Posts Tagged ‘Denial’

Adrienne Livingston on Power & Control

Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

Sex Trafficking… probably not a topic you’d expect to hear on this podcast. Perhaps that’s because you don’t make the connection to disability. But every issue can be viewed through the lens of disability.

Adrienne Livingston, Director of Anti-Sex Trafficking for World Ventures joins me on the podcast to discuss this important topic and its relationship to disability.

Learn about the techniques used to persuade unsuspecting men and women into a life of prostitution. Even if you feel there’s no way this could ever happen to you or anyone you know and love, you need to listen. Many of these same techniques are used in cases of domestic violence.

If conversations referring to physical or emotional violence are triggering,
perhaps you want to skip this episode and go back in the archives for something lighter.
However, this episode is specifically about the importance of being educated as a means of prevention.
This is not about sensationalizing or trying to shock the audience.
I’ve been mindful and intentional about what is included.




Show the transcript

[sound of a person walking outdoors, then a car opening, keys going into the ignition, and a car starting]


I worry about the women in my life. As best as I possibly can,
[slow ominous ambient beat begins to fade in]
I encourage them to be security minded and always be aware of their surroundings. Especially when alone.
Follow what to me sounds like good advice, such as, try not to have a need to get gas at night, especially at an isolated station.
Always be on full alert, when in mall or store parking lots.
Whether the various stories that circulate are true or not, I encourage my ladies to be mindful. Be on the alert, if there’s a van parked next to you.
Don’t stop to pick up what appears to be money on the ground. It can be a trap. Yeah, even if it’s $100 bill.
These suggestions just don’t apply to women. But the fact is that human trafficking, sexual trafficking does predominantly affect women.
I thought we should talk about it here on the podcast.
If conversations referring to physical or emotional violence or triggering, perhaps you want to skip this episode, and go back in the archive for something lighter.
However, this episode is specifically about the importance of being educated as a means of prevention.
This is not about sensationalizing or trying to shock the audience. I’ve been mindful and intentional about what is included
I’m Thomas Reid, welcome back to read my mind radio.
[the car stops, keys are taken out, and a person closes the door as they begin to walk]

Reid My Mind Radio Intro music

Sounds of an indoor cafe or restaurant.

I was 40, I believe at the time and I ended up being at this cafe meeting a friend to talk about work in business. I was dressed professionally, you could definitely tell I was an older person, not a teenager.
And when I was getting ready to leave, a person actually approached me. He had like a white crisp t-shirt on with jeans and a baseball cap.
He said, “Hey, you have a pretty smile.”
I said, “Oh, thank you”.
And he said, “I have a movie studio. And I think you would be great. You should give me a call sometime.”
And I thought “okay, cool.” So he gave me his business card. But then I looked down at his business card, what I was looking at was images of dollar bills in the background. And I thought “that is so tacky.”

TR in Conversation with Adrienne:
Still a little curious when arriving home, she pulled out that card and checked out the website.

Adrienne 03:29
This is I don’t know about nine years ago, the website I entered took me all of a sudden to a Myspace page.
I thought, “Okay, this is obviously very shady, very tacky. Obviously, I’m not contacting this person.” And so I ended up throwing the business card away.

Six months later, she’s invited to hear a presentation from a lawyer on the topic of sex trafficking.

She was basically giving the profile of pimps and on the PowerPoint presentation she was sharing.
All of a sudden, I see dollar bills in the background. She said they have images like these. But then she also followed that up by saying and they recruit on Myspace,
I thought, “oh my god, I was talking with a person who could potentially be a pimp and or trafficker.”
That experience, especially now that I’m working in this industry to prevent it and to fight it is to say to parents don’t think that this won’t happen to your child, because I’ve had some that say, oh, no, this would never happen to them.
The fact is, it could it is a possibility. When I speak with youth on this matter, I say even I as an adult woman have to be careful.

My guest today is Adrian Livingston, Director of anti sex trafficking initiatives with World venture.

I am a light skinned African American woman with green eyes, brown hair, in dreads about shoulder length.

Those scenarios where we need to be on high alert, described at the top of the episode, while important to be aware of, they aren’t the typical techniques used by traffickers.

Adrienne 05:06
I think mainstream media has really glamorized that trafficking is kidnapping, there’s a movie Taken.

[scene from Taken plays]
If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you, I don’t have money. But what I do have a very particular set of skills, Skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go, now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you. And I will kill you.

Good luck. [phone hangs up]

Well, kidnappings do occur, traffickers have much more subtle techniques to lure their potential victims. As we’ll see, that actually means the special set of skills required to save these women are more easily attained than those used by Liam Neeson in the film.
[piano r&b track plays]
First, though, let’s get familiar with some of the techniques which present their own challenges to recognize, like boyfriend.

where you have someone who you think is interested in you wanting to be your boyfriend. But you don’t realize that while they are wining and dining you, paying for you to get your nails done or buying your new clothes, he’s actually grooming you.
And especially if it’s a person who may have low self-esteem or just really likes this guy and does not want to lose them.
And because he’s been giving them these gifts, he might then say, you know, I’ve been contributing, I’ve been giving you all these gifts, and you need to now contribute.
You need to go do this for me.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 06:55
That showering of gifts and attention is not only alluring, but such as a common desire perpetuated in our culture.

