Swan Song: Sunsetting My Work on Domestic Violence

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Photo: Joanne Rosanio, 2017. Seaside Park, NJ

I admit, at first, it began as a vanity project. I was high off the success of my two prior Internet-based startups and felt invincible.  I had a lot of friends.  I felt empowered that I could do this.  I brought a whole lot of arrogance and conceit to the fight.

Then, nearly as soon as I began, I got knocked off my my pedestal.  I had to learn how to really work… how to really do research, how to make a real relationship, how to inspire someone to work for me for free with no guarantee of any return at all.  I had to learn how to persuade people very different from me that I could be trusted and that I was sincere.  I had to learn how to accept rejection, in the face of all logical evidence to the contrary that what I was selling was highly effective and worthy of investment.

I was told, “YOU HAVE NO STANDING” to have conversations in this field.  In other words, GO AWAY.

Nevertheless, I persisted.  But maybe, (h/t Stevie Wonder), like I fool I went and stayed too long––  I actually made progress against my goals.  I believe what I’ve set in motion will pay substantial dividends in the future.  I’ve said it hundreds of times: The Answers are in the Data.  The problem in domestic violence is the offender, and we can identify, track, predict, and control their behavior with proper data analysis and monitoring.  I’ve even filed a provisional patent for a software tool that will save lives if implemented properly.

Yet, after three years, I’m quitting.  Maybe quitting while I’m ahead, but quitting nonetheless.  The reason is personal, not business.  You see working on domestic violence brings me to the front lines of my own personal horror show every damned day.  I simply cannot continue to work on this for health reasons.  Let’s call it a graceful exit.

I will leave behind the seeds of an important beginning conversation about the vast potential of data, and the powerful transformational story told by High Point, NC in our film.  We should have a final cut soon.  I wholly underestimated the toll this work would take on my mental health.  At my peril.

Over time,  I’m contemplating writing a short ebook about my experiences working in this field featuring what I learned–– the challenges and opportunities as I see it–– but there I go being thought-leadery again.  I may also consider doing some public speaking aligned to the film, but we’ll see.

For now, I’m going back to tech consulting, and continuing with my R&R time in the comfort of the Florida winter chillzone.

Namaste.  And a sincere thanks to everyone who helped Big Mountain Data and our ambitious goals.

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Update 4/15/18:  I was asked to speak at a National conference in the fall and looks like the software tool is moving forward in the hands of some industry experts who can take it to the next level.  So, not exactly gone for good.  Plus, I have a meeting tomorrow with a  local data scientist who’s interested in our work.  There is that UPenn machine learning case study I’ve been interested to replicate on the assessed risk of DV bond hearings… 

 

Memory Stick

liplinerEvery morning for the past 39 years, while going through the mindless routine of putting on my morning makeup, I’m jolted by a memory from my past.

Just when I’m gliding the smooth lip liner over the contour of my lips, I see it.  The memory jars me. I scowl because I think to myself, “After nearly 40 years, why do you still have this reaction?  Why are you haunted by this memory?”

There’s a distinct tear, a split, an unmistakable scar on the surface of my lip.  It represents a very dark day in my life when my incisor tooth sliced through my face and bled non-stop down my brand new suede jacket.

Screen_shot_2012-03-26_at_9I remember I paid a handsome $79 for that jacket in 1978. 

It was a foolish, indulgent purchase that I really couldn’t afford. Now ruined, I’d have to throw it away; get rid of it.

Destroy the evidence.

I had managed to get away from my abusive boyfriend.  Had been accepted to the state university. I was starting a new life.  Even met a new guy.  My life was turning around.

Until that night.

I don’t recall specifically the circumstances of how or why my abuser showed up that evening at my campus dorm.  I just remember the fateful blow.  That white light that explodes behind your eyes when you’re hit with the physics of brute force, and the delayed pain.  The blood begins before the pain.  And thinking, “God damnit, I just bought this jacket!”

Then, the tears.  And then, the shame.

In a single swift blow, a violent man forever corrupted such a mundane experience hundreds of millions of women go through every day.  For the rest of my life, I’m trapped in that memory loop.  And, as you can see, that scar is just one of many.

That one is visible.

