Giving Up the Gun
November 3, 2013
This summer, as the number of shootings ratcheted up across the city of Boston, and there was a growing unease in many of the city’s neighborhoods that the spike in violence was being ignored, one nonprofit was doing their best to reorient the conversation. The group Citizens for Safety has been working to stop getting guns into the hands of would-be shooters for more than a decade. Their anti-gun trafficking efforts are important here in Massachusetts, a state whose strict gun laws can only do so much, particularly when lax policies elsewhere enable guns to be brought here illegally across borders.
“I always say, ‘We don’t have a gun problem in Boston, we have a gun trafficking problem,’” says Nancy Robinson, who heads the group. And when she began looking at one of the sources of that problem she came to a startling realization. Women were frequently being used to traffic guns because of their clean records. They were often caught holding or hiding guns in exchange for money, drugs, or protection. And while programs existed to help women who struggled with other life-threatening issues: domestic violence, drug abuse, or sexual trafficking, for example, no such program served to help women deal with the reality of guns. So Robinson created Operation LIPSTICK, an acronym for Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killings.
I profile the groups’ effort in the November issue of Boston Magazine.
A Mayor in Full
October 22, 2013
The October cover package in Boston Magazine is devoted to Mayor Thomas Menino, who has been in charge for two decades here in Boston, but is stepping down from office at the end of this year. We look at old Mumbles from a variety of angles, but I was assigned two of the most fascinating ones. On the subject of race, Menino’s legacy is somewhat mixed. Yes, we’re a far less racist city than we were in the past, something that Menino roundly touts as one of his largest accomplishments. But there are still divisions, and many in the city feel that real parity on issues of poverty and education have not yet been reached.
Whereas Menino’s position on race may be left to the history books, there is little question that his stance on LGBTQ issues is solid. As supporter of gay rights since he first entered politics, he’s never wavered on his positions, and it’s something that the gay and lesbian community cherishes. “We would not have same-sex marriage in America if not for Tom Menino,” one advocate told me. “Boston has been an incubator for those ideas.”
October 22, 2013
In the October issue of Boston Magazine, I have a piece that looks at the new body armor that was designed specifically for a woman’s body. Yes, this is something that is only happening now. And yes, “it fits like a prom dress,” according to the female soldiers who wear it. Here’s the piece online.
September 10, 2013
For the September issue of Boston Magazine, I profiled a group of venture capitalists who are trying to rethink the way we find and fund healthcare innovations. Third Rock Ventures identifies promising therapies, often while they’re still in the lab, and then builds companies around them. They’re placing big bets on innovation, and helping to invigorate the biotech economy here in Boston. Check out the piece online here.
Sexual Assault in the Coast Guard
August 24, 2013
In the July issue of Boston magazine, I wrote a story about sexual assault in the Coast Guard. I began reporting the story over two years ago, before the Invisible War and Congressional hearings pushed military sexual trauma into the headlines on a seemingly weekly basis. In the piece, I tell the story of Coast Guard E-3 seaman Panayiota Bertzikis, who says she was raped while serving in the Coast Guard in August, 2006. In the years since her attack, Bertzikis founded the Military Rape Crisis Center, and has become one of the country’s loudest voices against sexual assault in the military.
Over the past several years, as Congressional legislation has begun helping victims in other services, Bertzikis and the her team at the MRCC have collaborated with other advocacy groups to call attention to the Coast Guard’s precarious situation. Because their organization falls under the Department of Homeland Security, Coasties, as they’re called, are not provided the same legal protections as other service members who serve under the Department of Defense. So Bertzikis and her colleagues have taken the issue to Congress, and started a petition to ensure the Coast Guard falls under same protections granted to the other branches. They are urging them to submit annual reports on sexual assault that includes anonymous surveys, and they want support for survivors at every Coast Guard installation. “Many survivors and civilian service providers report that phone calls and emails to the SARC in Boston are often not returned leaving the survivors alone, scared and vulnerable for repeat attacks,” he petition states. It was their work in part that resulted in the introduction of the Coast Guard Strong Act, which will put the Guard under the same protections as the other branches of the military. It was recently incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, which is still awaiting Senate approval.