Adrienne 07:01
I think when people think of trafficking, you think, Oh, it has to be happening over there somewhere else. They have to be transported somewhere. Yes, that happens. But you can actually be trafficked and exploited in your own city,

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 07:13
a young girl was trafficked while living at home with her parents.

Adrienne 07:17
She had a person pick her up at 2am go out and traffic her and then bring her back home 5am. Her parents had no idea what’s happening.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 07:25
Her dad was a cop. It’s hard to believe that such a thing is possible. But we need to understand that traffickers are well versed in manipulation, and blackmail, and an understanding of the law.

Adrienne 07:37
Gangs are actually selling I’ll say individuals, because again, it can happen to girls and boys. It’s harder to prosecute. If a person is picked up for prostitution, compared to drugs or arms.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 07:50
We’re talking about the differences between the sale of goods and services ownership of the “product” in this case, a human being remains with the trafficker or the pimp.

Adrienne 08:00
You can have one girl that makes you residual income. And it’s harder to prosecute, even if that girl gets picked up for prostitution, it will be harder for law enforcement to prosecute, because you can’t lock up evidence that’s human.
But if they get picked up for selling drugs or arms, it’s easier for law enforcement to prosecute, you can lock the evidence away because it’s drugs, guns, arms, etc.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 08:29
Another technique used by traffickers is blackmail, or demanding payment or another benefit from someone in return for not revealing compromising or damaging information about them. Consider Adrian’s story of being invited to a photoshoot. Traffickers use drugs to control these women. And let’s just say take all sorts of pictures.

Adrienne 08:48
And if you don’t want those pictures released, then you must do what I say. And that means you’re going to go make me money in this form of selling your body for sex, and you’re going to bring me my quota, which is an amount that they have to bring home nightly or daily. It could be $300, could be $2,000. But they have to bring it home. Otherwise, there could be a real fear of punishment.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 09:10
The majority of those being prostituted are cohurst. For some, the entry point is poverty, as in this is the only option available to feed their children.

Adrienne 09:18
I do get pushback like oh, there are some people that want to do it. I’m like, You know what, there are some that do but I’m working for the 90% that don’t.
I’m working for those that don’t have a voice. I’m working for those that if they could prevent it if they could do something else that they would.
This is one industry where seven years you can be dead whether it’s from homicide from your pimp or trafficker to a buyer disease, pregnancy, so much trauma.
They actually have studies that demonstrate that those who have been prostituted have PTSD. There’s a book called The Body Keeps the Score. You’ve had those that have come out of prostitution and are survivors but it’s still hard for them to be intimate with their partner because of the trauma the experience because they had to have sex with so many individuals a day.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 10:00
Now that we are aware of some of the tactics used by traffickers to find their victims, which remember can include men as well as women. What groups are most vulnerable.

Adrienne 10:11
Youth is definitely one of them. You have those that may already come from a background that’s broken. You also have immigrant refugee population, you have someone whose sheltered, their parents have sheltered them so much from what’s happening, that they could be easily lured. Those that are in the foster care system. That’s already the child that has left their family for whatever reason that’s broken going into a broken system.

TR: 10:40
We know that all of these vulnerable demographic segments also include disability. Consider this story from the National Human Trafficking Hotline,
Ominous ambient music begins

Adrienne 10:48
This person who had a developmental disability was recruited from a recreational and vocational training center. So their trafficker posed as a boyfriend.
This person basically was planted in this vocational recreational center, and made the victim believe that the counselors, their friends, their family members, these people in her life did not want her to be an independent adult.
And this trafficker, quote unquote boyfriend, used her fear of being treated as a child against her that caused her to be isolated.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 11:22
That’s just one of many tricks used to control a potential victim, keeping you away from those who truly have your best interest at hand, and can spot the manipulation

Adrienne 11:32
In that time that he was with her basically convinced her to get engaged in commercial sex from their home.
People with disabilities, they may be desensitized to touch because of isolation, a part of the isolation or sheltering, they may have a lack of informed sexual education. They may not even know what constitutes as a crime or constitutes as someone not touching them appropriately. What are their rights? They don’t know.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 12:03
Think about all of the misinformation around disability, the discrimination face, the ableism that’s just a part of our culture. How multiple marginalized identities can greatly increase the level of vulnerability and exposure to abuse and the increased likelihood of not being believed.

Adrienne 12:21
They know that sometimes this person who has a disability, if they tell their friends and their family that these things that they may question are happening, their friends or family may not believe them. You basically help this person, this perpetrator, this trafficker, this pimp, be able to exploit this individual with a developmental disability.

TR: 12:44
We see that when factoring in race, social and economic status, law enforcement is less likely to believe, but they even go as far as to criminalize survivors of sex trafficking.
According to the FBI, 50% of minors arrested for prostitution in the US are black, suggesting that black miners are overrepresented in trafficking survivor populations, and or that law enforcement disproportionately targets black child sex trafficking survivors.
Consider the case of Cyntoia Brown, born with a cognitive disability fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. She was abused by 32 people by the time she was 16.
Running away from an abusive relationship, she was approached by a man who was seeking a prostitute. While with the man in his bed, she feared for her life, she shot and killed him. Yet, prosecutors painted her as a murderer out to rob without any consideration of her full situation.

[clip from Netflix Documentary, “Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story]
Today in 2017, Cyntoia Brown would be classified as a sex slave, a little child manipulated, who didn’t stand a chance against the men who used her. But that wasn’t the case in 2004.

Adrienne 13:50
We as a culture, have to treat all humans as humans, we have to allow all humans, all individuals to have a voice. And we have to believe them and not second guess them.

