tuesday. (Read the articles)

(Source: Arizona Republic/AZCentral)

Phoenix Man Held on $1M Bond, Admits Killing Son with Ax

Jan 2, 2014

(Read the article) (Source: Arizona Republic/AZCentral)

I’m always happy to talk with you about improving your domestic violence initiative.  Just give me a call at (480) 726-9833 or send an email to I’d love to hear from you.  And you’d be helping me achieve my goal.

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In September I had the opportunity to speak at Sojourner Center, Phoenix’s largest domestic violence shelter. (In fact it’s the largest shelter in the U.S.). After the presentation I was approached by several attendees who had questions to ask and stories to share. It’s always the most meaningful part of my work. Two of the women who introduced themselves to me were sisters; Lisa Pressman and Mindy Kavalerchik. Sixteen years earlier one of their sisters was murdered in an act of domestic violence. It was impossible to talk with these two and not feel their pain, as if it were yesterday. Lisa, a singer, musician and song writer, along with her husband, had written a song to express her feelings on the death of her sister. She shared it with me on a CD she brought with her. The song, TEACHER – MOTHER – SISTER – DAUGHTER is haunting yet beautiful. I asked if each sister, including Debbie, who was not there that day, would be willing to write the story of her own experience with Ilene’s death. Each did. In the next months I will post these powerful, heart-wrenching stories, one at a time. I will also post Lisa’s song with a purchase link to iTunes. I know it will mean as much to you as it does to me. Lisa’s story posted on March 8th, Mindy’s on April 5th.  Now Debra’s story:   

Teacher Mother Siste#17631D


Ilene’s Story by Debra Pressman ©2013    

The four of us noisily tramped through the back door into the kitchen.  It was four o’clock in the afternoon on the notoriously lazy Friday after Thanksgiving.  The year was 1995.  We had driven to the local elementary school track in an attempt to banish both the monotony of the day and the calories of last night’s dinner.  The day was dreary and overcast, but not especially cold for that time of year.  After running and roller blading around the school track we arrived home exhausted and thirsty.

The red light on the answering machine flashed furiously. I mused briefly that it was strange to have so many messages, we had only been gone an hour.  Distracted by the kids and their needs I temporarily forgot about the voice mail mystery.  The two boys made a beeline for the refrigerator, jostling each other for first place and arguing about who was entitled to the last glass of juice while Rachel headed straight for her room where she closed the door firmly.

I gave the boys something to drink, shed my sweatshirt and running shoes and gulped down a glass of water while playing referee to a dispute over TV rights.  I returned to the kitchen to reluctantly consider dinner preparations and remembered the blinking answering machine.   I pressed the button to hear my messages and turned away to rummage through the refrigerator and the detritus of last night’s leftovers.   With my attention on dinner I halfheartedly listened to the messages but my ears perked up when I heard the voice of my sister Mindy.  She lived a few hours away but we talked on the phone almost every day, so I wasn’t surprised to hear her voice.  But this message from her was not like any I had ever received.  Her voice was shaking; she was crying and clearly distraught, but she didn’t leave any details, only these cryptic instructions:  “Debbie – call me, it’s an emergency! It’s an emergency!”

My immediate thought was that our father was ill, perhaps in the hospital with a heart attack.  He had been under a lot of stress lately and our stepmother always cautioned us “not to give your father a heart attack”.  As it happened, I couldn’t have been farther from the truth; the story I would hear was worse than anything my imagination could conjure.  I frantically dialed Mindy’s number, over and over, but the line was busy.   With each unsuccessful attempt I became more and more worried.  Frustrated and panicked, I left more messages than I could count.  Blessedly – – or so I thought – – Mindy’s phone finally rang and she answered.  She was sobbing; her words were barely comprehensible.  “Debbie, Debbie, Ilene is dead! He shot her and shot himself!”  At first the words she was saying didn’t make any sense to me, then they began to register as my brain slowly decoded them.  I began to feel a strange sensation in my chest, as if a tight elastic band was encircling my heart and slowly cutting off my oxygen supply.  I thought I was suffocating, my head was reeling and I was dizzy.