While this bill and others have worked their way through Congress, the Military Rape Crisis Center’s blog, My Duty To Speak, has served as a forum for service men and women from all the armed forces to share their experiences with sexual violence. Though the submissions are often anonymous, together they create a portrait of what life is like for a service member attempting to find justice. Scrolling through the Coast Guard postings throughout my reporting offered a glimpse into just how precarious that isolation can be, and can make one dizzy with frustration. And thanks to her work on behalf of Coast Guard victims, Bertzikis has been receiving many more submissions from the branch as of late:
On November 4, 2012, an active duty Coast Guardsman wrote that they had faced retaliation for seeking treatment for rape: “The investigation came back as not enough evidence to move forward,” they write. “Everyone found out and called me a liar for crying rape. I was told that because I was the one in the loony bin and not my rapist that something was obviously wrong with me.”
On January 10, 2013, a Senior Chief in the Coast Guard wrote seeking advice from blog readers. He said that after exchanging e-mails with a rape victim who considered him a mentor. Despite the fact that she did not mention her rape in e-mails, “After her command discovered e-mails between the rape victim and me I was forced to cease all communications with her,” the Chief writes. “I am angry with the Coast Guard for putting me in a situation to choose between an organization that I love and a shipmate that was raped.”
On February 20, 2013 a non-rate officer wrote in to share her experience, saying that while she had heard about rape problems in the military, her recruiter had told her that it was “all DoD problems and that the Coast Guard is the ‘most women-friendly’ branch of service.” She then writes: “My sexual assault happened on December 22, 2012. I was awaken [sic] by a Petty Officer first class with his hand down my pants. I screamed. He ran out. When I was asked about my scream I lied and said that I was having a bad dream. We have at least two women here that are here because they have been raped…Several often make fun of them…The Chief and others often hear the jokes but not once put an end to them.”
On April 5, 2013 a Coast Guard seaman wrote in to report that they were raped twice and still serving with their rapist. After struggling to deal with flashbacks, they reached out to a local rape crisis center who said they had no Coast Guard contact in their state, and sent her to the National Guard sexual response coordinator instead. “One day I got a sudden burst of bravery and called the Coast Guard SARC in my district but since I refused to give my name I was hung up on,” she writes. “Picking up the phone and saying: “Hello. My name is so and so and I do not know you but I want to report a rape” is freaking hard! …[W]hy was the National Guard able to talk to me when I did not feel comfortable sharing my name but not the Coast Guard?”
And on August 9, 2013, a rape victim wrote to express frustration that she didn’t get support from her victim advocate. “The Coast Guard does not allow non-Coast Guard victim advocates to serve as victim advocates. I requested Panayiota as my victim advocate and the Coast Guard denied it. Instead they gave me 3 different victim advocates within a year. By the time I felt comfortable with one they gave me a new one. The irony of it all is that at times they did not know the answers to my questions and they’ll ask me to ask Panayiota and then requested to know what Panayiota has said so that they can know for future victims. Even though Panayiota was not allowed on base with me and at the hearing she was the only one that was stable in my life and the first person I emailed or called after getting any updates about my case. All of the victim advocates were very nice people but I felt that they were not trained enough. Every other branch of the military allows non-military members to assist rape victims why doesn’t the Coast Guard?”
It was my hope that through this article I’d be able to help share those stories with the public. Fortunately, Slate picked it up, and it stimulated some great conversations online. Here’s hoping that the Coast Guard shipmates get the support they need, and soon.
July 2, 2013
When we decided we wanted to switch up the format of the Cape travel guide this year at Boston magazine, I realized that I wanted us to take a look back. As someone who didn’t grow up on the beaches of New England (I’ll always be a Long Island girl at heart) I’ve nonetheless been amazed at how Cape Cod maintains a sense of unfettered summer wonder. Perhaps its the long stretch of gorgeous–and well protected–national seashore that strong-arms its way into the ocean, the residual effects of Camelot in Hyannisport, or the fact that even the most honkey-tonk corners of the Cape still seems charming, but there’s a reason people have been flocking there for generations.