TR: 14:04
Protect by educating as opposed to sheltering, teaching appropriate behavior and setting expectations for how we should all be treated.

Adrienne 14:12
Whether it’s a mental, physical, intellectual disability, they just may not know for whatever reason, if part of it is lack of information or having their voice heard. We really need to assess ourselves from friends, families, culture, to make sure that these individuals have what they need to get the care that they need, and support that they need.
The common age of entry into being trafficked not the only age, but a common age is 12 to 16 years old.

TR: 14:44
That’s middle school, and high school. We’re talking about a $150 billion industry.

Adrienne 14:51
This is a 2014 statistic from the International Labor Organization, human trafficking, which incorporates all types of trafficking. So sex trafficking gangs, labor trafficking, organ trafficking. So two thirds of that 99 billion came in from this issue that we’re talking about today of sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is the second largest international criminal industry behind drugs. So it goes drugs, human trafficking, and then guns and arms.

TR: 15:21
It’s an international business that preys on vulnerable populations. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that countries with large rates of poverty are highly affected.

Adrienne 15:29
I lived in the Dominican Republic, when I lived there, I definitely did not know about this whole issue of sex trafficking and exploitation. But I recall, now that I’ve learned about it, hearing always, oh, the women, they are being wined and dined by these German men that come over the Sugar Daddy. Basically, scenario, these girls are being trafficked and exploited. Because they are in poverty, they didn’t have an another way to make money, they don’t have an education. That was how they were able to survive.

TR: 15:58
The blatant and honest truth of it all, is there’s one constant that can predict where you’ll find some version of sexual trafficking,

Adrienne 16:05
Wherever there are men, this definitely is there.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 16:09
And those interested in trafficking, are trained to exploit whatever they can to get what they want.

Adrienne 16:17
Basically, pimps say, once I get a girl to have sex, I’ve got her understanding that when one has sex, there is a hormone in your body that’s released called the bonding hormone, oxytocin, you’re literally bonding to that person, especially if you like them. He knows that once he does that, he can ask her to do anything, it can be, go give my friend a blowjob things that she may or may not know that money is being exchanged.
Next thing you know, because you don’t want to lose your quote, unquote, boyfriend, all of a sudden, you’re in this industry of being trafficked. There are some that don’t realize that they’re actually being trafficked and exploited.

TR: 16:58
The term pimp has changed over the years, away from his true definition of someone manipulating a woman by force or psychologically to something synonymous with glamor, or improvement.

[clip from MTV Pimp My Ride]
I’m 24. And this is my ride. So please, and TV, please MTV, please. Pimp my ride!
Check out your brand new ride.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 17:25
Damn and I can’t even sit here and act like I don’t rock out to some of the music.

[Big pimpin’ by Jay Z plays in the background]

That’s my jam!

But damn over 40% of those lured into sex trafficking, are said to come through pimps.

Adrienne 17:38
With pimping culture, you have someone that is treating a person as a commodity as an animal.
our culture doesn’t really consider that this pimp can actually harm this person. You have the finesse pimp, but then you have a gorilla pimp, someone who’s just going to rule with a heavy hand.
Imagine you being the person that’s the victim, having a gun held to your head caught. So you really are fearful for your life.
So when you think and understand the word pimp, why do we have Pimp My Ride? Pimp my pancake, all these things that refer to pimp as a positive thing when really innately it’s negative?

TR: 18:19
Pimp psychology is even promoted as a means of pickup or finding women,

[Pimp speaking] 18:23
Most of the people who approached me, like in the pimp game, they’re not asking how to be pimps, they mostly come to me about how to approach women.
What do you think I say to a woman in 30 seconds to make her want to sell her body on a corner from me for 12 hours is certain power and language and this you use, but when I teach guys this, I don’t teach them so that they can go out and do that. I teach them so that you can be the guy at the bar. I said, I’m five foot seven. And I don’t think I’m the most handsome man in the world. Watch me leave with all the women in this party. And it won’t take me five minutes.

Adrienne 18:51
Is that power and control dynamic? I can control this person. Look, they’ll do what I say.

TR: 18:57
Chances are high that anyone with a physical disability has experienced some level of someone trying to exert control over their body.

Adrienne 19:05
And not ever thinking, “Can I get the permission to touch this person?” I think our culture just sees someone and automatically wants to be like, Oh, let me just help you without even asking and getting your permission. Like wait a minute, don’t do that.

TR: 19:19
And when it comes to disabled women, this unfortunately occurs much too often enough to warrant what amounts to a social media campaign to bring awareness to the problem. Shout out to Dr. Amy Cavanaugh, in the UK, @blondehistorian on Twitter who started #JustAskDontGrab, bringing awareness to this issue of being touched without a person’s consent.

Adrienne 19:41
I think that’s one of those things, to have to educate to give them words if they’re like, you know, I just don’t know what to say to this person or to say no, you could say “oh, don’t touch me.”

TR: 19:52
Empowering people with disabilities through education and awareness, are ways of taking back control. But yeah, So, how often do we hear about this topic through a disability lens? What organizations are out there?

Adrienne 20:05
I was able to find information from Polaris Project, that is one. Then they list the National Human Trafficking and Disabilities working group.

TR: 20:15
NDRN or the National Disability Rights Network, National Center for ending abuse of people with disabilities, are some others. I’ll include a few resources on this episode’s blog posts, At The point of the scenario from at the top of the episode is that we have instincts that we have to tap into.