I was a time traveler back in my eight-year-old body, it was early morning and I was asleep in my bed in my white and blue ballerina themed bedroom.  I woke when my grandmother crawled into bed with me, she was crying and as I listened she explained that my mother was dead, that God had taken her away.  I felt confused, I heard Mindy’s voice coming through the telephone receiver and it mingled with the voice of my grandmother.  For a brief moment the past and the present jockeyed for position in my brain, then the reality of the present reasserted itself.  “No!” I screamed with abandon, throwing the portable phone and myself onto the floor. “No, no, no! What about the baby!?” Rachel, then thirteen, ran upstairs from her room to see what had happened.  She sat on the floor with me and hugged me as the two boys, eight and five, ran downstairs in fear. “What’s the matter, Mommy? ” they called from a safe distance. “Ilene is dead! Jeff shot her!” I screamed.  I was by this time sobbing uncontrollably.  Rachel cried with me and stroked my head as I listened to Mindy repeat the story, as she knew it, even now we don’t know the exact details.

Petite, five foot one in shoes and ninety pounds soaking wet, with huge dark eyes and a wide smile, my younger sister Ilene was a magnet for men. She walked with self-assurance, strutted really, with her head held high, chest out, buttocks testing the breeze. Confident about her beauty, she cultivated her image and flaunted it. She worked out at the gym obsessively, ate little and rarely cooked, and was one of those single people with nothing edible in the refrigerator. Energetic and dynamic, she possessed a tremendous capacity for saying the truth as she saw it, the term “chutzpa” might have been coined for her.  Assuming she could conquer any project she set her mind to, she usually did.  She put herself through college and carved out a professional career for herself in the male ­dominated world of financial planning, where she was highly respected and admired. She ran her own consulting business and owned her own home. Comfortable in the spotlight, she served passionately as the president of a national women’s business organization, expanding her network of friends and clients.  She loved her business but it was difficult and stressful so she made plans for a second career, one to touch her heart.  People gravitated towards her and she realized that she loved the aspect of her business that required advising others.  With the goal of becoming a pastoral counselor she took courses in counseling and expanded her studies in spirituality.  Her dream was to leave the east coast Washington DC area for the southwest where the pace is slower and her interests more the norm.

Ilene had many women friends, some friendships dated back to early childhood days, but her relationships with men did not fare as well. While her women friends were strong, competent and professional, the men she dated were not of the same ilk.  They were often less educated than she and sometimes weak with violent tendencies, and frequently they were unavailable.  If they were too available, she wasn’t interested.  When she had affairs with married men and they ended, as they inevitably did, she became depressed and blamed herself for an apparent inability to become intimate. Her professional savvy did not transfer to the love arena. She seemed to confuse sex with love, glitter with substance and money with caring.

In her early twenties she married a gentle, unsophisticated career Army officer.  They lived in Germany in a small town outside of Wiesbaden where he was stationed, but shortly after they returned to the States the marriage ended quietly in divorce.  That was her first marriage.  She went back to school and worked her way up from secretarial positions to stockbroker.  She married again, husband number two was a handsome, up-and-coming advertising executive who was fond of throwing his money around, and he owned a boat that they docked on the Potomac.  Unfortunately, he was also fond of cocaine and alcohol, and it quickly became clear to the family that he was an alcoholic.  He was abusive, controlling, and opinionated, especially about his wife, and he dictated her style of dress and behavior.  He always had something to say about the way Ilene looked; down to details such as the way she plucked her eyebrows.

I visited for Sunday brunch once, and while her husband was busy showing my husband the upstairs Ilene pulled back two paintings and showed me the holes in the wall from where he had laid his fist.  She finally left him a year or two later, after his fists made contact with her body one too many times, and for years she remained single, concentrating on her business.  She studied for her certification in financial planning, which she received, and worked hard to build up her own clientele.  Her clients loved her; she was fun, a good listener, smart and caring.  Her sense of humor was famous and she didn’t mind making jokes at her own expense.  She named her business with the last names of her two ex-husbands plus her maiden name so that everyone thought she had at least two partners, and we all laughed with her.  As successful as she was, from the public’s perspective, she still couldn’t get the love thing to go right.  Maybe she didn’t think she deserved it, maybe she just plain didn’t know how, maybe she was scared; I could only speculate what stood in her way.  I know it bothered her; she wanted to have a permanent love relationship, one where she was respected and treated well.

