Media is a powerful tool.
It has long been believed that whoever controls the media controls the mind. And we can use it to draw attention to issues that are often ignored.
Women know what it’s like to fight to be heard, from suffrage to equal pay and beyond. That’s why we are perfect to bring issues like sexual trafficking and domestic violence to the forefront, especially because we are often the most hurt by this type of violence.
Here, we feature four powerhouse women whose media platforms and nonprofits spotlight women’s issues and the women who have risen above them.
Tess Cacciatore is the CEO and founder of Global Women’s Empowerment Network (GWEN), whose mission is to transform lives through the power of storytelling. GWEN provides a safe place for people to share their story, through live-stream events, online-curriculum, and in-person workshops, GWEN welcomes people from all cultures and all ages to reveal their story so healing can begin. #Reveal2Heal
Could you tell us how you came to be the leader of the Global Women’s Empowerment Network?
The journey to becoming the founder and CEO of GWEN has been a long, amazing, rocky road. We believe that “We all have a story to share and every story has value.” Our mission is to transform lives with the power of storytelling. It is time for all of us to come together and reveal our stories and transform our own lives.
In 2010, a man I met through social media hired me to film his story in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as he wanted to run for president of the Congo. I went to several countries in Africa filming his press conferences and his life story. Eventually, I went into the Congo alone because he wasn’t allowed to go there due to the risk of assassination. People are continuously being brutally murdered if they side against the president or the government and even innocent women and children are raped due to conflicts over columbite–tantalites, or coltan minerals, in Eastern Congo. I was, and still am, so passionate about the women and children that I was not focused on what danger I was in.
I had several close calls in the Congo. When I left there, I promised myself and the Congolese women that I was not going to let this story die. The Congo is so very near and dear to my heart! As is all of Africa.
GWEN also has a film division. We partnered on The Road to Redemption, which stars Akon (singer, activist, actor) and Viva Bianca (Australian-born actress), Brenda Strong, Margaret Avery, Monique Green, and others. Viva plays an American doctor who goes to Nigeria to work in a village as a medical volunteer. She comes across young girls in the village who are being forced into child marriages. With child marriage comes early pregnancy, which leads to maternal health issues, which is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
With the United Nations, we are supporting and bringing awareness to these girls, who often develop a condition called “fistula” [a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder], which can be fixed with a $100 surgery. So at the end of the movie, we ask people to donate $10 through the “10 by 10 Campaign,” which shows that for every 10 people that donate $10, a woman or a young girl’s life can be saved through the surgery. When a woman has a fistula, she usually gets thrown out of the village—if she survives childbirth—and her children are left behind to be raised by other women. Girls’ lives are being saved this way because they can be brought back home to their village.
Movies and documentaries like this bring awareness and education. Our films bring social impact and awareness around topics that are important to us that we need to do something about.
Talk to me about GWEN as a media platform and as a movement.
I actually tell this story a lot because it inspires people to never give up on their dreams or their vision. Back in 1995 I wrote a 75-page business plan about having an Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) network where we could have our own individual films, TV series, music, and books using the power of media and technology. I was in the technology arena from 1993 on, so I got to see what was coming down the pipeline. I was so excited about the possibility of technology that I didn’t realize it would be years before it was ready. As technology grew and my relationships with people from around the world grew, we got the funding for a partnership to do our TV series and our films. I realized that now is the time for GWEN!
This fall, GWEN Studios will launch on a streaming, multi-media platform, where we are going to launch feature films, documentaries, short films, children’s programming, and our original TV series. We will provide distribution on a platform that’s going to reach 250 million households, through Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung TV and many other streaming devices through our partnership with Xperience-On-Demand (XOD).
I’m so thrilled to see GWEN come to life. And, we are launching a grassroots movement where women can gather in their homes and communities to share their stories, heal from their past, and come together to make a difference in their own communities. This GWEN@Home initiative begins in my home state of Iowa and will spread nationwide. First, we have to empower ourselves through self-love, self-reliance, self-empowerment. Then we can choose a cause that resonates with our purpose and passion. I have been working internationally for decades, as it is my dream to empower women all over the world. GWEN is powered by women and joined by men. We get to do this together. It is very important to include the men in our healing efforts.