Adrienne 20:34
If there’s something that’s fishy, there are sensations that are going on your body like butterflies in your stomach, listen to that. So if it’s like a flyer on your car, leave it there. You don’t need to pick it up right then and there drive off because it could be someone that’s waiting for you to do that.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 20:50
That gut intuition or feeling that something is off isn’t just about preventing physical harm.

Adrienne 20:55
If you can prevent it from happening, you are preventing a lifetime of trauma, making sure that that person whether child or adult is then educated on what does it look like?
What does it look like when someone is trying to manipulate you?
They need to understand and see what does even isolation look like? Having someone say, Okay, this secret is between you and I. Now, sometimes secrets can be good. It’s like keeping a secret from someone having a surprise party.
But other times, it’s a secret because they know if you were to tell they would get in trouble.
Having them understand their rights, having them understand what is not appropriate touch. And when it comes to a point where oh, what this person has done is wrong. And you need to report that making sure that should someone report something happening, that they are listened to and not dismissed for their disability, having them being educated on sex education, boundaries, healthy and unhealthy relationship characteristics, not just sexually, that’s anyone whether it’s a caregiver whether it’s a friend, whether it’s a family member, having them understand the power and control dynamics, there’s a power and control will that talks about emotional abuse, financial, sexual, physical.

TR: 22:16
How about a little description…

[rewinding sounds that turn into a hip hop beat]

Adrienne 22:21
It’s kind of like the center of the wheel and then the different spokes shooting out and then it’s surrounded by the tire. Power Control is the very center of the wheel.

TR: 22:30
See, image descriptions aren’t just for the web, and audiobooks. The specific segments of the wheel will the spokes help drive power and control. I’ll mention the category and Adrian will explain further. First, coercion and threats

Adrienne 22:45
Threatens to harm the victim or family threatens to expose or shamed the victim threatens to report to police or immigration.


Harms other victims children’s or pets, emotional abuse, humiliates in front of others calls names, plays mind games.

TR: 23:02
We talked a bit about this one, but it’s really important. Isolation

Adrienne 23:06
Keeps confined, accompanies to public places, creates distrust of police and others.

Denying, blaming, and minimizing.

Makes light of abuse or exploitation and denies that anything illegal or exploitative is occurring.

Sexual Abuse

Uses sexual assault as punishment or means of control forces victim to have sex multiple times a day with strangers.

Physical abuse.


Shoves slaps, hits, punches, kicks, strangles, burns, brands, tattoos, so much in the physical abuse.

Using privilege

Treats victim like a servant uses gender, age or nationality to suggest superiority.

Economic abuse

Creates debt that can never be repaid, takes money earned, prohibits access to finances and limits resources to the small allowance, all of this to give as examples of how someone is trying to maintain power and control over you.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 24:05
Wow, these are all equal size.

Adrienne 24:07
Exactly. Now, they don’t give any of them weight in the sense of what’s more or less, and they don’t name everything. So for example, there is crazy making an example that I know is you know, because basically, you have items and ornaments on your banister or say above your fireplace. If you have one.
And you know you set it there but then you go to bed you wake up in the morning, you go back down and it’s move and you’re like Wait, I didn’t move that and you ask your partner did you move it? He’s like, No, I didn’t move it.
You have different things like that happening where they’re making you really feel like you are crazy.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne:
Is that also gaslighting?

Yep, gaslighting domestic violence is a part of this too. Oftentimes, the same things are used to hold power control over someone in sex trafficking very same in domestic violence. So when I am teaching, I’m trying to help prevent both from happening.

TR: 25:01
Adrienne herself had an experience where now very ex-boyfriend planted spyware on her phone. It enabled him to listen in on conversations, and even track her location.

Adrienne 25:11
He tried to do the crazy making. He tried to intimidate me. He tried to isolate me, thankfully, intimidation, the isolation, that didn’t work.
But I know now what that sounds like, because he’s the one that used it with me. And this is what I actually share with young girls. When they’re trying to isolate you it doesn’t sound like they’re trying to isolate you what it sounds like, and what he actually used was “oh your friends and family, they don’t get me. Can you and I just hang out tonight?” That doesn’t sound so bad.
But you keep saying that message over and over in different ways all of a sudden, and you’re like, oh, yeah, we can do that. All of a sudden, he started to pull you away. But thankfully for me, I said, Okay, well, you don’t have to hang out with them. I’ll see you later!

TR: 25:48
She saw signs from feedback she received from her best friend. And, you know, I have to give a shout out to her dad. Because yes, dads can tell too y’all.

Adrienne 25:58
For those that have fathers, and not everyone has one. I do understand that. And that even those that do may not have healthy fathers. But mine is and when mine met him. He later told me he’s like, “Yeah, I don’t like him. I don’t trust him. He couldn’t look me in my eyes.” As a man he saw something I didn’t.

TR: 26:21
That’s perception, We know when someone is uncomfortable in our presence, especially when we’re used to being “othered”.

Adrienne 26:32
I think growing up and not having a thumb, that gives me a different kind of experience. Not having a thumb has not disabled me in any way. But what it has done is I see other people’s reactions. So when I see someone and they shake my hand or they do something and then they realize I don’t have a thumb. I definitely see it on their face. They’re like, Oh, I’m so sorry. I don’t consider it a disability. I’m actually glad I was born this way that has allowed me to see the world differently. Don’t pity me. This is the life I have. This is the only life I know. I’m blessed. That’s my story. That’s all I can say.