Unfortunately, either her memory lacked clarity or she just had high hopes, but she seemed to forget the pain she suffered during her second marriage and embarked on an eerily similar relationship with a man she once described as the “sexiest man alive”.  Jeff was someone she met at a local AA meeting that she had been attending for some time.  She believed herself to be an alcoholic; she often drank to excess and experienced blackouts the next day.  By this time she had been alcohol free for quite a while and attended meetings regularly.  She was approaching forty and had been dating Jeff for only a short time, in fact I had not met him and barely remembered his name when she called to tell me her news.  She was pregnant. This was not her first pregnancy but she had been much younger with the others.  She had never expressed a desire to be a mother and each time opted not to keep the baby.   She must have felt that this was her final chance at motherhood, it was now or never.  I remember when she called to tell me that she was pregnant and planned to have the baby and raise it alone.  Later, without explanation, she changed her mind and decided instead to marry Jeff.  The baby was 3 months old at the time of the wedding, none of Ilene’s friends or family attended, it was held in Jeff’s home town in the Virgin Islands.   I often wondered why she changed her mind about raising the baby alone; my guess is that she succumbed to her fears and uncertainties and banked on hope.  I never questioned her, she thought I was too bossy and critical and I couldn’t find a way to ask without sounding as if I disapproved of her decision.

Like Ilene, Jeff was a chain-smoker and an alcoholic.  Unlike her, he abused drugs and was a mean drunk.  He possessed a palpable rage that he barely disguised with a thin veneer of swaggering machismo.  After meeting him for the first time, Rachel confided to me that she was afraid of him.  Rachel loved her aunt Ilene dearly, they had a very close bond, and she was worried about her.  Other family members and friends were suspicious and concerned, several of us questioned Ilene, only to be reassured that, no, Jeff was not abusing her. She added a little postscript, which, in retrospect, should have worried us.  She said, “He would never hurt me when the baby was around”.  Nevertheless, despite her protestations, she was very careful around him, she “walked on eggshells” so as not to disturb him, and kept her private life hidden from her family and colleagues. Although she told us that he had been sober for five years, he had in fact begun drinking again.

From her journal entries, we can trace Jeff’s downward spiral; he drank more and more often. During their last summer together, they and the baby Lucas joined our extended family for a few days at a rented house on the Delaware shore.  Jeff refused to participate in family activities and spent most of his time alone.  One afternoon, though he never saw us, we saw him leaving a bar.  He later brought home a six-pack of a non-alcoholic beer to reinforce the lie that he was abstaining.

Back at home after the beach vacation Jeff continued to drink.  Ilene had to bail him out of one financial mess after another; she paid his taxes, fixed his truck after an alcohol -related accident, and negotiated with his boss to agree to hold his job yet another week. She pleaded with him to resume AA meetings and even arranged for him to receive outpatient alcohol treatment. But his jealousy of her success and her many friendships continued to grow and eat at him.  He was a delivery truck driver with a high school education; she was a certified financial counselor with her own business earning at least twice his salary. If she had dinner with a friend or client, he would retaliate by going out and getting drunk, as if to punish her for being too independent.  He was losing his much needed sense of control over himself and over Ilene.

In October 1995, after celebrating both Yom Kippur and Lucas’s first birthday with our parents, our sister Lisa and her husband Tim in Arizona, Ilene decided to separate from Jeff.  She asked him to move out of her house.  He was furious.  We were worried.  We pleaded with her to change the locks on her house; she said she did. We asked her to stay with us for a time until his anger subsided. She refused, explaining that she didn’t want to leave her home. “My work is here, I have to come home sometime”, she said. She did acknowledge the danger she was in and arranged to have a friend stay with her for a few days.

