Have you ever given the birds and bee’s conversation? Did you feel like you knew what to say?
Melissa and Kathryn from the No Grey Zone podcast are both prosecutors in a special victims unit. When the courts closed due to COVID-19, they found an opportunity to start something new. To help and serve the victims they fought for before the crime was committed. They are essentially putting themselves out of a job.
They dive deep into the topic of educating parents on resources to talk to kids about touch, private parts, sex, and other issues.
The conversations that are too taboo to talk about openly and so created a space for parents to learn in the privacy of their own two ears.
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Hi and welcome to CausePods, I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at CausePods, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or their taking on global issues.
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All right, this morning, we are taking you to the East Coast, a little bit of Maryland, a little bit of Vermont.
Today we are chatting with Melissa Hoffmeyer and Catherine Marsh, the co-founders and co-hosts of the No Gray Zone podcast, part of their right response consulting dot com practice Catherine. Melissa, thank you so much for joining us here on CausePods today.
Thank you so much for having us. Thanks for having us.
Let’s start by talking about this is all about special victims, prosecutors and raising awareness about sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking. So first of all, what is it that you two do? And how did you get into this particular line of work? Catherine, why don’t you start?
So Melissa and I are both on our dayjob special victims prosecutor. So we prosecute felony domestic violence to include homicides, child abuse, which involves sexual exploitation, physical abuse, human trafficking, child pornography, and then all sexual assaults as well. During the pandemic, when the courthouse itself was shut down, Melissa and I started to look around and say, what can we do to actually try to bring awareness and education to the community? A lot of times in our jobs, when we meet with mental health professionals, social workers and our own victims, a lot of times we get the I didn’t know it was abuse when it started or I didn’t know what options I had available.
And we said we need to fix that. We have time right now. Let’s develop a platform, let’s develop a way to bring some of the education, some of the resources, so hopefully we can prevent future abuse. We’ve been special victims, prosecutors for between the two of us almost two decades. And we see kind of the worst of the worst when we are talking about it. We were like, we don’t really do anything. We do.
Prosecutors get involved after that terrible event happened, right after the sexual assault, after the exploitation of the child. And we’re both moms and we we we understand it and we know the signs. But we knew when talking to our friends that so many people didn’t know that you should teach your kids the right names of their private parts. They didn’t know that consent education can start really young. And so we thought, why not? We have this time the courthouse is closed.
We’re not trying cases the way we normally are. Why not put together a show that is there for parents, for teens, for really anybody? It’s just become more educated to try to eradicate basically to get rid of our jobs. Hopefully, in the end, that’s what our our goal is, is to make it that you don’t need special victims, prosecutors.
That would be a lovely reality, even though they would put you both on unemployment. I suppose one of the biggest challenges you face both as prosecutors and as host and kind of why you’re creating the show and something that I’m curious how you try and overcome is I’m guessing most parents, most people are not out researching, researching what they need to know about sexual assault and abuse because they all assume this could never happen to me or my child. And so usually by the time they need this information, it’s too late.
So how do you get people to. Look at this stuff and think about this stuff before they need it. Melissa. That’s a really good point, and I think that that’s what we kind of found with our victims, is the parents were like, I didn’t know that we needed it. And so we try to I don’t say sanitized, but sanitize our podcast. You know, we don’t talk about the the nitty gritty details. We try to put facts out there, statistics.
And just to make it another thing that we do that I think was important as we make it really short. We know people have short attention spans or not a lot of time with kids. And so we try to make our podcast about 10 to 15 minutes. So it’s something you can do while walking the dog. I think some of our listeners have told me I just listen to you guys one morning, once a week when I take the dogs for a walk.
And so we try to make it, you know, something that is palatable and then quick for people to get the information that they need. And then if they want to follow up with it, they can.
And Catherine, what does that follow up look like often?
It’s interesting because it’s different for each kind of topic. So when we first started, our first things were really about consent. And how can you start talking to your children about consent and body autonomy just at age three, for example, talking about, you know, it’s your choice if you want to hug somebody or not, or if you want to still play the tickle game or roughhouse with a family member to be able to teach your child to say, you can say no.
And one of the things that we point out is we tell our listener, send us questions that you have. We’ll follow up on it with the podcast. A lot of the topics that we’ve done have been because of questions that we’ve gotten back from parents or feedback. We got one who said, OK, so I’m teaching my three year old right now the words penis and vagina with her younger brother. And my husband’s really upset about it. Like, what do you suggest I do so that he’s not going?
