Video and transcript from Sandra Molinari’s talk at Control the Room 2022

Control the Room 2022 was an absolute success! We hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our partner MURAL. Our wonderful connection between the live event and the virtual world, hosted by Mark Tippin, Director of Strategic Next Practices, Mark facilitated “Mind Shift” sessions, where he guided our attendees through a dialog about how everyone was impacted by the talks. He engaged both in-person and virtual attendees through our various activities in our conference mural. It was inspiring to have so many people joining in different ways and everyone getting the chance to communicate.

We also partnered with SAFE this year to support and honor a lost colleague, Jenni Robertson. The dedication of this summit comes after losing a coworker, mother, and friend to family violence and Voltage Control has pledged to work with SAFE to stop family violence for everyone. We wanted to take a moment and look back on all of the moments of insight, knowledge, and growth we all took part in over the course of the summit.

This year’s summit theme was SHIFTS, and as we move into 2022 we have seen shifts in the way we work, the way we connect, and the way we honor one another.

This year we hosted 18 facilitators in a hybrid space. We were live in-person, on Zoom, and even created our own Control the Room VR space, and we must say the event, even with a few technical issues, turned out to be a hub of idea sharing and growing with each other. 

Each speaker delivered a 20-minute lightning session, and each session was filled with a sense of community, play, and story-telling.

How To Lead Trauma-Informed Meetings And Workshops

We are going to talk about how we as facilitators can approach our work from a trauma-informed perspective. Why this topic? Well, to state the obvious, COVID-19 has disrupted so many aspects of our lives and its impacts our felts in the deterioration of our mental health as a society and globally. It’s vital that in our work and in our personal lives, we go beyond business as usual and really start to see each other and look out for each other’s safety. We can do that.

Sandra Molinari

In an incredibly important conversation, Sandra invited us to begin practicing how to lead trauma-informed conversations. This summit was dedicated to Jenni Robertson, a beloved coworker, mother, and friend who was lost tragically to family violence. Sandra, the Director of Stop Abuse For Everyone (SAFE), spoke on how we can all look for signs in our co-workers, friends, and family to prevent these tragedies from happening. She called on us to acknowledge that safety is everyone’s responsibility, and how important it is to not be the hero but to care. Being seen, heard, and validated is the most important thing to remember when using your tool kit to help keep those in your life safe. 

Watch Sandra Molinari speak on ‘ How To Lead Trauma-Informed Meetings And Workshops ’:

Let’s acknowledge that we are all going through collective trauma, as I mentioned earlier. Between the pandemic, between climate change, between racial trauma and oppression that’s been going on of course for centuries in our country, but has been really talked about much more in the last two or three years, there is so much going on. Trauma can be defined as an experience that makes it really difficult to cope. It prevents regular coping mechanisms, if you will. Again, remember that trauma is not the event in itself, but our reaction to the event. It makes us feel powerless. It makes us feel disconnected.

Sandra Molinari

Sandra Molinari:

Well, good afternoon, everybody. You made it, you made it to the end of the day. I’m Sandra Molinari, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I’m delighted to be here with you this afternoon. I get to follow this amazing lineup of speakers with a very sobering topic, as you know and as Douglas has said.

We are going to talk about how we as facilitators can approach our work from a trauma-informed perspective. Why this topic? Well, to state the obvious, COVID-19 has disrupted so many aspects of our lives and its impacts our felts in the deterioration of our mental health as a society and globally. It’s vital that in our work and in our personal lives, we go beyond business as usual and really start to see each other and look out for each other’s safety. We can do that.

I don’t know if you know this, but studies in the… This was towards the beginning of the pandemic, showed that we one out of every three workers left their jobs because they felt that their companies didn’t care about them as people. We can do better.

In our work at SAFE, and as you’ve heard, we know that during the pandemic, interpersonal violence and abuse was exacerbated. Even in “normal times,” at least one out of every four women and one out of every seven men experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. Of course we know the story of Jenni Robertson who was lost tragically last year, here at Voltage Control.

Domestic violence thrives in silence and in the shadows. To work towards ending this more insidious pandemic, it is vital that we bring it into the light. It’s vital that we understand how domestic violence manifests and find ways to provide a measure of safety to people who are experiencing danger.

The good news is that we as facilitators have a number of superpowers. Do you agree? Some of our superpowers include listening and connecting with people. I can assure you that these are tremendous skills to deploy when we want to support people who may be going through violence and abuse. Today, in the next few minutes, I’m going to offer you some simple tools for navigating awkward conversations where you feel like you may need to be supporting somebody who may be going through trauma, which it could include domestic violence.

