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&Me: Spotlighting Jan Langbein

November 20, 2017

Inspired by our “Feminists&Me” tee, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) continues its “Spotlight on Feminists” series by highlighting and honoring individuals who work to make a difference every day through our “&Me” series of interviews. NNEDV previously honored the women featured in this design: Sojourner Truth & Susan B. Anthony bell hooks Gloria Steinem & Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Read the rest of our &Me series here.

NNEDV: First, tell us about yourself – who are you and what do you do?

Jan Langbein: I’m Jan Langbein, the CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter. I oversee all internal and external operations for Genesis, which is a full-service response for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. It is our personal and professional mission to end gender-based violence. When you know that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States, when you know that every nine seconds a woman is abused, when you know that children raised in a violent home are at risk of continuing that generational cycle of violence, how can you NOT be motivated to be a part of the solution?

NNEDV: What are you currently working on related to nonviolence and/or gender equality?

JL: At the end of May, we wrapped up our 12th annual Conference on Crimes Against Women (CCAW). This year we hosted more than 2,200 attendees and offered dozens of sessions with topics ranging from intimate partner violence and human trafficking to sexual abuse and more. The national forum brought attendees from all over the United States, providing training, interactive workshops, networking and best practices to those who work in the fields of law enforcement, prosecution, social work, victim’s advocacy, therapy, probation/parole, faith communities, campus safety, and medicine.

CCAW has a far-reaching impact on nonviolence and gender equality. Because of this conference, a woman who will be beaten today will know that the beating is against the law and will be treated as such. A homicide that happened last night will be investigated with new techniques and fresh eyes and resources. Because of this conference, a cold case sexual assault will be solved – someone will be able to tell that victim that they never forgot, and they never gave up. Because of this conference, victims of forced prostitution will not be invisible. It will not be interpreted as a walk or a dance of choice, but rather as a crime against humanity.

NNEDV: What inspired you to do this work? What inspires you to continue it?

JL: Thirty years ago, I was a stay-at-home-mom and community volunteer, and I never thought about violence against women. I didn’t experience it in my home growing up, and I certainly didn’t know then what I know now. One day I was shocked by a magazine cover that said, “Every nine seconds in this country, a woman is assaulted.” I went on to read an article about a man who beat his wife with a tire tool because dinner was late. And, I was offended! I decided – that day – to volunteer at Genesis Women’s Shelter. I originally thought perhaps that the women there would look differently from me or that their children would not look like mine. Of course, what I found was that is domestic violence is an equal-opportunity epidemic that knows no boundaries. That this is a monster that feeds in the dark, behind closed doors, and permeates our society.

That volunteer opportunity led me to be on the Genesis Board of Directors. Several years later, there was a change in leadership at Genesis. Not only was I given the opportunity to be CEO of Genesis, I was also given the opportunity to make a difference. Sometimes at Genesis we realize that the difference we make is tangible – a new program/new building. But most days we know that the change is as different as every woman and child who arrives at Genesis.

I am absolutely inspired by their courage. There is no way for me to know what they’ve experienced or what they’ve lived through. At Genesis, we walk beside women 24 hours a day/365 days a year. We help them move towards a life that is free of abuse. And the children are the hope for tomorrow: if we can help break that generational cycle of violence, then moms’ freedom actually grows exponentially.

I am also inspired by the dedication of the people who work here. I am absolutely overwhelmed every single day by the staff – what they are willing to sacrifice in their personal lives to dedicate their professional lives to helping others and making this world a better place in which to live.

NNEDV: Let’s say you woke up this morning and gender-based violence had been completely eradicated. What are you going to do now?

JL: First, I would buy a big bottle of champagne and celebrate! Then, for the rest of my life I would work towards ensuring that we never take a step back, that we never again get gas-lighted into complacency accepting the status quo.

While celebrating, I think you also have to thank the people who walked before you. I would thank the great names in this work like Ellen Pence, Erin Pizzey and Debby Tucker, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Barbara Hart and Sue Osthoff, Vice President Joe Biden, OVW Director Cindy Dyer, and the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society and so many others for their vision and leadership. Each of us stands on the shoulders of someone that went before us. It would be absolutely incredible to wake up knowing you were part of the end of gender-based violence. What an honor and privilege.

NNEDV: If you could sit down over your beverage of choice with any person – living or dead – who would it be and why?

JL: In the early 1980’s there was a woman here in Dallas who had fled an abusive home. She was living in her Suburban and feeding her children at the downtown soup kitchen—the Stew Pot. There was an Episcopal priest, Father Jerry Hill, who worked at the Stew Pot. He began speaking with this woman realizing that she was not chronically homeless but rather had chosen homelessness for the sake and safety of her children. Father Hill began the search to find to beds for her in a domestic violence shelter, and on that day, the closest possible bed for her was in Jacksonville, Florida. Recognizing this gap, concerned community leaders stepped up and the dream of Genesis Women’s Shelter began. The dream of a place where women could find safety in the middle of the night, find someone who believed them and would walk with and beside them. Because of this one woman’s courage, the face of Dallas was changed forever in the way it responds to domestic violence. Her courage put a ripple effect into motion – if it weren’t for her bravery, there would be no Genesis.

I would love to meet the woman who walked away and fed her children in a downtown soup kitchen. I would love to meet her and thank her for her courage. I would love to tell her about Genesis and all the women and children who have found safety and shelter here. I’d love to know her name and say thank you on behalf of this community, and let her know the far-reaching impact of her courage. I wish I knew her name.