It’s crazy for you to be talking about this with a three year old. And so we can address how the family can talk about that, how you can work together to overcome some of society’s taboo about some of these topics and just have regular conversation so we open it up for anybody to send us questions.
So it’s so interesting you bring that up because I actually have a three year old twins and we just got finished with potty training. And so obviously, when you’re doing that right, a lot of what’s this? What’s that? And it’s by the way, it’s a boy and a girl. So there’s definitely a lot of questions between the two of them because they’re not seeing the same thing on each other.
How do I teach my kids the right word without worrying that once they learn that we’re they’re going to run to school that day and use it for hundred times and, you know, possibly get in trouble because when there’s a time and place for everything. Right.
It’s really hard. I think a lot of it is. What Katherine said a little bit earlier is that we still live in a society that kind of shies away from us using the correct term. And so I think it’s more talking to them about these are the words for your body parts, but that we don’t really talk about it outside when we have to go to the bathroom or if you have a question and those questions really should be asked to mommy and daddy, that’s kind of what I tell my girls is you have to know what every part is.
Just like you have an elbow. You have I have two girls. You have a vagina. It’s the same thing. They’re not special. And the elbows no more special than your vagina. But that when we talk about our body parts, if you have questions, ask me about your dad and we’ll answer them. It’s not to ask your friends. It’s not to ask your teachers. You know, that’s something that we’ll talk about at home.
And I think to follow up on that, the more we normalize it at home and it’s open for conversation and our children feel safe to be able to talk about it, it’s not something that’s funny or that they giggle with friends about because it’s it’s just normal now at home and they feel comfortable talking about it. So it’s not something they’re going to run to daycare and say three or four hundred times because it doesn’t have that taboo kind of nature to it.
You explain why you started the podcast, right? A pandemic. You’re not caught right now. You have the time. And this is information that needs to get out there.
I’m curious as far as what were some of the challenges you faced in launching a podcast? Like what were some things that you didn’t expect or what were some things that were harder than you realized it would be?
Catherine Montecristo. I think first was just organizing it enough, we had so many things we wanted to say and wanted to do and and just kind of figuring out a way to go about it. I know that sounds strange, but we really needed to figure out how we wanted to organize it, how we wanted to break it down. And for us, we figured, you know, there there’s a lot to say on each one. And as Melissa said, unless we’re doing an interview with somebody, we try to keep them 15 minutes or less because attention spans.
So we decided we’re going to do monthly a different topic. So one month with child abuse, one month with human trafficking. Right now we’re in the month of February. So we’re doing teen dating violence. We take suggestions from the audience of what are what are their concerns? What do they want to talk about it. And then we build a month platform around that topic. And as it’s going on and as we’ve heard feedback, we’ve evolved it.
And so now we kind of because of participation and comments we’ve gotten back. We do two weeks that are here’s the issue and then here’s resources for them. And then we do one week, which is with an interview with an expert in that field, our topic. And then one, we do a case study where we break down. Here’s how this kind of crime or activity happens in the real world, or here’s what we missed that created this and how hopefully by education, we don’t miss this.
Parents don’t miss this. Friends don’t miss this so we can reduce crime.
How have you been able to connect with your audience? What’s been effective for not only getting parents to listen, but also getting feedback from them?
So I think social media has been the biggest way that we’ve had connections through our Instagram and our Facebook accounts. Things have been shared and then we get inbox messages. We’ve been lucky that I have a wonderful cousin who is dayjob is marketing and his night job is helping Katherine and I navigate because we are prosecutors and definitely not good at those types of things. But he’s a millennial and excellent at it. And so we’ve been able to kind of get him to buy into what we’re doing and he helps us on the side.
And so I think that’s how we’ve gotten most of the feedback. Every once in a while, somebody will go to our website and shoot us an email there. But I think social media, our platforms are probably the best way we’ve gotten comments back.
And is your audience local to your both prosecutors in the Maryland or is it local to that region or does it span the country or even the globe? So I don’t know about the globe yet, we have gotten questions all over the country and it’s something that strikes a chord for when we did human trafficking, I think one of the most touching ones we got was a mom who emailed us actually through our Web page to say I’m a mom. I actually had to fight to rescue my own daughter from human trafficking.
And she said, let me tell you some of the hurdles I had. And we’ve been able to have some discussion so that we can when we hit human trafficking again, we’re actually going to have that mom on to talk about some of the hurdles she hit as a parent. And so and she’s in Colorado. It’s a completely different area. But what we talk about, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual harassment, it’s everywhere.
And it’s a problem that we all need to work together to solve.
So as part of what you’re doing, you are supporting rain. That is the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. We have featured them before on the show. I mean, it’s probably pretty obvious why this is your charity of choice.
