It’s not a concern, until it happens to you. Domestic violence, bullying and stalking are serious topics that tend to receive little to no attention in our society today. We spoke with Angela Daffron and Cathy Johnson, two inspirational women who have taken a stand against the violence seen in their own lives. After facing tragedy, Angela founded Jodi’s Voice, an organization dedicated to fighting stalking and helping victims. Cathy founded Eileen’s Foundation after her family encountered their own domestic violence situation. Today, these women share their stories with us.
4word: Is there a common link between stalking, bullying and domestic violence?
Angela: Stalking, bullying and domestic violence are very much linked. Each comes down to control of the victim and fear. Each of these crimes is often used as a tool in another crime by the stalkers/abusers/bullies.
4word: Can you tell us about Jodi’s Voice?
Angela: Jodi’s Voice began out of tragedy. A close family friend, Jodi Sanderholm, was murdered on January 5, 2007 by her stalker. As far as we know she was unaware that she was targeted by the stalker, but court records indicate he had stalked her for 10 years. She never dated him and she never even knew him.
As the court proceedings began it became clear that while Jodi was unaware of her stalker, he was a familiar face to the police. He had been accused of stalking and harassing almost 20 other women before he kidnapped, raped and ultimately killed Jodi. In speaking with law enforcement they felt their hands were tied due to the way the laws were written. I immediately started pushing for legislative change in Kansas (where Jodi was killed) and followed in New Mexico (where I lived at the time).
However, even with laws to protect, I realized the general public’s understanding of stalking was one of believing it was a celebrity party or using it as slang for non-stalking behavior. In an effort to change that problem, I launched Jodi’s Voice with a plan to give those stalking victims a voice when they are unable to be their own voice.
4word: What led to your advocacy against domestic abuse?
Cathy: On January 8, 2011, my beautiful niece, Eileen, was stabbed to death by her boyfriend as she attempted to leave with her 5 week old baby. She was a gifted student who had hoped to be an international contract lawyer and had recently been accepted by UCLA as a transfer student. She had her whole life ahead of her. She had so much to offer this world but was never able to realize any of her dreams because of this potentially preventable tragedy.
Neither myself, nor any of Eileen’s family or her group of friends had ever really been in a domestic abusive relationship and we were unaware of the clear cut danger signs that were present during her time with this man.
After her death, in trying to make sense of what had happened, I started researching domestic violence and came across a list of the recognized signs of abuse. I now know that these signs very often present themselves early on in a relationship, as they did in Eileen’s case, and when present, can lead to abusive and potentially fatal consequences.
Angela: Cathy and I met through a mutual friend who introduced us to help each other. Our foundations have teamed for a soon to be released campaign called The Pursuit of Happiness Movement. The movement expresses that we all have the right to pursue happiness yet stalkers, abusers and bullies impede on this right through their actions. It is our way of combating the victim blaming that happens all too often in these crimes.
4word: Through starting your respective foundations, what have you learned about domestic violence, stalking and bullying?
Angela: I never dreamed the problem was as diverse as it truly is. Even when the police starting discussing stalking in Jodi’s case I remember saying, “Stalking? She wasn’t a celebrity.” My naivety at the time is still shared with most of the world today. It is my hope that we can change that with Jodi’s Voice awareness campaigns.
Cathy: When I reflect back, I now know that there were so many signs of domestic abuse in Eileen’s relationship. It’s hard not to wonder that if we had known the seriousness of these signs, would we have been able to do something to protect Eileen? Help her get out of the relationship early on? Just the one fact of knowing that the moment the victim decides to leave their abuser is the absolute most dangerous moment in that relationship, might have changed how we handled the situation the night she was killed.
We hope that through educating our youth about what healthy relationships look like and the danger signs of unhealthy ones, that perhaps they will be less likely to enter in to an abusive relationship and/or may also recognize their own unhealthy behavior so that they don’t become an abuser.
4word: Most people’s knowledge of stalking and domestic violence comes from television and movies. How does this help or hurt your cause?
Angela: Hollywood tells great stories. However, the dramatization of the stories often serves to normalize the behavior in our society. For instance, we have top ranking comedy sitcoms featuring recurring stalker characters and organizations using the term “stalk” as marketing copy to request people “stalk them on Twitter/Facebook.” Our acceptance of these storylines and marketing copy is essentially an acceptance of the behavior.
Stalking affects more than 6.6 million people each year in the United States. It leaves its victims, and in many cases those around them, forever changed. Survivors are terrified their stalkers will return and never know when they will feel safe again.
Cathy: I think there is a common misconception that if there does not appear to be any physically abusive signs that the situation is not that serious. In our case, we never saw any signs of physical abuse, yet our loved one was in a very dangerous situation where she was being controlled, stalked, bullied and eventually killed when she tried to leave.
We are committed to helping change the statistics of abuse, stalking and bullying through educating our youth. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
Every day in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. There has to be a change in how we address these terrible abuses and find a way to help fewer people become victims, rather than finding themselves in a situation that is so difficult to get out of, once their abuser has control over them.
4word: Angela, as a former stalking victim, did you find it difficult to advocate for these causes? What has helped you take your life back?
Angela: I became a victim after I started advocating. I began advocating because Jodi had so much to offer the world. I had to give her a voice to do that. She was an amazing young lady with an incredible talent that touched the lives of others. I refused to let her life be defined by how a monster decided to spend his Friday afternoon. Her legacy will be helping others. I feel like this is how she would have lived her life if given the chance.
At times it gets very difficult to continue, but it is necessary. I hear accounts about the worst of humanity daily from the stalking survivors who reach out to me. Each story highlights chilling traits of the evil that exists in our world, but those whose lives are interrupted by stalking need a voice.
Helping others empowers me to take my life back. To regain my sense of safety I learned to defend myself. For me it was essential to feeling safe again. My life (and the life of my daughter) was threatened at the height of the stalking. In order to feel safe again, I learned defense techniques. Those techniques empowered me to feel strong and safe again.
The statistics regarding domestic violence are staggering. Follow this link to educate yourself about them and the warning signs. If you or a loved one need help, visit the national domestic violence hotline website or call them at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Cathy Johnson started Eileen’s Foundation after the tragic loss of her niece to domestic violence. Her goal to do everything possible to help Eileen’s Foundation reach its ultimate goal of “Educating the youth of today, Empowering them with a voice for tomorrow and Changing the silence of domestic violence forever.”
Being an entrepreneur and having owned several businesses during her lifetime, Cathy has gained an extensive business management background over the last 22 years. It is the connections she has made and her background that will help Eileen’s Foundation reach their goals. Find Cathy on twitter at @BeansChange and @CJRN2420
In 2007, Angela Daffron transformed tragedy into triumph after the stalking murder of a family friend in Kansas. Utilizing social media Angela successfully lobbied for legislative change in Kansas and New Mexico before officially launching Jodi’s Voice as a charity to increase stalking awareness and provide services for stalking victims. She is an internationally recognized advocate and speaker. She has successfully lobbied for legislative change for stalking victims while running a successful marketing firm. Find her on twitter @jodisvoice