So I first looked to the archives: Life magazine, the Library of Congress, and other places with image collections that captured that timelessness (you can see some of those images on my Cape Pinterest board). That’s where I first encountered the stunning photography of Joel Meyerowitz, which really anchored the entire package. And then I dug up some amazingly talented writers (a Kennedy! Jennifer Weiner! Andrew Sullivan!) to share their stories, and in many cases, went straight to the source, learning the history of some of the Cape’s most iconic places from the people who run them. My interview with Daniel Sanders, President of the Highland lighthouse, was one of my favorites:
I’ve been going to the lighthouse since I was a little guy—in the old days the lighthouse would be open because the Coast Guard was running it. And if they saw you come in with long, sad eyes, and you asked to go up, they’d let you. I’m 77 now, but I first climbed with my grandfather, and I was scared half to death. I was told there was a ghost of a lighthouse keeper and his little girl. I’m still afraid a little bit. I’m probably the only lighthouse guy with a fear of heights. I’ve been haunting the lighthouse ever since. But I’m not dead yet, so it doesn’t count.
And then, to top everything off, the amazingly talented Liz Noftle came along with watercolor magic, adding some typographical marvel to the cover and pages within. I’ve told her multiple times that I want her to make it a font so I can type everything in my life in beautiful blue hues. So there you have it: summer done right.
Back to Montauk
June 9, 2013
A year ago this past weekend, I packed up my car and took Tim out to one of my favorite places in the world: Montauk. It was the first time I’d been back to camp at Hither Hills since I was a kid, and it was a blast: We wandered through the North Fork and then ferried our way south through Shelter Island before driving all the way out to “The End.” This month, the story of our trip is in National Geographic Traveler’s June/July issue. Click through to read the piece online.
Wall Street Journal Piece on Coworking with Kids
May 8, 2013
I have a story in today’s Wall Street Journal about an interesting concept that I learned about in part as result of my Sharing Economy story. Around the time I was reporting the piece, I spent the day working in a coworking space to get some focus and be part of “the mesh” (to borrow a phrase from Lisa Gansky, who was a fabulous source for the story). It was around the time that Marissa Mayer had come down on her Yahoo! employees who had been working from home, while simultaneously raising ire for installing a nursery in her office. Something in my head clicked, and I had the thought there should be spaces where adults could find a workspace with childcare attached. Brilliant idea, and naturally I wasn’t the first to have it. Tracking down these women entrepreneurs starting these spaces was fascinating, and this is a concept I really hope takes off.
Added bonus: I got a mention on the cover of the Journal this morning. Read the piece here on the blog, or go to the WSJ site to see the article, video, podcast and slideshow.
The End of Ownership and the Rise of the Sharing Economy
May 7, 2013
I’ve always considered myself fairly good at sharing: I play well with others and have no problem lending people things when they need them. But sharing for money is a completely new and intriguing concept. When I first heard about websites allowing people to commoditize their assets—homes, cars, housewares, even themselves—I was fascinated. And admittedly, I also saw dollar signs. Why not make cash for renting out the stuff that you own anyway?
I decided to explore the burgeoning sharing economy for Boston Magazine—out in the May issue now—and found the entire marketplace way more complicated than I anticipated. Questions arose like: What does it mean to own something? What degree of trust do I need to feel secure about sharing? And is sharing for money even really sharing, or is it forcing us to avoid actually sharing with the people we know and love? Suffice to say that there’s way more to say about collaborative consumption, and you can read a lot more of my thoughts about it here.
Best Places to Live 2012
April 13, 2013
For the March issue of Boston Magazine, I helped edit our annual Best Places to Live guide. For my part of the packages, I crunched a lot of numbers to put together a market snapshot of real estate trends in Greater Boston (which are a bit scary right now) and also assembled a list of tips for buyers and sellers.