But, Catherine, tell us a little bit about rain and why you guys think it’s such a great organization.
Well, rain, if anybody doesn’t know what they should, you can just go to rain dog Mathew. As you indicated, it’s the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. What’s great is they have resources available. They can connect family survivors, people who want to know more with resources in their area. They legislate at a national level for increased funding for new laws. That should happen. They provide statistics for every kind of organization. So, for example, Mallison, I’ve been testifying in the past couple of months with our local General Assembly to change some of the laws that we have.
And one of the first places we go to is rain all the time so that we can answer the legislative questions with regard to why this is important, how many people are impacted from it. And, you know, for example, a lot of times what we have to break down for the General Assembly is the cost benefit analysis and rain breaks that down in a way that as prosecutors, Melissa and I do not have the time or the resources for.
So they’re there for survivors. They’re there for communities for training and education. And then they’re like I said, they legislate themselves, but they help all of us who in our local communities are trying to legislate for change as well.
And of course, again, folks, the website is Rain R I and Doug, we will have a link to the show notes. And yes, we ask please, if you can support them in any way, a donation, maybe your time even just visiting the website lets people know that this is a valuable resource and they could use more support from all of us as a whole.
Well, I’m curious. This might be something useful for a lot of folks who are thinking about launching CausePods podcasts and that you are both professionals in your day job. And not only are you professionals, but you also work specifically for local government. Were there any hurdles to launching this podcast as it relates to you being prosecutors? Were there clearances or sign offs or are there certain things you have to worry about that somebody else who is possibly thinking about going down this road should be thinking of?
We definitely, obviously cleared it with our administration. We’re lucky that we work for somebody who wants this information out there. She knows that it’s necessary. And so we just worked out the parameters. We don’t do anything for money. This is just something that we do on our time to be able to educate the community. And so that makes it a little bit easier. Obviously, we had advertisers. We’d have to be careful to make sure that they don’t come from our jurisdiction because we don’t want any conflicts of interest.
And we’re very clear about any time we do do anything for profit with right. Response consulting that we don’t do it within Prince George’s County where we work because that’s part of our day job and we do that pleasure as part of our job. And so I think it’s just if you’re thinking about it, talk to your supervisor, talk to your boss. Our our boss is an elected. And so we wanted to make sure that she wasn’t she didn’t just come across this that we had talked to her about it, that she knew about it and that she was on board.
And she was I think Catherine would say she was very supportive of it and has been very supportive of it. I think she’s even shared it a few times.
When it’s come across, I’m just going to say, Catherine, is there any chance that what you’re doing actually gets folded into the office as opposed to being an independent project, something that is actually made possible by the prosecutor’s office?
That’s a question, quite frankly, that Melissa and I have never even thought of. And I think right now it works independent so that we don’t have a conflict of interest between the time that we spend for government. We need to make sure that we’re not overlapping ours. We’re not overlapping resources. We don’t use our work computers. We use our personal computer, you know, all different things because we. Cannot have any crossover as it stands right now.
I also think as we are expanding and we’re getting more interviews and we have the End Violence Against Women organization coming up, the One Love Foundation coming up. We have amazing survivors for our March Women’s History Month, who as women survivors have just changed the. Country with laws and different organizations for sexual assault survivors, that it expands kind of beyond the office at the moment, although our boss knows she’s welcome on any time she wants to be on.
Well, everyone on the podcast is called the No Gray Zone podcast. You can obviously we’ll have a link to it in the show. Notes that CausePods.org. You can also find the right response consulting dot com. And while you’re there, of course, if you do have other questions or looking for information on training in terms of sexual assault, harassment, child abuse and more, we would encourage you to check out. Right response dot com. Kathryn Marsh, Melissa Hoffmeyer, thank you so much for joining us here on CausePods today.
Thank you. Thank you so much for having us. Thanks for listening to this episode of CausePods. If you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes of this episode in your podcasting app or at CausePods.org. There you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here. In this episode, you will also find a CausePods.org Barletta subscribe to this show on your favorite podcasting app, How to sign up to be a guest on this show and a link to our Facebook group, which is going to have special resources just for the folks who are podcasting for a good cause.
And I can tell you right now, we’ve got one great deal from our friends at Pod Page, but you’re only going to learn about it and get that special deal if you are a member of the Facebook group for CausePods. And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Killoy of the Military Veteran Dad podcast and what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I received from Shannon Rojas here at the podcast, consulted Dotcom once again.
If you want to learn more, go to CausePods.org. Thank you so much. And we will see you next time on CausePods.