TR: 27:12
Actually, she could say much more.

Adrienne 27:15
A really good friend Susanna Mars introduced me to audio description last year, I have been trained to audio describe live shows. And also I’ve gone through another training to be able to describe TV or film.

TR: 27:30
While she’s writing and narrating. We can kind of tell she’s someone who knows how to use her voice.

Adrienne 27:35
I would say my focus right now is narrating.

[a clip begins from a film]

Man 1: Want to take them home? Three thousand each
What’s going on here?

TR: 27:48
As we know this power in films.

[clip continues]
What’s been happening?

Adrienne 27:51
to you promise you can stop these men promise.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 27:56
Another reason why access is so important. In fact, it was a spontaneous decision to watch a film called The whistleblower that inspired Adrian to get involved.

Adrienne 28:06
I like Rachel vices an actress and I was at the red box. And like all that, I didn’t realize that it was based on true events.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 28:14
Specifically, the experiences of Katherine bulk of back in Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post war Bosnia. And out of the UN, covering up a sex trafficking scandal,

Adrienne 28:26
she was seeing that there were girls that were being trafficked and exploited, she tried to alert the United Nations to what was going on. Unfortunately, she found that some of her very colleagues were not only participating in the sex acts, but they were also alerting the traffickers when rates would occur so they could move the girls. What made me so mad is that she actually got let go as a peacekeeper from the United Nations, but her colleagues had not those that should be the protectors were the very perpetrators and help other perpetrators get away with what they were doing. The United Nations, you as a system were allowing this to happen. Oh, I was so mad. Then I started researching because I thought I want to get involved. Then I saw oh, wait a minute. It’s happening here in my own backyard in Portland, Oregon. You just have to understand the context.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 29:21
She started to talk to other people learning more and figuring out how to get involved

Adrienne 29:25
that led to a conversation with World venture that ultimately led me into having this job. Once

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 29:31
again. That’s director of anti sex trafficking initiatives with World venture where she continues to educate

Adrienne 29:38
one curriculum that I’m really working to grow and to help equip youth leaders of middle and high school girls and it is with a biblical framework is our girl empowerment curriculum. That’s both a sex trafficking and domestic violence prevention curriculum. You can find more information about that on my website, justice, hope, freedom. dot com. Facebook is also justice, hope, freedom. And then on Instagram at JH F ministry.

TR in Conversation with Adrienne: 30:11
I’ll never forget this one afternoon. It was during my initial return home from the hospital after becoming blind. I was taking a nap when I heard the screams of my daughter and my nieces and my driveway. I was startled, jumped out of my bed to see what was going on. It was just playing a screaming like little girls do. I had a hard time though at that moment because I couldn’t figure out what I would do if something were actually wrong. I couldn’t jump in the car and track down the perpetrator, you know, be a superhero. That’s not to say that blind people can’t defend themselves. But it is to say that from my conversation with Adrian, the true power is being informed. Being educated. Protection doesn’t come from sheltering. If you’re a parent of a disabled child, a teacher school administrator, consider the potential danger you may inadvertently put that child in by keeping them uninformed. Rather, why not find the appropriate and accessible ways of including that child in conversations about sex, consent, and the realities of people that will not hesitate to take advantage of them. You may want to take a strong look at your concept of protection. Ask yourself if ableism has anything to do with your decision to deny that child access to information. And while I’m on that topic of denying access to information, Miss Adrienne Livingston. Not only do I appreciate your willingness to come share your expertise on the podcast, but I feel pretty certain that we will all benefit from this knowledge and perspective. We hope to hear from you again. Perhaps as the voice describing some content on one of the streaming networks. Well maybe back here on the podcast, you need to know you are an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family.

And you know you too can be a part of the family by making sure you subscribe or follow wherever you get podcasts. We have transcripts and more at

Just remember, that’s R to the E I… D!
to the D DNS
— “D! And that’s me in the place to be”, Slick Rick

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Cathy Kudlick: From Denial to Director

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Image of Cathy Kudlick in front of a microphone
Happy New Year!

We’re starting the year off with centering the main goal of this podcast – providing that peer to peer support and information for those adjusting to blindness & disability.
To kick it off, I’m excited to have Cathy Kudlick back on the podcast. Last time we talked all things Superfest Disability Film Festival. This time she’s sharing Valuable experiences from her life that helped her move away from denying her blindness to using her interests and abilities to become Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability.

She’s dropping gems for those who are currently struggling with their loss. Some really valuable lessons learned from her own experience. You’re going to want to hear what she has to say, so let’s go!

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Show the transcript


Happy New Year Reid My Mind Radio Family!
My name is Thomas Reid, host & producer of this here podcast! Bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness & disability.

Why you may ask?

Opening Mercy Mercy Mercy, Cannonball Adderley
— Applause
“You know, sometimes we’re not prepared for adversity. When it happens, sometimes we’re caught short. We don’t know exactly how to handle it when it comes up. Sometimes we don’t know just what to do when adversity takes over. And I have advice for all of us.”

Who better to get that advice from then those who have traveled that similar journey!

There’s no time to waste so let’s get it pushin’! Hit me with the huh!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

I’m Kathy Kudlick, and I’m director of the Paul k Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. And I am also a practicing historian, which means I got a PhD in history.


I told you she’d be back!