I’d like to start with a story. I’m going to ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of this person who’s experiencing this, and then I’ll pose some questions for you. Kim is part of a 10 person team you’ve been working with for the past three months on a short term project. They’re one of the most engaged members, generally upbeat and confident sharing their ideas. However, after they were out sick for several days last week, you noticed a change in their overall demeanor. They seem sullen and withdrawn, distracted. Today, during the weekly team meeting, Kim leaves their camera off and doesn’t say much even when prompted. You don’t want to meddle, but you’re worried about Kim’s wellbeing. You don’t know what to do.

Just so for your mental inventory, what if Kim were going through some intimate partner violence at home? Now you might think this is a huge leap based on what we’ve just seen. We don’t know much about Kim, but it is certainly a possibility. It is certainly a possibility. What if they were going through something at home? What if the fact that you stepped out and asked them how were they were doing? If you meddled just a little bit? What if that helped them feel seen and valued and cared for? What we’ve learned in our work in almost five decades at SAFE… I have not been there for five decades, but what we’ve learned from all of that work at SAFE with survivors over and over again, is that being seen and heard and cared for even in the smallest ways can make all of the difference. We need to bring it out of the shadows, bring domestic violence out of the shadows and break the silence.

What we’ve also heard is so many survivors tell us, people at work, they knew something was going on. People in my family, nobody wanted to say anything, but people knew it was going on and nobody ever did anything. Nobody wanted to step in. Nobody thought it was their business. Yet that would’ve made all of the difference in the world. I’m here to tell you, we need to step in. We’re going to look at how. We’re not going to meddle, we’re not going to play the heroes, we’re not going to rescue, but we’re going to care for each other and look out for each other.

I want you to reflect for a moment, maybe a show of hands. Have you ever experienced something like this? I’m not asking if people have experienced domestic violence. I’m asking you, have you experienced something like this person who’s looking out and is concerned about Kim because something has changed? Have you ever seen this either in a group you’re in, in a workplace, with friends? I’m seeing a lot of hands. Yes, it’s very common. Anybody want to say a word or two about how that made you feel? Seeing somebody who is going through something that is distressing to them and you just don’t know what to do. What does that feel like?

Speaker 2:

[inaudible 00:06:34].

Sandra Molinari:

You feel very helpless, absolutely. All right.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible 00:06:40]

Sandra Molinari:

Desperate. Helpless. I don’t know what to do. I want to help this person. I care for this person. Absolutely.

This is what we’re going to look at. Let’s acknowledge that we are all going through collective trauma, as I mentioned earlier. Between the pandemic, between climate change, between racial trauma and oppression that’s been going on of course for centuries in our country, but has been really talked about much more in the last two or three years, there is so much going on. Trauma can be defined as an experience that makes it really difficult to cope. It prevents regular coping mechanisms, if you will. Again, remember that trauma is not the event in itself, but our reaction to the event. It makes us feel powerless. It makes us feel disconnected.

I’m going to talk about one for form of trauma, which is domestic violence. I’m going to talk about it very briefly. Mind you, this is usually something we do in about an hour. I’m going to give you some very basics. I know a lot of you probably are familiar with some of it, but I would like us to ground for a moment. I’m going to take about 20 seconds, I’m going to have everybody… You can keep your eyes closed, or you can close your eyes if that feels comfortable or not. Please feel your… if you’re sitting down, feel your seat, feel your feet on the ground. Let’s take a big belly breath in… and out. Maybe another couple of breaths on your own. Then open your eyes if they were closed. I want you to look around the room and just mentally note some of the things that you’re seeing. I want you to understand that you are safe in this moment because these are the types of conversations that we have that can be very triggering. A lot of us have either gone through violence and abuse, know somebody who has, and this can set us back. Right now, look around. If you feel yourself being pulled away, look around the room, get up and move if you need to. Certainly step out if that’s what you need to do for your self care.

Domestic violence is basically a pattern of behaviors used to establish power and control over another person. For the purposes of today’s conversation we’re going to be talking about intimate dating, intimate partners in this case, or dating partners, if you will, but it could be other family members in the home. Abusive partners use a number of different kinds of tactics purposefully to exert that power and control and manipulate their partners. They do this through fear, through intimidation, isolation, which is really important. When we’re going to talk about being connected with people, it’s because they are feeling disconnected and isolated. There’s often a lot of humiliation. There could be emotional and psychological humiliation, or it could be sexual humiliation, and then threats and use of violence. It’s important to know that there is not always physical violence.

We have people… I used to… Well, I can’t say this anymore, but we used to have people in our shelter at SAFE that were there that were terrified, and they had been threatened with severe physical violence, but had never actually experienced the physical violence. The threats were enough. Unfortunately, these days there are such violence levels that we don’t have enough room for everybody. We have to take the people with the highest levels of violence, but we still have a lot of other services for folks.

