Solutions in Sight:
A Conversation with Poorva
Carly Davidson, Laurel Kellner, and Carmel Adkisson
Communities is an action project aimed at reducing violence
against women and girls. It has been operating throughout
Marin County, California for three years. Poorva Pandey,
Carly Davidson and Laurel Kellner, all high school
sophomores, have volunteered with the group for a year.
Carmel Adkisson is an adult, on staff with Transforming
Communities. In addition to reaching out to other girls and
transforming them by teaching about the warning signs of
abuse in teen relationships and raising awareness around
this important issue, Poorva, Carly and Laurel have, through
the Transforming Communities training, transformed
The InSite: What does Transforming
Communities mean to you?
Poorva: It means creating safety and justice for
It means creating
safety and justice for girls.
TI: How did you first hear about this group?
Poorva: One of my friends had gotten involved with
Transforming Communities. It just really appealed to me that
there was a group out there willing to listen to teens.
Carly: Transforming Communities came to San Marin
High School doing a bunch of "box" presentations. [They
actually used a person wearing a cardboard box to get people
to think about the characteristics of a "perfect" woman.]
Like: "She's got to be sexy but not sexual." "She's got to
be prim." "She doesn't burp or fart." It was this whole
stereotypic thing that we didn't even notice that we put on
ourselves. Then we did a list of all these names we get
called when we step "out of the box." Like: "slut" "bitch"
"whore" or "dyke." Just because you might be interested in
certain things that are considered "not normal" by certain
Laurel: I really liked it [the presentation]
because it was true about all these things they were saying
.... what you get called if you try to be different. Society
has to label you. I'm called a "freak" because I dress
different. The way I act around other people. The way I
treat people. Like... stereotypical dress for girls at our
high school is jeans, tight striped shirts or whatever is
"in fashion" at Macy's or Nordstrom's. I like Goodwill
things and Army thrift shops. And I'm outspoken. I talk a
lot and that's not "normal." So I liked the presentation
because I could relate to that.
TI: Was there a box for boys?
Carly: Yeah... that they have to be macho. And
they've got to be "take charge" kinda guys. No chess club.
All football player jocks.
Laurel: And guys can't be too intellectual or too
sentimental. And like the worst thing they can be called [if
they step out of the box] is "homosexual." But the number of
names for guys outside the box was so much less than for
TI: It sounds like this was a very cool presentation
that really got you thinking about a lot of things. So what
Laurel: They asked us if we wanted to come join
their group. No other people coming in and talking about sex
or drugs had ever asked us if we wanted to get involved.
They were like "Don't do this... blah blah blah." And they
[Transforming Communities] said: "Come help us. You can
start something. You can be part of something."
And I thought: "That's great! That's such a good idea."
Poorva: A group of us went through a 36 hour
training process, learning all about domestic violence.
TI: Had you ever done anything like this before?
Poorva: No! But I've always been interested in
wanting to change something.
A group of us went
through a 36 hour training process, learning all about
TI: Why do you think this work, around issues of
domestic violence, is important?
Laurel: Because this is a major problem that needs
to be addressed and society is hiding it! They are hiding
the fact that domestic violence happens in all classes and
all different races. It's a really sensitive issue and it
happens to all sorts of "perfect" people that [the rest of
us] would never see this "dark" side... you know... perfect
athlete, businessman, rich, upper-class people and they're
not supposed to have these flaws. [Part of the solution] is
starting with little boys. First you need to teach
them about equality.
TI: Is this whole issue about equality between the
sexes and domestic violence something that you ever thought
about before that presentation?
Laurel: Well, I've thought about
equality for women and feminism and
stuff like that. But I never thought about the domestic
violence part of it because I never had any education about
domestic violence. It was great that they [Transforming
Communities] came in [to our school] because you don't hear
about it, so people assume that is "normal" behavior. It's
not okay for women to be oppressed like this throughout
society and we need to make sure that people know it's not
Carly: It never really occurred to me to be doing
things like this because I had no idea it was so
widespread. Battering and things like that are taboo in our
society, but we don't talk about it. It's not something
that's accepted. People want to just ignore it and pretend
it doesn't happen. It was a wake up call to figure out that
1 in 3 teenage girls are abused! [That includes
any kind of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional
and/or psychological.] That is a huge amount of people! And
we're looking around the classroom at each other and there
were 27 people in the classroom and that's 9 of us! That's
It was a wake up call
to figure out that 1 in 3 teenage girls are abused!
TI: Since you've had this training, what have you seen
in your school that you would call "abusive" behavior
between girls and guys?
Laurel: It's like the guy always hanging out with
his girlfriend. And I had one friend who felt like, her
boyfriend was just too overbearing. That he always wanted to
be with her, always wanted them to do things together on the
weekend. And she just needed some space.