Jeff quit his job and left town, calling Ilene from the road from as far away as Florida and Texas. He said that he was going to work on a shrimp boat, and then he threatened suicide if she wouldn’t take him back. The menacing phone calls continued, and she was a nervous wreck, mostly worried about his safety.  He made it impossible for her to reach him, every day she waited, either to hear his voice or for someone else’s call with dreadful news.  Finally he returned to town and moved in with his brother who lived a short distance away.  But he was deeply depressed and continued to harass and stalk her even as they worked out a separation agreement and visitation arrangements for their son. He would drive slowly past her house over and over and call her repeatedly on the phone, provoking arguments that would leave her shaking and crying.  She attended individual counseling, they saw a therapist together to work out the separation agreement, and he was being treated by a psychiatrist for depression.  Both were taking antidepressants.

Less than a year after their marriage, on November 24, 1995 – the day after Thanksgiving and exactly one month after her fortieth birthday – Ilene and Jeff were both dead. We have tried to piece together the events of that day.  It seems that on Thanksgiving Day Jeff spent the day at his brother’s house, lying on the couch, seemingly depressed or brooding, according to his brother. Later, he refused an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner and spent the late afternoon and early evening alone while his brother and sister in law left to have dinner with family and friends.  At some point in time, and at some place unknown, he started drinking. Either before or after, he ransacked his brother’s house and found the handgun that he knew his brother owned.

He drove to Ilene’s house, parked far enough down the driveway so as to be invisible from the front door (his truck was found the next day in the driveway in front of her car) and waited for her to come home. She and the baby had gone to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll never know the specific details, but it seems she arrived home with the baby, put him to bed, and then went to bed herself.  Her contact lenses were soaking in their case, a normal nightly bedtime ritual.  I don’t know how he lured her into the living room but he was a foot taller and at least 100 pounds heavier, he could easily have forced her down the stairs. They must have fought and he threatened her, and knowing Ilene she might have even dared him to shoot.  I am certain of one thing, and that is that she pleaded for him to spare the baby.  Drunk and furious and out of control, he shot her in the shoulder and abdomen three times: she died within seconds on the living room floor. Then he shot himself, splattering his brains across her white carpet, leaving their 14-month-old child Luke alone and unattended in his crib upstairs. By this time it was late Thanksgiving night or the wee hours of the next morning.  Ilene’s office was in her home, but because of the holiday her staff was not due in until Monday.   Miraculously, the cleaning woman arrived that Friday morning, discovered the bodies and immediately alerted the police. My nephew was safe and asleep in his crib when the police arrived. Only God knows what he heard or witnessed the night before, or how long he cried when he woke early that morning before falling off to sleep again.

It has been years since my younger sister was killed. For the first few years a day did not pass that I didn’t think about her multiple times a day, and I didn’t think that would ever change, but time does heal and now sometimes a few days will pass without her memory knocking on my door. For a time, we had four children living in our household. Her son, Lucas, was now my son, and an integral part of our family.  He doesn’t remember his mother or father but he does know the story, though some details have been omitted, someday, he’ll know it all.  Back then, I wished for him to be two years old forever so that he would never have to know the pain in store for him.

The pain, my pain, is immense.  My sister and I grew up together:  We shared a room, toys and neighborhood friends. Mostly, we shared the sorrow of losing our mother at an early age, and because of this we were bonded for life. Our personalities were different, and we often quarreled. I was quiet and careful; she was wild and risk taking. Even as young children, our differences were apparent. In a letter to my grandmother my mother recounted the story of Ilene’s activity during one particularly boring school day. Ilene announced at dinner that she had spent the better part of her day at school kissing a boy. I was said to have replied, “You shouldn’t do that!” And she responded, “But there was nothing else to do”. As adults we would transcend our differences and laugh together and listen to each other’s crisis of the week. Between us, we had five marriages and four children, so there was an abundance to talk about.

