Stopping abusers in their tracks

A Q-and-A with social worker and first-time author Lynn Fairweather

Here is one stop sign you definitely don’t want to zoom past.

In her debut book, Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding, and Escaping Abusive Relationships, Lynn Fairweather offers information and advice to women who are currently in or hoping to avoid abusive relationships and exposes the common noticeable attributes, tactics and deterrents of abusers.

Lynn Fairweather makes her publishing debut with her book Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding, and Escaping Abusive Relationships.Corinna Scott / Vanguard Staff
Lynn Fairweather makes her publishing debut with her book Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding, and Escaping Abusive Relationships.

She also arms women with the tools necessary for choosing a safe and loving partner and proposes effective strategies for safely extracting themselves from situations in which they find themselves involved with an abuser.

Fairweather’s book will be formally presented at a book launch party taking place Friday at Portland State’s Women’s Resource Center. Fairweather is herself an abuse survivor who has specialized in domestic violence response and prevention since 1992.

In an exclusive interview with the Vanguard, Fairweather discusses her book, the common traits of abusers, The White Stripes and horseback riding in the forest. The following article has been edited for length and clarity.

Vanguard: What is your connection to PSU?
Lynn Fairweather:
I came to PSU in 1998 as part of a national student exchange program and, like a lot of visitors, I fell in love with Portland and decided to stay. In 2000, I earned a bachelor’s degree in social science and then returned, completing my masters of social work in 2005.

During that program, I served my practicum at the Women’s Resource Center and was able to get a close look at the inner workings of the university. I also lived on campus for a week in 2004 as a participant in the inaugural class of the NEW Leadership Oregon program [through the Center for Women, Politics and Policy].

VG: When did you become interested in social work? When did you decide to pursue the subject as a career?
As the daughter of an Episcopal priest and a cop, I think I was born for this work. I started volunteering at a battered women’s shelter in my late teens, then became an employee and have remained in the field for nearly 20 years. Throughout my career, I’ve worked in both community nonprofit and criminal justice agencies, so I know violence response from a variety of angles.

Even when I got “burned out,” as social workers frequently do, I always returned to the work because I felt it was my true calling. Since 2008, I’ve dedicated myself to teaching professionals how to evaluate and handle domestic violence cases through my threat assessment and management firm Presage Consulting and Training.

VG: What sub-categories of social work fascinate you?
Most of my professional focus has been on working with victims of domestic and sexual violence, but I’ve worked with perpetrators as well. Forensic psychology intrigues me—though I wouldn’t want to be around offenders all the time. I’m also deeply concerned with issues of social justice, child protection, LGBTQ equal rights and human trafficking.

VG: What do you hope to achieve in your field?
Overall, I would like to contribute to the goal of ending violence against anyone, but particularly against women and children. My objective in Stop Signs is to bring the issue of intimate partner violence front and center in America—to drag it out into the light with an emphasis on education and empowerment.

I would like to be a media voice for survivors but also serve as a bridge between victims and service providers to help them understand how to best work together in achieving common goals.

VG: If you weren’t specializing in social work, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a journalist or a prosecutor. Law, politics and current events are all areas of intense interest to me, but no matter what I chose as a profession, I’d find a way to translate it into helping others. I believe that is the main purpose of my life.

VG: Which authors do you admire?
I don’t have a lot of time to read for pleasure lately, but when I do I tend to lean toward the classics. Specifically, I love the prose of the Russian masters like Nabokov, Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov, as well as the early feminism of Mary Shelley and the Bronte sisters. I’m a fan of the Beat writers and also have sentimental favorites like William Styron and Toni Morrison.

It’s not uncommon for me to be reading through four or five books at once, so currently my nightstand is occupied by the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, nonfiction by Jessica Valenti and Gavin De Becker, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which was helpful in the process of writing my book.

VG: What do you do in your free time?
What’s that? [Laughs.] In addition to running my consulting firm, I’m raising two amazing little girls, so free time is a rarity. If I find some, I like to get outside and go camping or hiking in the Oregon forests. Sometimes my husband and I treat ourselves to a horseback ride. When I’m home, I like to cook and listen to The White Stripes with my daughters.