Carly: You think of "abuse" as him smacking her
around. But we learned that there are so many different
kinds of abuse. I mean guys at this age are all hormonal and
so they're like touchy-feely. So a guy comes up and he
pinches a girl's butt! That's totally unacceptable! And
that's sexual harassment right there. You see it way more
after you get this kind of training. And you say, "That's
sexual abuse." And other people say, "No it's not." But it
is. If it's an unwanted advance, it is sexual abuse.
Poorva: There's this whole "Cycle of Violence"
where in the beginning both people are in love and
everything is really great. Then they get into a little
fight, nothing really big... and slowly it escalates,
because maybe he sees her talking to some other guy and gets
really mad. And then maybe he yells at her or pushes her or
hits her. Then afterwards he apologizes and promises that it
won't ever happen again and he acts all sweet for a while.
Then the whole thing starts up all over again.
TI: So what if the guy says that he really loves the
girl and it absolutely won't happen again?
Poorva: A lot of guys say that... I mean if I
wasn't in the training and I was in a situation like that I
would probably say "Okay. Here's another chance." But the
training taught me that if I was in a relationship with a
boyfriend who had been abusive to me, that I would just get
If it's an unwanted
advance, it is sexual abuse.
TI: In these kinds of situations, where there's a
cycle that keeps going around and around, why do girls
Poorva: These girls think "If he didn't love me
then he wouldn't get so upset."
TI: Which of course is crazy!
Poorva: Yeah!! If a girl doesn't feel comfortable
in the relationship... she could talk to him, but I'm pretty
sure that the guy would be like, "What are you talking
about?!" She should just tell him, "This relationship is not
going to work for me." And she should get out!
TI: Is that news to some girls, that they have this
kind of power to make their own choice?
Poorva: Yeah, to a lot of girls! They're thinking
"Well, I didn't know I could say that."
TI: Have you had a chance to try these techniques in
Poorva: Yes! Once I was walking in this
neighborhood, and I heard yelling coming from a house across
the street. So I crossed over and I started singing this
song really loud... it was "Hail, Mary! Run with me! Hail,
Mary! Run quickly!" And I just sang it really loud! It was
the most embarrassing thing for me, but they stopped and
they looked [out the window] at me like, "This girl is
crazy!" And then I just kept walking, and I didn't hear
anymore yelling. Just this loud noise. Like a door slamming.
So I think one of them left.
She should just tell
"This relationship is not going to work for me."
And she should get out!!
TI: It was really brave of you to do that! I mean, the
guy could have come out and started yelling at you!
Poorva: I know! [laughing]
TI: Have you gotten to try this out in a relationship
of your own? I don't necessarily mean an abusive
relationship, but I would imagine that a young woman who
knows she has this power, even if she doesn't have to use it
to defend herself in anyway, could set up a very exciting
and equal, relationship with anybody!
Poorva: Well, I'm not going out with anyone now,
but while we were in the group [during the training] I
was going out with someone. But at the time I
didn't know how to try any of it out, like you're saying.
But that relationship was very equal. And he always listened
Carly: I was seeing this guy for a little while
and I started noticing little signs that came from this
training! He seemed like a really cool guy and we started
talking on the phone. There was this mutual thing going on
then all of a sudden he got really weird about me hanging
out with people. He said, "I don't like you hanging out with
him because he does this and this. And don't hang out with
her because she's a slut." And he started talking down to my
friends. It was totally unfounded because I was hanging out
with those people before I was hanging out with him! I told
him "If you're going to keep on acting like this I don't
want to see you any more." And he asked "Why?!" And I told
him it was because he was really rude to my friends. He once
said to my friend, who is blond, "Oh, you're blond. You must
be dumb. You must be a slut." And this girl is very, very
intelligent and she said "Take me home!" And my other friend
told me that I should stay away from this guy. I got so
weirded out that I stopped calling him and stopped talking
TI:But you finally had to tell him that you didn't
appreciate his attitude or his behavior?
Carly: Yeah. He got very upset about it and he
talked really bad about me to everyone and called me a slut
and a whore. It sure taught me to stay away from boys like
that! And it struck me as weird because all last school year
I was totally preaching about all this [abusive
relationship] stuff to all my girlfriends. So I still had to
struggle with it even though I've been through all this
training and I know all the signs. And I was still thinking
"Yeah. But I really like this guy!"
"Yeah. But I really like this
TI: So if someone as strong and as educated as you
could have an experience like that, it shows how strong the
denial thing is. I mean, the guy likes you and you think
he's cool, so you might pretend that all those warning signs
of abuse really weren't there. It sounds like you need to
educate the girls as well as the guys!
Laurel: Definitely. Everyone needs to be educated.
Black-eye stuff is the stereotype of abuse.
Carly: There are so many different kinds of abuse.
Like a boyfriend yelling at a girlfriend. And she says, "Oh,
he was just mad at me." And we say, "No! He's verbally
abusing you!" If he's calling you names. Or speaking to you
in a raised voice where you're scared, that's abuse.