My sister’s death had left a hole in my life, a crater with a diameter wide enough for me to crawl inside. The sorrow was wide and enveloping, a quivering caul enclosing a raw and bleeding soul waiting for a healing touch. I began to write poetry to express my pent-up feelings and, together with my youngest sister Mindy, to research domestic violence, specifically homicide/suicide. Mindy, who was then a graduate student in social work, uncovered some information describing the risk factors and precursors of femicide (a term coined by sociologists to describe male violence against women). To our horror, we realized that almost every risk factor was present in Ilene’s situation. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and even had we known then what we know now; it may have made little difference. But we didn’t know. Moreover, at that time, the professionals treating my sister and her husband apparently didn’t know either because she was never warned that her life was in danger.

In my sister’s case, the signs were there, every one of them, but we did not know how to read them.  It was as if the road map was in Chinese, and we had no translation. We were concerned enough about her physical safety that we asked her for reassurance. And when that reassurance was forthcoming, we believed her, breathed collective sighs of relief, and went about our business. After all, we didn’t want to interfere or to appear to know what was best for her. After all, we couldn’t live her life for her. And what if we were wrong? So we resorted to giving tidbits of advice. Did murder ever occur to us? I don’t think so. At least, it never occurred to me. Hitting, yes. Bruises, yes. Kidnapping the baby, yes. Destruction of property, yes. Killing, no. Was I naive? YES.

I often wonder what Ilene’s thoughts were at the time. Was she afraid? Did she have a premonition of what was to unfold? We found her journals later. In a September 1995 entry, just two months before her death, she addressed Jeff: “I am in pain because it is over with us – you saw it coming and chose it – caused it. Please do not hurt yourself or Lucas. God, I pray – keep us safe.” In November, one week before her death she wrote again: “The gift of Lucas. The gifts of joy and love that I experience in such abundance… The peace I am beginning to feel – the healing that is taking place within me”. That was her last entry.

Often we harbor the misconception that these atrocities happen only to ‘other people’, strangers who live in neighborhoods we are too afraid to enter. We read the stories in the metro section of the newspapers, and shake our heads in disbelief and horror. Jewish tradition instructs us never to pray for a tragedy to bypass us; to do so would be tantamount to asking that it be visited on someone else instead.  But when we read these stories, we can’t help murmuring under our breath, “Thank God it wasn’t me!”  Sometimes, it is.

In the words of a Jewish song, “What’s the commitment to those who have died when we cry they’ve not died in vain?” Ilene’s death will not be in vain if even one woman is saved because of the lessons we have learned. “Don’t let her light go out. Let it shine through our love and our tears”.


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In September I had the opportunity to speak at Sojourner Center, Phoenix’s largest domestic violence shelter.  (In fact it’s the largest shelter in the U.S.).  After the presentation I was approached by several attendees who had questions to ask and stories to share.  It’s always the most meaningful part of my work.  Two of the women who introduced themselves to me were sisters; Lisa Pressman and Mindy Kavalerchik.  Sixteen years earlier one of their sisters was murdered in an act of domestic violence.  It was impossible to talk with these two and not feel their pain, as if it were yesterday.  Lisa, a singer, musician and song writer, along with her husband, had written a song to express her feelings on the death of her sister.  She shared it with me on a CD she brought with her.  The song, TEACHER – MOTHER – SISTER – DAUGHTER is haunting yet beautiful.

I asked if each sister, including Debbie, who was not there that day, would be willing to write the story of her own experience with Ilene’s death.  Each did.  In the next months I will post these powerful, heart-wrenching stories, one at a time.  I will also post Lisa’s song with a purchase link to iTunes.  I know it will mean as much to you as it does to me.   

Lisa’s story posted on March 8th.  Now Mindy’s story:


Ilene’s Story by Mindy Kavalerchik, MSW ©2013

This past Thanksgiving night marked the 17th year anniversary that our beloved sister Ilene became a victim of intimate partner homicide.  The question continues to haunt my thoughts: if we knew then what we know now, could we have saved her and kept our nephew from becoming orphaned that night and almost certainly deceased as well?  My 13-month-old nephew was left in his crib: if not for my sister’s housekeeper entering her home the next morning, he surely would have died as well.  I unfortunately know that the answer to my constant questioning is a resounding no. If a suicidal, estranged spouse wants to kill, he will always find a way. My sister and brother-in-law had signed a separation agreement three days prior to her murder. My estranged brother-in-law had wanted a statement included in the agreement that my sister would not date for some period of time; of course she refused to include the statement. I now know that this is the most dangerous time for an abused spouse due to the perpetrator losing his ability to exert power and control over his spouse; he will kill if necessary to attempt to maintain that power and control.