Social Studies 2.0

So. There it was. An iPhone just laying there under the front passenger seat of my cab. Should I pick it up? I knew it wasn’t the taxi driver’s because he was chatting up his friend on his phone while he zoomed me down 5th Avenue. Yeah, I gotta pick it up. Should be easy to just call the owner and tell him/her, “Hey busy guy/girl, ya left your iPhone in the cab.”

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I reach down, pick it up. Hit the home button, slide the slider… oh crap. It’s got that damn password block on it. The one my teenage son uses so I won’t read his text messages. I guess at a few passwords. Of course, that doesn’t work. Crap. Now what do I do? It’s impenetrable.

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I ask on Twitter what do I do with an iPhone I found that is locked? Most tell me to take it to an AT&T store. They can track it by GPS. But, I don’t want to do that… so impersonal. It would release me from my decent sense of civil obligation to personally return this phone safely to its owner.

Hey, what’s that? A tweet comes through from @steamykitchen. I look her up on my iPhone. She’s in Tampa, a food writer with a lot of followers. Hummm. Not likely she’ll know my iPhone owner. But, what the heck… Maybe she’s a sister; a college roommate? I send her a Tweet. No luck. I realize the Tweet notifier came through as “emFeigen.” (which I stupidly don’t recognize as her twitter ID). I google emFeigen. Nothing. I search “Emily Feigen Twitter.” Nothing. Shoot. We’re so close, but so far.

The iPhone is running out of battery. Luckily, I have my charger in my bag. I arrive at NYU Parent’s Day at the Kimmel Center, and I’m worrying about the iPhone. I settle into my seat in the auditorium and spot an electric outlet near me on the wall. I discreetly charge the iPhone.

The kickoff speech is over. I check the iPhone and see there are texts coming in. Mom, Shara, some other names, nothing that gives me a clue how to contact the owner.

Finally, a phone number texts to the iPhone… I text back, “You just txted someone’s iPhone. Please tell that persion I have her/his iPhone. It was left in a taxi in NY.” A text comes back, “Thanks for texting back! Where are you? Still in NY?” Yay! I feel good. I’m only one degree of separation removed from the owner. Connected.

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It turns out the owner’s name is Emma, not Emily. Emma’s friend calls me while I’m in the rest room. I tell her I’ll be at NYU all day; my name is Susan. I eventually hear from Emma. She reaches me while I’m eating lunch with my daughter at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. She’s two blocks away. She says she’ll come by in ten minutes. She arrives with a beautiful bouquet of three dozen roses and offers to give me money. I flatly refuse the money, but am happy about the flowers because I know my daughter will love to have them in her dorm room. Emma is very sweet and very grateful. I had learned from her friend she is a chef downtown. I feel good about humanity.

It turns out, it was a banner social media day. The reason I was receiving so many texts on the iPhone is Emma wrote this note on her Facebook wall:

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Because of the volume of texts I received, I was able to text back to the one number she did not have in her address book. (If a text from a friend comes up, you only see the friend’s name, not the number.)

Later, I text Emma and ask her for her Twitter ID and I ask her to friend me on Facebook. I tell her I’m a blogger and would like to post about this encounter and take a screen shot of her Facebook wall. She agrees.

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In this simple vignette, I affirm for myself that the social web is bringing out the best in people. It’s connecting us in ways that are wonderful and useful. During the dotcom era I was a CMO for a digital startup. Our tagline was a question– “What happens when everyone is connected to everything?” In the late 90s, we didn’t know; the question was rhetorical. A decade later, the answers are unfolding.

The more connected I become, the more hopeful I am about the transformative, empowering changes that are taking place in society as a result of moving from an atoms-constrained planet to a pervasive-digital world. Yes, I know it’s only a minority of individuals who are connecting today, but the connections we’re making and the do-good we’re doing is establishing a new social order among civilized humans. With the exploding growth of mobile connectivity and ubiquitous access to the web, those in power to change our world are getting the job done in a spirit of service and humility.

So maybe it was only a lost iPhone and a grateful owner today, but the premise of humans helping humans via Twitter, Facebook, and SMS messages, is becoming the rule and not the exception.

And I’m loving every moment of it.