Cathy was on the podcast with her colleague Emily Beitikss in September of 2020 talking all about The Superfest Disability Film Festival.

I knew I had to get her on when she mentioned her own experience with vision loss. Today, we’re focusing more on her story!

I was born totally blind with cataracts, at a time when they couldn’t really fix them very well. And so my parents in the first like, nine months of my life, basically, you know, kind of realized they were going to be bringing up a blind daughter, but they still didn’t give up.


Cathy describes her early experience with blindness as a Salmon swimming upstream, you know going in the opposite direction or against the current.


Yeah, it’s like I was going sighted instead of going blind.

At one point, I was seated on a chair, and my dad was taking a picture of me, and I reacted to flash. And so they said, Whoa, wait, there’s something that’s happening.


She was developing vision!

A family friend helped connect them with a prominent doctor who said he could help.


And he did.
When I was nine months old, they removed the cataract, my vision afterwards was still pretty darn crappy, as doctors would subsequently say, but you know, it was better than nothing at all, they said. And so I went through most of my life up until my teenage years with this pretty darn crappy vision


Additional surgeries gave Cathy more vision, but as we know, vision is complicated.


My brain didn’t learn when I was young enough to make the association. I can stare at something for quite some time. A lot of people will make that connection in five milliseconds, and I’ll be sitting there Okay. Is that a dog or house? Eventually, I’ll get enough input and enough clues and say yeah , it’s a house. Then I’ll fill in all the rest.

In the process of all this, I have Nystagmus, which is a muscle thing where the eyes basically jump all over the place. If I could just hold them still, I’d probably have pretty decent vision, but I can’t.

They say that Nystagmus later in life, it’s a lot, lot harder. And in my case, it’s all I’ve ever known.

— Music begins – calm melodic beat —


We often think it’s a natural process to adjust as a child, but some things require more attention.

I inherited my condition from my mother.

But society being what it is and prejudice being what it is, and denial being what it is. My mother did not want to admit this to me.

One of my big journeys in life is kind of reconciling well, who I was, who my mom was, and being able to talk to her about it. And even pretty late in life. She was starting to come around, but it wasn’t easy. It was really hard for her. She grew up in a different time, a different place.

— Music begins –

A time & place where disability identity wasn’t a thing.

Cathy’s specific experience with blindness is unique to her but what we all share is finding our path to acceptance. And that’s not often easy for those adjusting to becoming blind. In order to see how Cathy went from denial to Director of a disability Cultural Center we have to go back to her early experience with vision loss.

Growing up, it was just denial city,

It kind of reminds me of the cat that I have that hides under the bed, but its tail is sticking out.
They think they’re hiding, but everybody else is like, whatever, you know, go ahead and hide all you want.

The world really is set up for that kind of denial. I mean, you get all these enablers to help you do it because it’s so much easier for everybody.


Meanwhile, the person experiencing the loss, continues to struggle.

I loved my history classes. And I would just bury myself in a corner with regular print books, and a magnifier, but I didn’t want anybody to see me reading with a magnifier, if I can help it. I know I shook my head a lot to Read. I’d bob it back and forth, because of Nystagmus. I was ashamed of reading. it was like I had an accident or wet my pants or something to be caught reading in front of other people. It was so humiliating for me.


That pain goes beyond the emotional.

I remember getting my first cane and putting it in the closet, and it felt like it was just irradiating out from it, like, Oh my god, there’s a cane in there, you know, like, it was like a beast that I put inside.

— Ambient radiating sound begins …
— Music fades out —

I injured myself pretty significantly a few times by not wanting to use the cane because I could technically get by and if I use the cane and didn’t trip for three weeks, or three months or whatever, and I tripped the fourth week, Well, look, I got three weeks as a sighted person.

These experiences are not unique to Cathy. In fact, it’s more of a reflection on our society. A society that pairs strength with over coming and fails to see value or strength in difference.


They never bothered to teach me Braille.
And if I had learned Braille as a kid, when I was starting out, even if I turned out to be like a total 20/20 person, wouldn’t it be cool to know how to read Braille?

But, there’s so much stigma, things like, Oh, you don’t want to do that.

It’s so ridiculous. You realize how you’re tied up in little knots by society, by other people.

I could have been a more social person earlier on, I could have been a different person earlier on if I had not tried to pretend so hard that I was seeing like, everybody else.


We all travel at a different pace. Perhaps longer journeys accumulate valuable lessons.

Everybody makes it in their own way. There’s no right way to do it. Once you break that barrier, everything opens up, it gets a lot easier, but you got to get to that barrier. And however you can do it, if you even have a hint of how to do it. Go there early and go there often to get to this other place because it’s a lot better once you’re not in denial anymore, not trying to pass. Not trying to pretend you’re somebody else. That just frees you up, big time!


That’s a place that’s important and meaningful to you.

— Music begins –
Things you enjoy – not what some so called expert designates as appropriate for “someone with your condition”.


I started using those tools of being a historian to studying blind people. And that was really, really an important moment too, because you realize, one, you’re not alone. And to there is a history there.

I think knowing that there’s people like you that came before you, no matter who you are, and what identity you’re wrestling with, is so powerful, and so liberating, because it means you’re not the only one. You’re part of a tradition, you’re part of a process for a society. It’s not just us selfishly trying not to be treated badly.


That experience of discrimination or being treated badly, well that can ignite a fire. .