As I said earlier, this affects at least one in four women and one in seven men, and people of all gender identities. It occurs across classes, across religions, ethnicity, sexual orientation, you name it. Now, it is an equal opportunity form of abuse, unfortunately. At the same time, what we see is that abusive partners prey on the vulnerabilities, or perceived vulnerabilities, of their partners. I’m going to give you a couple of examples and maybe you can come up with some others.

Again, vulnerabilities might be based on a person’s identities, maybe marginalized identities or health issues. For example, if somebody is an undocumented immigrant and a vulnerability for them might be the fact that they’re undocumented and that they don’t want to be deported. What some abusive partners might do is say, if you leave me, I’m going to take the children and I’m going to have you deported. Either, or, or both.

Another vulnerability could be if a person has substance use issues, but they’re able to have a job. Well, that partner again, could threaten them with, if you leave, if you don’t do this, if you don’t do that, I’m going to out you to your employer, or I’m going to keep the drugs away from you. All sorts of things to manipulate that person and keep the power over them.

Economic abuse is very common as well. You have somebody who cannot leave their partner because the partners holding the strings, they don’t let them have the job or they let them have a job and they keep all of their resources. Just to give you a few examples. Are there other examples that people have heard of or seen, of ways that abusive partners might exert that control over their partners? Yes. I’ve got a couple examples here. You need a mic?

Speaker 4:

One that I’ve heard is a common one, making them feel like they wouldn’t have anyone else without them.

Sandra Molinari:

Absolutely. That’s part of that isolation. Thank you.

You’re all alone in this world and I’m the only one who can help you. I’m the only one who can save you and you’re going to be completely dependent on me. Yes.

Speaker 5:

I was going to say a similar thing, limiting their relationships.

Sandra Molinari:

Absolutely. Limiting their relationships. Again, nobody else is going to understand you. Why would you want to go see your family? Am I not enough? Do you need to go see your friends? I love you, why are you leaving me all alone? There’s a lot of emotional manipulation that happens.

When we don’t understand these dynamics… And I’ve been here. I’ve been in both… I’ve experienced it, but before I experienced it, I had a good friend who was going through it. My question was, “Why don’t you just leave? Come on. You’re an intelligent person. Why don’t you just leave?” I’m embarrassed to say that I said that to her because I had no clue at the time. Of course, it happened to me 10 years later, and then I understood it a little bit better. There are a number of reasons why people can’t just leave, that we don’t have a whole lot of time to get into, but a few of the main ones are that it’s unsafe to leave. Something that you need to know, if you remember nothing else today, if you know somebody who’s in a domestic violence relationship, do not tell them they need to leave. Do not try to drag them away. Do not try to be the hero and rescue them. The time at which a person and is most at risk for danger is when they leave, after they’ve left, because that abusive partner has now lost control over them and that sends them off the rails. We have to be very careful with that.

Even without getting to that extreme, what we know is that most people in abusive relationships, not all of them, but most of them still love their partners. They just want them to change. Those partners, the abusive partners are really good at manipulating them and playing on their emotions and saying, “I’m going to change. I’m so sorry. Let’s go get therapy,” or, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.” Maybe they pretend to change or maybe they really want to change and they start to. It brings that victim/survivor back in and then the cycle starts all over again. It’s really difficult to detach from that because these people who are abusive are not monsters 100% of the time. In fact, they can be quite charming and quite loving at certain times. Now, I’m not saying that you can ever show love through abuse, but they can have loving personalities in certain spaces and then still be controlling their partners. That makes it very, very complicated to pull yourself out of there. Then you have children. It’s not easy to leave when you have children. It’s not easy to leave if you need a roof over your head and your partner’s the one who’s… and you are dependent on your partner financially. There are a number of cultural reasons that we can imagine, and economic reasons.

What are some possible signs of abuse? I struggled with this, especially in such a short presentation because I mean, there’s a list here that is non-exhaustive. Some of the things that you want to be aware of is that, first of all, you’re going to notice these much more easily if you know the person, if you’ve been working with person for a while, or somebody in your family or your circle of friends.

Seeing somebody one off at a meeting that you’re facilitating, it’s unlikely that you will see or be able to detect a whole lot, other than the person might not be happy that day. They may be looking distressed, but you wouldn’t know if this is necessarily what they’re going through. Somebody that you do know that has lost interest in activities, that is withdrawn, that is no longer wanting to spend time with people they used to want to spend time with, a person who’s fearful, especially fearful of their partner, somebody who’s being constantly checked up on. That could be through social media, through text, receiving phone calls. A person who’s really nervous about not getting home on time. Just those sorts of things, where you feel like there’s a fear of their partner. Like I used to say to folks I would work with, survivors, you should never be afraid of your partner. You could be upset about an argument. You could say, I spent a little too much money. If you are… That person is scared, that’s not normal. There’s something going on.

