Mary Metz, 61, is a retired CPA who now lends her accounting services to the local non-profit called The Willow Domestic Violence Center. Along with working in the administration office as a volunteer accountant, Mary also shares her experiences with training volunteers during Survivor Story education sessions. For the first 18 years of Mary’s adult life, she fell victim to the cycle of abuse, (view graphic at bottom for further information), after marrying her high school sweetheart.
Mary’s situation only grew in complexity when her son, Roy, came into the picture three years into her increasingly abusive marriage. Fueled by his strong addiction to cocaine and a relentless urge to maintain a constant sense of control over his wife, Mary and her son were victim to physical, emotional and numerous other forms of abuse.
Although the struggle to escape seemed endless, Mary found her way out of the torment in 1989, and her drug dealing ex husband was imprisoned for his involvement with cocaine. He later died of esophageal cancer while incarcerated. The cancer was caused by his extensive drug abuse.
The same year she divorced she moved to Lawrence. After a long road to recovery and empowerment, Metz remarried in 2006, began to find her identity again and, in 2011, decided to use her negative experiences for the betterment of other women in similar situations.
Mary Metz had been leading the Survivor Story training sessions for new volunteers at the shelter since summer of 2011. Sharing her powerful story of survival with others helped Mary to heal and help others at the same time. When Becca Burns, The Willow’s Director of Volunteer Services, approached Mary about sharing her story on-camera with local journalist Sara Patterson from Channel 6 News; however, her feelings about reliving the situation became bittersweet.
Becca Burns and The Willow Management Team
As the volunteer coordinator, Becca Burn’s responsibilities at The Willow are to recruit, retain and recognize volunteer and intern advocates. She is the main supervisor and trainer for new advocates of the shelter. Becca began working at The Willow in 2011, and met Mary in her first advocate training class.
They built a relationship in and out of meetings, had general discussions about the dynamics of power and control in domestic violence and conversed about how training connected Mary with her own experience.
As media involvement is not solicited by The Willow, media relations often come into contact with Becca when first proposing coverage. All media relations at The Willow need to be approved by Joan Schultz, the executive director, before any further action can be taken.
After Sara approached Becca, the volunteer coordinator immediately contacted Joan and the rest of the agency’s management team. This team is comprised of the Willow’s Executive director, director of survivor services, director of community engagement, and Becca as the director of volunteer services.
At the following team meeting, the members discussed the potential role the journalist would play at the Willow, the training (if any) the journalist had, Mary’s interest in pursuing this coverage and the potential benefits to the organization.
Family Over Everything
Mary’s first priority when it comes to sharing her powerful story is always to ensure she has full support from her son, Roy Herman. Herman, 40, said that he didn’t care about his name or other information being used. Furthermore, her husband Bill Metz encouraged her to share the story because he felt it was an emotionally healthy thing to do.
For the safety of Mary and her family, even though her abuser doesn’t have access to her, that doesn’t mean that other people in the community couldn’t have access to her or her family—so it could put them at risk potentially.
The Coordinating Conduit
Although it was Mary’s decision to have her story published, putting information about The Willow in the article raises another slew of issues at hand including: potential for women at the shelter to feel exploited, furthered stereotyping victims of domestic violence and an overall misrepresentation of Mary and, consequently, The Willow.
Becca is always a conduit for anything involving the media or public relations. After hearing Metz’s Survivor Story training sessions, Becca asked if she would be interested in speaking with Sara Patterson from Channel 6. Mary took some time to think about it. “[Becca] is always very clear about the decision being my own,” Mary said. “There is no pressure from the Willow to get any stories out there for publicity reasons.”
Relive it or leave it?
As many times as she’d been asked to tell her story in the past, Mary found herself in the same predicament, at odds with herself, each time. “How much do I care about this movement versus how much am I willing to put myself out there–whether or not it brings back that pain?” Metz said. “The more I share, the more I remember.”
With the story approved by the agency’s management team, and a deadline for Channel 6 approaching rapidly, Sara’s story rested in the outcome of Mary’s pondering. From the obvious issue of being portrayed as a stereotype to the underlying factor of her son’s feelings towards his mother tearing apart the name of his father, Mary had a lot of factors to weigh.
“Do I want to go through this?” Mary asked herself. “Because every time I tell my story I have to relive it.”
Let it out and let it go
Every opportunity Mary has to share her story she takes, unless she knows the request is out of her comfort zone. “There are times when I have given a presentation and I have gone home and would sometimes just sob because it was just another whole layer,” Mary said. “It pisses me off that the memories of the abuse still hurt.”
By deciding to share this story, even though it was painful, it definitely brought on a sense of freedom in Mary’s life. “The more I tell it the easier it is,” Mary said. It has become less emotional and more factual the more she has shared her story.
“The only reason I decided to volunteer with The Willow was to help other women in whatever small way that I could,” Mary said. When it comes to the media, as long as she knows that her story, herself, and The Willow are not going to be exploited, then she is happy to share to her story. “I don’t want one more woman to have to go through that, and if there’s anything I can say to help them to make a decision to leave; I’d say it was worth it,” Mary said.
Aristotle’s philosophy of the golden mean represents the balance between extremes. While an obvious paradigm at hand for Mary was self versus community, the two extremes at hand are also similar: complete privatization versus utter self-exposure.
Had I been asked for advice in the matter, an explanation of the two extremes and a plan for finding middle ground would have been provided to her. The first extreme of absolute privacy would indeed secure any potential misrepresentations, but would also be a step backwards in the way of personal progress for Mary.
As sharing her story has been a large part of her healing process, completely hiding it from the world again would only be an act of regression. The ladder extreme of complete exposure is undoubtedly how Mary feels any time her story is available to the public.
However, this exposure represents the potential for Mary to spill her every memory, feeling and thought with the public. In finding balance between these two extremes, I would advise Mary to be self-aware of what she is comfortable with the public knowing versus what she isn’t.
I would also strain the importance of being clear with the journalist about what is and is not on-the-record. Most importantly, because it is her story, and hers alone, I would encourage her to share whatever information in whatever way best helps her heal and represent both herself and all women struggling with domestic violence.
Mary and The Willow did allow the news station to do a story about her experiences. However, for this case study the actual name of the local station, journalist and article were desired confidential, and have consequently been changed. Any reference to Channel 6 or the fictitious name ‘Sara Patterson’ is for the purpose of telling the story, and has no actual affiliation with the news station or any persons who may share this ‘character’s’ name.
The final outcome of the feature footage was quite voyeuristic. “The journalist’s questions focused mostly on what he physically did to me, which presents an uneducated perspective,” Mary said. On top of a slightly stereotypical portrayal, the length of the interview wasn’t extensive enough for the topic at hand.
“It took a situation which is very personal and meaningful and tried to make it something much more broad and vast.” Although Mary was not delighted with the outcomes of this particular coverage, she has since and will continue to do other interviews, proceeding with caution and head held high.