My brother-in-law began stalking behaviors such as constant calling, and threatening suicide immediately following the signing of the agreement. My sister had contacted the police; the response that she received was that nothing could be done until a crime was committed. My elder sister Debbie and I begged my sister to come to our homes for Thanksgiving, to change the locks on her doors, and I offered to come and stay with her.  My sister, being the strong, independent, empowered woman that she now was, refused all assistance, feeling that she “ could handle it “.

My brother-in-law had been drinking Thanksgiving Day, found his twin brother’s gun and then drove to my sister’s home where he parked and hid his truck in the back of the house to lay in wait for my sister and their son to return home from Thanksgiving dinner with a friend. Only my sister and her abuser know the following events, and the horror of what she endured continue to torment me. The only solace that I can find is that my sister experienced the terror and her death once; those of us left behind experience the events over and over.

The following scenario is what we believe took place on that fateful Thanksgiving night, according to homicide detectives.  My sister and nephew had gone to bed; my estranged brother-in-law awakened my sister and forced her downstairs. There was evidence of a struggle in the bedroom; pillows and sheets thrown from the bed and personal items lay all over the floor. My sister was shot three times – once in the right arm, twice in the chest and abdomen. There was very little blood where my sister had fallen; therefore we believe that she died very quickly.  We will never know the suffering that she endured prior to her death, the argument and emotional torture that she suffered. Upon entering her home with the homicide detectives we found tremendous amounts of blood in the entry way, walls, sofa, living room rug; all from my estranged brother-in-law following his suicide by shooting himself in the head. I laid down where my sister had fallen, trying to find some comfort, be close to her in death. I stomped my feet in my brother-in-law’s blood as though that would punish him for murdering my beloved sister. I have since come to forgive him, and tell myself that my sister gave her life to save her child from an abusive man.

As I write the tears flow, the pain comes anew, but of course, it is always there. My sister was three years older than I, and she was my idol for as long as I can remember.  I was blessed to look and sound like her; this was a tremendous source of pride and identity for me as I was growing up.  Our mother died when I was three, my sister was six; my sister then became my surrogate mother, and I never dreamed that I would have to live without her love and her guidance.

CD Cover

CD Cover   Song link to Teacher Mother Sister Daughter





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Same Sex Domestic Violence

same sex violence

By Guest Blogger Erika Evans

         Myth: Domestic violence does not occur in same sex relationships. Fact: 1 out of 4 same sex couples experience violence and abuse in comparison to 1 out of 3 heterosexual couples ( As the controversy stirs over the current California Prop 8 banning gay marriage goes to the Supreme Court I decided to research same sex domestic violence relationships. It’s most likely the only subject less talked about than domestic violence itself. Domestic violence in the LGBT community can be a tough subject because they have fewer civil rights protection as heterosexual victims do. Also, authorities lack knowledge on how to handle these situations. Gays and lesbians are more likely to fight back against their abuser making it hard for law enforcement to believe it is abuse opposed to mutual fighting. Therefore both parties are treated equally in the charges making it difficult to get a restraining order or any type of legal protection. So it’s somewhat of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.  If you physically defend yourself, it makes it near impossible for authorities to lawfully protect you. Laws, protection and resources are very limited for gay or lesbian victims. So in reality, not only the civil right of gays and lesbians pertaining to marriage are not upheld by the government but their right to equal protection and freedom from bodily harm are denied as well.

