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empowerment

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Author Kathy Greene Lahey signs a copy of her book during an event in Port Jeff. Photo by Alex Petroski

In an environment of newfound societal emphasis on empowering women, a Port Jefferson resident has some useful tips.

Kathy Greene Lahey, who has lived in the village for 13 years and founded the political activism group Long Island Rising, published her first book titled “Taking Flight for Girls Going Places,” which she bills as a guide “to help keep independence-bound girls safe, empowered and free.”

A survivor of gender-related abuses as a teenager from catcalling to stalking to sexual assault who also required a stint in addiction recovery at age 24 to deal with alcohol and drug abuse, Greene Lahey said she feels like she was put on earth to work on this project. She also played a leadership role in establishing the 2017 and 2018 women’s marches that took place in Port Jefferson Station to coincide with national marches in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. The mother of three said she got the idea to author a manual for young women six years ago.

“Last October I said, ‘Either you write the book or throw it in the garbage, because the universe will give it to somebody else.'”

— Kathy Greene Lahey

“My daughter, when she was a teenager, started to get into a lot of trouble and she was running away,” said the licensed social worker, recalling events that occurred more than a decade prior with her daughter, who is now 30. “At the same time, I started taking karate with my sons and earned my black belt, and then I got certified in a couple of other self-defense programs. I realized I was learning all of this great information and I wished that my daughter had it, so I ended up starting to do ‘taking flight’ safety programs for adolescent girls at libraries [and] workshops.”

The program eventually transformed into a book idea, which got off the ground in October 2017.

“Last October I said, ‘Either you write the book or throw it in the garbage, because the universe will give it to somebody else,’” she said, explaining that a divorce and life getting in the way sapped some of her focus on the idea. “This has been really cathartic [for] me.”

Her timing ended up being perfect. As society has drastically shifted in a relatively short period of time in the way it responds to credible accusations of sexual abuse, a by-product of the global #MeToo social media movement that organically materialized as a way for survivors of abuse to share stories and show solidarity, Greene Lahey’s message is being delivered at an ideal moment for mass receipt. It also coincides with a staggering number of women set to take their first run at political office this November.

“I’ve been active trying to get things going for a long time, so I’m in my zone right now because people are responding and taking responsibility for their vote, their citizenship,” she said. “It’s so empowering when people are coming out and saying, ‘Yes, this happened to me.’ But the thing is that I’ve spoken to a lot of young women who are like, ‘Oh great, you showed us the problem, but what’s the solution?’ And this book is part of the solution.”

The book has more than 1,600 tips for preventing violence, from advice about abusive relationships to tangible self-defense strategies for violent situations.

“It’s so empowering when people are coming out and saying, ‘Yes, this happened to me.’”

— Kathy Greene Lahey

The author also said now is the perfect time to keep the focus on empowerment going. Greene Lahey, whose book can be purchased on Amazon, said she is also available for groups who would like for her to share her message with young women.

“In order for it to last, we need to teach the next generation to do that, and that’s what ‘Taking Flight for Girls Going Places’ is,” she said. “It’s really about teaching girls to take responsibility for their safety and their life.”

Her friends shared a similar sentiment that, based on her life experience, Greene Lahey seemed born to publish this book in this particular moment.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Barbara Lyon said about the book during an event to celebrate the publication at Port Jefferson Village Center April 15, while recalling something her friend of 15 years said to her. “‘I’m writing all this stuff down because I think it’s important,’ and to put it all together as a book — it’s a great time for it to come out.”

Lyon, among several other friends of the author who attended the event, expressed excitement about being able to give the book to the young women in their lives.

“I bought it for my niece,” said Mary Balslove, a friend of Greene Lahey’s for 25 years. “She’s in college and I thought, ‘It’s the perfect thing for her.”’

Participants at the 2017 Women’s March in Port Jeff Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Over the course of the last several months, we’ve seen the dominance of men in power being stripped down. The day-to-day climate regarding sexual harassment and misconduct have surely changed, but we need to keep this #MeToo dialogue open.

TBR News Media hosted female local government officials, lawyers and activists at our Setauket office to speak about their feelings regarding the behavior of men, and we thank them for their openness and raw stories, sometimes relating to men of high status.

While high-profile allegations and apologies mount, it’s not the actors, politicians and TV stars with whom we should be most concerned. It’s the people around us. We’ve found most often that it’s just when we share our stories, big or small, that we’re really getting somewhere. Getting people together — especially women in power — we can come up with strategies to enact change. We hope that what’s lasting from this remarkable moment in history is not just the list of famous men left in the rubble, but rather the idea that leveraging power to diminish someone else’s self-worth is a thing of the past.

Hearing the wide array of stories from women who have been elected to lead communities, from being grabbed during a middle-school class to being asked inappropriate questions by a boss, the truth is that these things can happen to anyone. And it’s clearly time for a cultural overhaul.

We hope that a byproduct of this moment is also prevention, which can come in the form of education to ensure our boys don’t grow up to become the sexual abusers of tomorrow. To guarantee that this happens, we would like to see school districts and colleges create stricter rules and hold kids accountable for their actions, whether they’re the star lacrosse player heading to the championship or the valedictorian of their class.

In the process of this shift, we don’t want to run out of steam. An issue so long ingrained in society needs a multipronged approach. With that, women shouldn’t fear sticking up for themselves — think about it not as your job being on the line but your principles on the verge of breaking. While the bad behavior of powerful men is what has created this movement, raising confident girls and creating an environment for them to flourish into strong women is another antidote.

Women are, at last, being heard. But we want to make sure that every woman is heard. The focus should be on the prey and not the predator. Just because your abuser wasn’t famous doesn’t mean your story doesn’t need to be heard. To keep steering the #MeToo ship in the right direction, we will continue to run stories on the development of the issue. If anyone, male or female, would like to share a story, anonymous or not, call 631-751-7744 or email desiree@tbrnewsmedia.com. The only way to get to a better tomorrow is to share the stories of yesterday and today, to heal, to learn from our actions and to create stronger reactions in the hopes of continuing to rip down the abuse of power that has landed us in this mess.