I’m mentioning the name, not to punish them, but just to show these were different times, and I’m not trying to make it up or cover anything over.

I had my first academic job at Barnard College.

I was starting to open up about my vision impairment and sort of being honest with people because I felt comfortable enough to do that.
but it came back to me that they did not want to keep me on, or they didn’t want to really consider me for another longer term job there because of my vision impairment.

They asked me to teach a large lecture class in front of a bunch of people just to see how I would do.

and something when they asked me to do that made me realize, like are you asking other people to do this.

So I said, No, I wouldn’t do it unless they were making all the candidates do it. Needless to say, that job application didn’t go much further.


That experience helped form a new way of thinking.


If I got kicked out of a job and didn’t get a job, because of my blindness, maybe there’s a flip side to this where I could say this is an identity and get people to think about identity differently.

This was before I knew much about disability studies, this field was kind of just taking off, there was no real disability history at that point.


So Cathy used her tools!

I started doing research in the French archives, where I did history of medicine, research, and I hooked up with researchers there Talk, talk to them. And it turns out, there’s a really great person that I have coauthored with Zina Weygand.

She introduced me around about scholarship and people and suddenly I was off to the races. It used a lot of talent that I already had in terms of this history research. I was basically off, off and running.


Her curiosity led to the discovery of a history of Blind people that I’m sure many are unfamiliar with. It began with a pamphlet.


It was called reflections, the life and writing of a young blind woman in post-revolutionary France, and it was handwritten and stuff. And I, I had a lot of trouble reading it. I sat in this archive, by myself. I had this one librarian that would read to me and helped me a lot. I ended up transcribing it and talking a lot with Zina , she was like, Madame history of the blind in France.


The booklet, written in the 1820’s, authored by Adele Husson, who wrote about her experience as a Blind woman growing up in France.


Nobody had ever written anything about that. We figured out she probably dictated it to different people because the spelling was different in different parts. And the handwriting was different in different parts.


Cathy and Zina were able to put together the author’s backstory through arduous research

Husson was concerned with being a burden to her family. In her quest to become a writer, she traveled on her own from provincial France to Paris. Her motives for writing weren’t just creative.

— Music ends
She wanted to ingratiate herself so she could get a residency in this place in Paris where Blind people could live if they did the right song and dance to get in. So she wrote this document, and they ultimately refused her.

Call to Action
— Music Begins

Are you enjoying this podcast? I can’t hear you.

“Can you dig it!” (Crowd roars in cheer!) – Warriors


One of the best ways to show your support for what we’re trying to do is to just share the show!
Tell a friend to tell a friend.

That way we’re more likely to get this into the earholes of those who need to hear it. And that’s the important part.

You could also give us a review on Apple podcast. The more reviews and 5 star ratings the more likely people will discover us.

Do you have a topic you want to recommend? reach out!

Email or call 570-798-7343 and leave a voice mail.

And of course Subscribe, wherever you get podcasts!
Thanks family!! And now back to the show!

— Music ends! —


Adele’s writing, let’s say left much to be desired, but she did achieve her goal.


We figured out at one point that she published more books than George Saund, who was a pretty famous writer at the time.

One of the things that was interesting, we found a book that had a preface, the story was really similar to her story, but it had a different name and the preface.

And it turned out that despite the fact that she said, Blind girl should never marry because if they marry a sighted guy, he’s just going to take advantage of them. And if they marry a blind guy, their prospects are totally bleak. They’ll die in a fire or something terrible will happen to them.


The research indicated Adele did marry…, a Blind man!


She died in a fire just like she predicted.


It’s unknown if her two children also died in the fire. Her husband, however, survived and went on to become well known in the Blind community.


He made this invention that you could use to communicate between sighted people and blind people with writing and translating.

He married a sighted woman and lived until he was about 70.


Cathy’s researched uncovered a community of Blind musicians and literary people in the 1820’s and 30’s.


Eventually, Louis Braille was part of that world, too. He knew Adele’s husband, we think.

[TR in conversation with Cathy:]

When you say a community at that time, I’m thinking, is this an actual community physically? Because how were people actually communicating if they weren’t in the same location?


Good question.

So there are two kind of physical possibilities for them.

One of them was a, the residents that she was trying to get into, and there were a lot of blind people that live there. And they had all sorts of rules about who could live there.

There were the schools that they all went to. National School of blind youth, if you were Blind, anybody in France, you went to this, you went to Paris and went to this one school. I think there was also one in Bordeaux, another large city in France.

In general, you knew people from being in the schools together.


There’s even some evidence of more social activity.

There was actually a place in Paris called Café des Aveugles, the Blind people’s cafe. It was kind of a seedy establishment in the seedy part of the city, but they would go and hold concerts there, met and exchanged ideas. We don’t know the details so much, it could be as much as like four out of the 40 people that were there were blind but you know, four blind people really make a stir. (Chuckles)

[TR in conversation with Cathy:]


You see these little glimmers of blind culture that are out there, but we don’t know until people really dive in to research it. With access to these archives now, kind of really hard and not organized and not funded. It’s, it’s a little bit harder, but I think the time will come eventually.


The value is in how these stories are interpreted and put to use.


Once I kind of made that connection, then I could frame a lot of my research as disability as a cultural identity, or as formed in history and as being part of history as opposed to just some weird, random medical condition that affects a few people that nobody cares about.


We’re talking about a significant shift in perspective. Moving away from a very mainstream view and offering something more empowering.