I was given the opportunity to speak to a college student who was in an abusive same sex relationship for several years.  Catrina is a 35 year old female that shared her story with me about her first “live in” relationship she had with another woman. My first question to Catrina was if there were signs of abuse before the physical violence began. “I had no control of money. When we first moved in together we opened up an account that my paychecks got deposited into. She said she would give me a bank card but she never did.” I then asked if law enforcement was ever involved. She stated no. She said the physical abuse started slowly and in spurts. “In the beginning it was just pushing and shoving. It was years before the pounding began.” She also admitted that she was too scared to tell anyone what was going on such as family and friends. “It’s hard enough trying to be accepted as a lesbian. I couldn’t tell anyone.”  I asked her if she were too scared to leave. She told me that her abuser had a drinking problem, was diagnosed manic depressive and felt that she made a commitment and just hoped it would get better but it had only continued to get worse. In her case fear wasn’t keeping her there, honor was. It was difficult for me to understand her rational because throughout our conversation she justified her abuser’s behavior many times. She stated that her abuser would only become physical when she embarrassed her or if she was stressed about finances. I asked when it was that she had finally decided to leave. She had come home to her girlfriend almost dead in the bath tub after slitting her wrists. She was petitioned to the court by her family to get help and was hospitalized for several months. Catrina had moved out and relocated before she returned home.


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Ilene’s Story

CD Cover

CD Cover


Dear readers,

Last September I had the opportunity to speak at Sojourner Center, Phoenix’s largest domestic violence shelter.  (In fact it’s the largest shelter in the U.S.).  After the presentation I was approached by several attendees who had questions to ask and stories to share.  It’s always the most meaningful part of my work.  Two of the women who introduced themselves to me were sisters; Lisa Pressman and Mindy Kavalerchik.  Sixteen years earlier one of their sisters was murdered in an act of domestic violence.  It was impossible to talk with these two and not feel their pain, as if it were yesterday.  Lisa, a singer, musician and song writer, along with her husband, had written a song to express her feelings on the death of her sister.  She shared it with me on a CD she brought with her.  The song, TEACHER – MOTHER – SISTER – DAUGHTER is haunting yet beautiful.

I asked if each sister, including Debbie, who was not there that day, would be willing to write the story of her own experience with Ilene’s death.  Each did.  In the next months I will post these powerful, heart-wrenching stories, one at a time.  I will also post Lisa’s song with a purchase link to iTunes.  I know it will mean as much to you as it does to me.   

First, Lisa’s story:


The day after Thanksgiving 1995, I was back at work. My job was wonderful – I was the pianist at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix performing seven afternoons a week for lunch and high tea. It was an elegant day (like most days at the Ritz!) and I was lost in the reverie of playing a beautiful grand piano in a luxurious hotel lobby. And, as usual, on my break that afternoon, I checked my cell phone voicemail. Though I have forgotten the exact words, I will never forget the message – my mother telling me to come home now! I called and though the tears and the screaming I learned that my sister Ilene was dead.

How could this be true? Ilene and her one-year old son Lucas had visited with us in Phoenix to celebrate her 40th birthday just one month before. We had a wonderful time doing what we usually did when we were together – we were just plain silly – singing and laughing! We reminisced about dancing wildly around the living room furniture as children to the music of Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass and singing all the songs from our favorite movie, The Sound Of Music. THIS COULD NOT BE TRUE!

But unfortunately it was…my sisters Debbie and Mindy knew some of the horrible details, but I did not. Ilene was always protecting me, helping me. I had never met her husband from whom she was now separated from and had only spoken to him once on the phone, which intuitively made me shiver. Ilene did not tell me about the abuse, the hurt, the fear, or the sadness. We usually talked of about our dreams, our spirits, and our creative hearts.

In one small space and time, life changed for all of us. Healing came slowly through music for me as well as for my husband Tim, also a musician and composer. One afternoon upon my return from the Ritz, Tim had a song for me to hear as was usual with him (he is incredibly prolific), though this time the song was very, very different. This song was for Ilene. We did not know in 1996 that this song could be of service to others and in 2001 we only knew that we had to produce it as best we could. I had to reach deep within me to sing and play through my sorrows. “Teacher Mother Sister Daughter”, with words and music by Tim Ponzek, was our journey to healing. And now, hopefully our song can help you or someone you love.

Ilene’s Story by Lisa Pressman ©2013

Get the song here:   Song link to Teacher Mother Sister Daughter


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