VG: Is Stop Signs your first book? Do you have plans to write more?
Yes, Stop Signs is my first foray into published work, and it’s been quite an education! I have another book in the works on the topic of intimate partner homicide but am looking for the right publisher, as it’s meant for professionals as opposed to the general public. Ideally, I’d like to write for the rest of my life.

VG: What is Stop Signs about in a few words?
I think the subtitle puts it best; Stop Signs is a guide for women on how to recognize, avoid and escape abusive relationships.

VG: Why did you decide to focus on abusive relationships?
As the book describes, I became involved with an abuser at the age of 19. The experience was painful, but I turned it into a way to help others, so perhaps they can avoid a similar or far worse fate. Physical, sexual and emotional intimate partner abuse effects nearly two-thirds of all women. To me, that makes it the single most important issue of our gender. Women can’t even begin to talk about succeeding in careers, politics, education or economics if the person they love is beating on their body and/or their mind. Men play an important role in stopping violence, too, but women can’t wait for anyone else to solve our problems. We must assert and protect ourselves now.

VG: What are the discernible attributes, tactics and deterrents of abusers?
The attributes of an abuser are personality traits that may signify a high likelihood of abuse potential. There’s too many to list here, but characteristics such as jealousy, narcissism or extreme and rapid fluctuations in temper are common in abusive people. I believe women can be trained to spot these signals a mile away, and that’s what I’ve set out to do.

Tactics of abusers are the methods they use to hurt their partners emotionally, physically, sexually, financially or spiritually. Dangerous individuals test, groom and ensnare their victims in many insidious ways. But the good news is, there are also deterrents, ways that women can make themselves safer through education and empowerment. These include building defenses like a healthy self-esteem, economic independence, a solid support network and clear information about when, where and how to get help if you need it.

VG: What mistakes do women make when diving into intimate relationships? How can these mistakes be avoided?
Much of the book is dedicated to explaining how women can “armor up” by strengthening their defenses and making themselves less vulnerable to abusive partners. This isn’t to say that people who become victims of abuse are at fault, but there are ways in which we can all make ourselves safer by better understanding how to recognize and respond to risk.

Even smart and independent women fall into abuser traps like moving in, marrying or becoming pregnant too soon in a relationship. We sometimes fail to plan for our own futures and instead believe society’s lies about how we need a man to support and define us.

VG: Does the book offer preventive advice as well?
That’s the aspect that really makes Stop Signs unique. Most social efforts toward prevention are macro in nature, such as increasing punishments for abusers or launching public awareness campaigns. But this book really takes prevention down to a personal level: arming women with knowledge and strengthening them through self confidence.

To borrow the language of health workers, Stop Signs addresses prevention on three levels, primary (stopping abuse from happening in the first place), secondary (self-identification of abuse while it is still at an early stage) and tertiary (avoiding further harm once the problem has been recognized).

VG: Are you excited for the book launch party?
Extremely! Three years of hard work have gone into this book, and I’m excited to have finally completed the process. But I’m also really eager to share it with the world because I truly believe it will help real women—many more than I could ever reach in person.

VG: Will you be speaking at the party?
Yes, I will be talking about the issue of intimate partner violence and giving a brief overview of the contents of the book. I’ve also arranged for Kris Billhardt, director of Home Free, to speak about her agency’s services and other local resources for victims of abuse.

VG: How has the public responded to the event?
I’ve invited local friends and family, but the event is open to anyone who wishes to attend. I think we’re expecting a full-capacity crowd. We’re really fortunate to be holding the event at PSU because females between the ages of 19 and 29 are more likely to be abused than any other group. It’s important for college women to get the information that could someday save their life or the life of a loved one.

VG: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Intimate partner violence is everybody’s business, because even if you aren’t being abused, you know someone else who is, regardless of whether they’ve told you about it or not. My mission is to educate women and give them the tools to defend themselves, their sisters, their daughters and their friends. We’re all in this together, and only through unity can we accomplish the truly transformational.

Book launch party
Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding, and Escaping Abusive Relationships
By Lynn Fairweather
Friday, April 27
6–8 p.m.
Women’s Resource Center
1802 SW 10th Ave.
Free and open to the public


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