How can women internationally become empowered?
I have been traveling around the world working with women in a place of collaboration. These women can become empowered by taking our workshops, joining forces with local organizations doing great work, and taking steps to #Reveal2Heal.
Also, by joining forces with amazing women who have a platform and combining efforts to make sure that change will take place. For example, one of our GWEN Gals is AnnaLynne McCord, who has taken up the cause of sexual trafficking, and for that, she will be awarded the GWEN Luminary Award in November at our GWEN fundraiser at the Leica Gallery in Beverly Hills. Another woman in our network, due to the Inspiring Lives connection and collaboration, is a producer out of Houston, Jacqueline Aluotto, who has done a lot for the homeless population and sex trafficking. And you, Dr. Shellie, my long-lost and recently found sister on the same path—you and I are joining forces to host the upcoming GWEN Talks series featuring Inspiring Lives and Sisterhood Circle segments so you can contribute your unique talk show style discussion around these vital topics.
This ties us all together in such a magnificent way. We have to share our stories and see that we are worthy because sometimes we are programmed to believe that we are not worthy. This is the time to re-program our self-doubt messages and be ready to take on the world together in all positive ways.
I am thrilled about our GWEN partnership with Inspiring Lives. Going forward we can do some amazing things to help transform lives. I am very excited about our present partnership and our future to empower women internationally together with the Global Women Empowerment Network.
For more information, please visit GlobalWomensEmpowermentNetwork.org.
Real Beauty Real Women Founder, Socially Conscious Fashionista, and creator of the ground-breaking documentary series NIMBY Experience and the Pucker Up For Change National Beauty lipstick conscious campaign, Jacquelyn Aluotto is bringing attention to social issues. She started her company and began filming across America in shelters to feature domestic violence victims which resulted in her award winning documentary Not In My Back Yard. And that was just the beginning.
What is Real Beauty Real Women?
Real Beauty Real Women (RBRW) is a movement. It includes TV series, TV specials, digital websites, and so much more. RBRW is where beauty, glamour, and entertainment meet social responsibility. It’s a movement to change injustices in our backyard through innovation and impact colliding with media, entertainment, and activism.
We are a hub of passionate innovators, influencers, activist, advocates, strategist, artists, and tech gurus that specialize in serving much-needed communities in crisis. We are a conscious community. We are an organization that understands the dynamics of transforming communities, families, individuals, and youth that have been affected by the “war on poverty” and how dangerous and unpredictable surroundings limit resources and perpetuate a cycle of violence, abuse, and homelessness.
Our RBRW foundation and media/production company all help spread our message and change the narrative. RBRW and I create conscious TV content, documentary series, and beauty campaigns where the products give back and lead to sustainable programs. Our online store features conscious companies, brands, products, and social entrepreneurs. It is the RBRW philosophy. You can see our video on the RBRW home page.
Take our Inspiring Lives Magazine readers back to when we first joined forces for media for social change.
Years ago, I decided that I was going to make over a shelter and turn it into a TV show with a mission. With the NIMBY [Not in My Backyard] Project (vimeo.com/29116053), we made over a homeless shelter. Then I collected $20,000 dollars in quarters from managing a restaurant and tending bar to pay for film equipment and travel so I could create the documentary in homeless shelters.
I got the NIMBY film screened and earned many awards and accolades. We got a standing ovation in Washington by over 63 delegates representing other countries’ solutions to end poverty.
Ultimately, we did a NIMBY Public Service Announcement, and you came to help us spread the word. We had many activists and celebrities who are really passionate about breaking the cycle of violence, poverty, homelessness, and abuse. It was amazing. I now have a much better understanding on the war on poverty.
Tell Inspiring Lives Magazine about the RBRW Impact Innovation Center.