Don’t just try to fix me, let’s, let’s look at me and what I’ve learned as an expert, because I have a lot of talent and a lot of craft and perspective. I don’t mean me, Kathy, I mean the global we, people with disabilities who have perfected through studying, not just scholarly ways, but just kind of observing, you have to observe society pretty carefully to know how things work.


If you’re someone who has been running away from your vision loss, I need you to hear this.

— Music Ends


Passing, people disparage it all the time, but boy talk about being a really careful study or of society and knowing how the rules work. If you view passing as the first part of a two part exercise, then passing is a really set of useful skills to have.

You have to really know how things work in order to fit in. But it doesn’t have to be about passing.


You use those skills for something else and you stop passing and you say, okay , let’s pull it apart. Why do people cross the street that way? or Why do people think that this is important and not this?

Any question is fair game. Disability is so central in things that people have never thought to ask about in a cultural and social and emotional way before it’s always non-disabled people that are framing those questions, and when you put us center, us ask the question, it’s a different thing.


Centering people with disabilities, the results can be extraordinary!

— Music begins – something upbeat and in the spirit of conquering or coming to terms…

[TR in conversation with Cathy:]
At the time that you started to pursue disability studies, would you say you were still sort of passing? It sounds like you were on your way to…


I was on my way, I was on my way. And I remember going to my first society for disability studies, meeting and feeling like I sat at the bar at Star Wars. It’s like, there’s all these different creatures around and I was like, Okay, these are sort of my people, but some of them not all of them.


That’s honest. And I know I appreciate that because, I too was there.

But it ain’t where you’re from… it’s where you’re at!


I used to be terrified of other disabled people, I didn’t want to be associated with them at all, are you kidding?

That’s scary. Those people are way more disabled than me, they need more help than me and what’s wrong with me that I would identify with that when I could be in the mainstream, non-disabled society.


But then you start meeting the people and your opinion and feelings change. You realize well of course we’re not all the same, but some of these people I really do identify with. And for Cathy, that brought her to a realization.

I think I fit more with the people that are the disabled people than the non-disabled people.

In society, there are very few positive settings, where people with disabilities get to be a majority. And that’s what’s so great about our film festival when it happens in person. Superfest is like 4050 60% people with disabilities in a positive way, where people are having a good time, they’re teasing each other, they’re laughing together at the same jokes.

Suddenly, you’re in an environment where there’s more of you than there are less of you. It’s like Whoa. You kind of get a bounce in your step, or your wheels or whatever. And suddenly, you get to be a person that’s in a majority culture, in a way that’s very exciting and validating and powerful.


History helped establish this identity, meeting other Blind people helped it grow.


I did a training at the Colorado Center for the Blind about 20 years ago. It’s run by and for blind people. they make you do everything they’re blindfolded, wearing sleep shades. You learn travel, cooking. It’s really extreme, you go downhill skiing, rock climbing, all these things.

You learn not to be so afraid.


Afraid of what is often described as the never ending darkness! (Yuck!)

But fear, well, that’s just an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real!

You’re taught travel, and everything by blind or low vision instructors. And you know, a lot of sighted people freak out about that. They’re like, Oh, my God, how are you going to be safe or whatever. And I’m thinking, if I’ve got to learn to travel and be safe somewhere, I don’t want that to come from a sighted person, I want to know that a blind person has figured out how to do it, and they’re going to show me.


Once again we see the role fellow Blind people can play in our adjustment.


Wow, there’s people that really do cool stuff and I can learn from this.

Sight isn’t everything in the entire world. It’s something to value, but it’s not the end all and be all there’s a lot of people that don’t rely on it and can’t rely on it. And they have lots of really interesting and fun and great ways to deal with it.

people focus on that light and the dark and all of that stuff and they don’t give you a place to really meet other people that have figured some stuff out. And I think that’s where your podcasts kind of great to be, you know, you meet all these people that are engaged and, you know, vital and fascinating and fascinated and, you know, wow. Once you crack that nut, I feel like things get a lot easier.


And if all that wasn’t helpful enough, Cathy offers another piece of advice for those adjusting.


I did a lot of therapy. Anybody that’s afraid of therapy, get over it. Find a good therapist. Get somebody that’s going to push you about this stuff.

I remember I had a therapist who didn’t know a ton about disability stuff, but he was still open, and he listened.

He kind of pushed me. At one point, he said, Would you rather be an incompetent sighted person? Or a competent blind one?

I sat with that question forever, because if I had known, that’s the choice that I was making, I think I would have freed myself up sooner.

[TR in conversation with Cathy:]

Do you think there’s anything about that journey that you actually had to go through in order to be where you are today?

Oh, wow, that’s a great question. (Pause)


I mean, I am who I am. And it’s all this, like, kind of jumble of what’s me.


She’s Cathy Kudlick…

[TR in conversation with Cathy:]
So Kathy, you already know you are…

— Audio: “Official”

member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family.

Yay! (Laughing) I was waiting, I was living to hear it. I was living to hear it!
(Cathy & Thomas laughing together fades out)


Cathy Kudlick, I so appreciate you and you taking the time to share your journey with the family.
And family is supposed to look out for one another. Sharing our journey’s because we know how that can impact another person experiencing blindness – whatever the degree.

You can find Reflections which contains the translation of Adele Husson’s original booklet along with thoughts from Cathy and Zina Weygand on
For that link, more of Cathy’s writing, transcripts & more head on over to And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.


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