What do you do if you think this is happening? I’ve got a slide here that is, if somebody does disclose abuse to you… Let’s see if it comes back. Here we go. First of all, this is unlikely unless you have an ongoing relationship with somebody and you know them. If they do disclose something, or they’re telling you something that’s going on that sounds like it could be intermit partner violence, which usually survivors won’t call it that, but you’re sensing this is pointing in that direction, you always start with empathy and belief. It doesn’t matter what the story sounds like to you. Maybe you know the partner that they’re saying is not treating them well and you’re thinking, surely that person, nah, he’s adorable. He’s such a nice guy. Or a nice woman for that matter. That doesn’t mean anything because that person can have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality, as we call it. Believe that person. Make sure that they’re safe. Are they feeling safe now? Is there something that you can do to help with their safety? Don’t assume that they just want to leave, but maybe they need some psychological safety from you. That’s where you’re going to be most helpful Listen to them, validate what they’re saying.

We say empower and not rescue. That means follow their lead. If they’re saying no, there’s nothing I want to do right now. I just needed to get it off my chest, or I’m doing okay, follow their lead. You can say, “I’m really concerned for your safety,” if that’s what you’re feeling. If that’s what your gut is telling you, by all means, tell them that. Let them know what resources are out there and then follow their lead. What do you need? They might say, I don’t need anything right now. Then you follow up. You check in with them.

Again, this is going to be less difficult if you can have some kind of an ongoing relationship with them. Again, that’s staying connected. You want to listen, validate, and refer. You do not need to be an expert on domestic violence or trauma. These are simple things that you can do that can go a long way so that person feels seen, heard, and validated.

Again, as far as trauma informed conversations, I’m going to reiterate that. I love this quote by Brene Brown. “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives us purpose and meaning in our lives.” Because people who are experiencing trauma, regardless of the source, feel disconnected and feel a difficulty in coping with whatever they’re going through, we need to really stay connected to them.

Remember that trauma is a normal reaction to abnormal events. When we talk about trauma informed care, it means we ask people not what’s wrong with you, but, what happened to you? We want to try to understand what happened to them, even if they… They don’t need to tell us their entire story, but we want to understand that it’s a normal reaction to an abnormal and event and domestic violence is an abnormal event.

I’m going to leave you with some resources at the end. Before we do that, we have a few seconds. We’re coming back to this situation with Kim. I’m going to give you 30 seconds to talk with folks at your table, or think about what would you do or say, and how could you check in on Kim? This is the same situation we looked at in the beginning. What could you do? I’ll stop talking, give you a few seconds.


Okay. Let’s bring it on back. Again, this is a very… this is very quick, I apologize for that. Could I get a comment or two on some things that you could do in this situation to help Kim feel seen and validated and cared for? Any thoughts?

Speaker 6:

I think you mentioned, just in those moments, they’re probably not going to come out and tell this is what’s going on, or I’m being hurt, or something like that. I think just saying to them, “I’ve noticed the last couple days, you seem a little down, is something going on? Is there something I can help with? I’m here.” Don’t make assumptions about what’s going on. Don’t make assumptions about what you think is happening, but just let them know that you’re here, you empathize, you care and you’re here to listen and not judge. That way, if they do have that comfort level at some point to come to you and talk to you, they know that you’re there waiting for them.

Sandra Molinari:

Thank you so much. Absolutely. Again, this idea is that they know that you’re there and they know you’re going to stick around. Because people will test us. We have another comment over here.

Speaker 7:

Hassan actually came up with this one, but he suggested, especially in the virtual world, a walk and call, instead of try to Slack message somebody or make it too public, to invite them, hey, get your phone, let me get your phone number, let’s go for a walk together and talk about whatever you want. You don’t even have to bring up the subject. I thought that was really nice.

Sandra Molinari:

Absolutely. Absolutely. This is that piece about really, really being seen and connecting with people and asking those open ended questions that Steven talked about. Awesome.

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed exactly as it is.” I love this quote by Parker Palmer. It is really difficult not to swoop in and try to save somebody, especially if we know that they’re going through violence at home. We want to give them resources, we want to tell them we’re there for them, and we want to take their lead, but we absolutely do want to give them resources or let them know that those resources are out there, that help exists.

There is the National Domestic Violence hotline here in the United States. We might have people calling from abroad, I’m not sure. You want to check where you’re calling from. Then the RAINN line is the sexual assault, National Sexual Assault line. In Austin, of course, people can reach out to us at SAFE. For services, everything is free, of course.

Again, if I leave you with nothing else, is that there’s a lot that we can all do. You don’t need to be an expert. Listen, validate, refer out. Then come to us at SAFE if anybody would like more information, more training, or has any questions about services. This is a 24 /7 safe line call, text or chat.

Again, thank you. Thank you for listening at the end of the day. Thank you for being here. Y’all are amazing. Thank you to Voltage Control and to MURAL. Thank you.