TI: What is the ongoing work for Transforming
Carly: We're working on a video. And we want to go
into classes more. Last May and June we went into Novato
High and talked to freshmen and sophomores. I feel we
[teens] got a better response [than the adults] because with
adults some people automatically switched it off. Like "They
don't know what it's like right now." But we were going in
as teens to Novato High and telling them. We want to start
going into junior highs because it's important to start
educating younger, so they don't grow up with this
Laurel: By the time you're in high school you have
a formulated opinion. What your beliefs are, and it takes a
lot to change you then. But if you start younger and start
telling kids that this is how society should be, these are
the problems that have arisen because we have not done this
If he's ... speaking to you in a raised
voice where you're scared, that's abuse.
Poorva: In fifth grade I was a fast runner. And
one day in P.E. our teacher wanted me to race against the
fastest boy in the class. And he didn't want to do it. He
said, "I'm not going to race against a girl!"
TI: And how did that make you feel to hear him say
Poorva: Bad. That I was lower than him. That I
didn't fit certain standards to run against him.
TI: So who won the race?
Poorva: I did.
TI: I'm glad it ended that way! I wonder if his mind
was changed. Did you continue to go to school with him?
Poorva: I've gone to school with him ever since
elementary. I mean, we never talk that much but I see him
around. And he never said any comments like that to me
TI: How has your involvement in Transforming
Communities transformed your life?
Poorva: I used to be much quieter than I am now.
And now I speak up. At home my parents listen to what I have
to say more. They take my opinion more seriously and treat
me more like an adult. I've also learned that if I'm a
witness to domestic violence what to do. Like if we didn't
know the people, how we could distract what the guy was
doing. For example, if we were to walk by the hallway [in
school] and two guys and girl were totally fighting, and you
can tell the girl was, like, cornered. What could we do? We
could go up to her and say, "Oh, did you forget? We have to
go meet our friend." Then we could say to the guys. "She'll
have to talk to you later." You know, totally disrupting
them and getting the girl out of there.
I used to be much
quieter...now I speak up.
Laurel: I didn't realize that domestic violence
was such a big problem. It's been downplayed by the media
and by the schools. Now I feel like I'm a lot more aware
about domestic violence in society. I have more
understanding of people and the way they act. If I have a
friend, now I can see that her boyfriend is treating her a
certain way... I can now relate that to this overall problem
and see how their attitudes right now, can lead to an
adult married couple with an abusive husband. It's starting
now, and some of my friends might end up in those kinds of
relationships. I need to help them understand that the way
he's treating her is not right and it's not okay.
Carly: I'm so outspoken anyway, that if someone is
yelling at me I usually won't take it but now I'm like,
"Hey! Stop talking to me in that manner. You have no right
to talk to me like that." Tell them what they are doing
as they are doing it. I have learned a lot
TI: What would you say to the teen age girls of the
world about how they can be safer in their
Laurel: You need to be strong and know your rights
and be self-confident and educated on these issues. That
will help you so much. You don't have to take anything from
anyone. You should know that you are equal. If you aren't
being treated equally by a guy, you should still have that
knowledge that you are equal. By you knowing it,
that's one person who knows it and you can tell someone
else. Then they'll know it. Having confidence
and being yourself and not worrying about what other people
think of you.
You need to be strong and know your
Carly: Get empowered. Get education. Because it
totally opens up a whole new world to you and you feel so
much strength. To be able to say "Hey! I know exactly what
you are doing and I'm not going to let you do it to me." We
[as females] have so much to give and there's so much out
there for us, but we're throwing it away by staying in
relationships where we are being abused in some way. We're
not coming to our full potential because we are being
smacked down every time we come up. Everyone has this light
inside of them and they are so powerful. No one deserves to
be treated like that. And if somebody is treating you like
that, they don't love you. Because they wouldn't treat you
like that if they loved you. So just be aware. Stay awake!
Get empowered. Get education.
Carmel: It starts with you. Your two pieces of
armor, that will protect you out there, are Education and
Support. So educate yourself. Read as much as you can about
domestic violence and dating violence. Go to the library.
Search the Internet. Find out your rights as a human being.
You have rights to not be harmed by another person. You have
rights to make your own choices and decisions in your life.
You are the only one to make those choices. Find good
support. That's half the battle right there. Finding people
who will support you in what you're saying. This world is
not set up for women to "win" and only together are we going
to get somewhere. So connect with other girls, other people
who believe the same way you do, that you should be treated
as an equal by guys and that love is not hurting someone.
Love is not controlling someone. Love is letting another
person grow and become the person that they want to be.
To find out more about more
about how you can transform yourself
You have rights to
not be harmed by another person. You have rights to make
your own choices and decisions in your life. You are the
only one to make those choices.
Love is not hurting someone. Love is not
controlling someone. Love is letting another person grow and
become the person that they want to be.
and your own community...
call Transforming Communities
at (415) 898-3200
or email them at: [email protected]
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