The Innovation, Impact, Media Center is a dream I have always had. We have done workshops, camps, and events, but we wanted our own place so our clients in the shelter could come to us and learn about innovation, impact, and being a social entrepreneur. People need to find their magic and voice, and this is how we break the cycle of sex trafficking, trauma, abuse, exploitation, etc. Of course you need trauma therapy and a safe place, but you need tools, education, self-love, and self-worth, and you need to tap into your creative side and get that magic flowing again. We teach them about our lipstick campaign and products for a purpose.
The Innovation Media Hub is shared with Social Graces Social Club (SGSC) and founder Anika Jackson Reddick. Anika is also the co-host for the RBRW show. RBRW and SGSC are community impact partners. Monreal & Co sponsor the RBRW workshops by sharing their space with Real Beauty Real Women. Erik Monreal also does the floral workshops to teach the women who are clients at Santa Maria Hostel event planning, production, and how to make beautiful center pieces. This is one of the women’s favorite workshops.
What is a Socially Conscious Fashionista?
I wanted to make activism sexy and giving back glamorous. I believe that giving back should be the most fashionable thing in the world. I studied what people in America love. We fuse beauty, glamor, and entertainment. RBRW was created for ladies who appreciate beauty and glamor but are also passionate about social responsibility and social impact. To be a SCF you must be bold, brave, and kind and be yourself. We are all leaders with our own talent and influence.
Back in the day, people thought if you were an activist, you had to look frumpy or always be on the front lines. Not every activist or community leader activates the same way. We do it effectively for our movement or nonprofit.
You will mostly find me on the front lines fighting to change legislation and serving in a shelter, community center, church, or organization for at-risk communities. However, we are moms, entrepreneurs, and we are juggling everything. I am a woman. I love to look good and feel good. We still want to feel good, look good, and be socially conscious.
When I began this mission, at that time no one was talking to actors who were viewed as both sexy and socially conscious. It’s also social responsibility. I was told I crazy, that there was no way to merge beauty and fashion with sex trafficking, massive violence, cancer, or poverty.
And knowing our vision and purpose, we started all the TV series and shows. We created this movement. We are so grateful to our financial impact partners, great media partners like Inspiring Lives Magazine, and non-profits like The Global Sisterhood who share our same message. We only partner with organizations and media outlets that have real substance.
When Anika and I presented at the Global Gala and Mastermind, we witnessed the connections between likeminded women with powerful stories who support each other, and it was exactly what we love to see.
Our SCFs are bold and brave and innovative, giving and generous, creative and loyal. That’s how we make activism sexy and about giving back. And we embrace everyone. Our philosophy is that as long as you’re making a difference, we want to know you!
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is an SCF. On the floor, she carried the FOSTA/CESTA bill—to mitigate sex trafficking online—and fought for it. She presented the amendment that RBRW wrote about restitution for victims, which led to our amendment being added to the biggest sex trafficking bill in history. She met a lot of resistance, but she kept her word that she would fight for injustice and people with no voice.
That is what SCFs do. You stand for others even when no one wants you to. You meet resistance and don’t give up. We have our style and set our own fashion trends and build our own lanes. We are smashing stereotypes and making it cool to be authentic. That is who we are.
We always want to make an impact. I love that with this cover and feature articles, all of our missions are powerfully aligned to potentially break the exploitation of women and children through the power of charity and media.
Whoever controls the media controls the mind. That is why Hollywood needs women in media. Our storytelling is different. We see the world differently and we experience it differently. We must have our voice at the largest table that controls a narrative that the world sees and that many children are mimicking.
Actress AnnaLynne McCord is known for her TV roles, but she also works with children in Cambodia who have experienced violence. These children depend on her to help them heal so they can reach others in their community and teach them about thriving after such atrocities.
AnnaLynne, you are an amazing actress who had major TV roles such as on Nip/Tuck, American Heiress, and 90210. We connected through Tess Cacciatore because she is featuring you as a GWEN Luminary for the amazing work you do against human trafficking. Tell us about your humanitarian work.
I’ve been working toward ending slavery and human trafficking for the last nine years. I became the president of Together1Heart in 2016. Our work is with a ground team in Cambodia, but we raise global awareness for this issue because it affects every country in the world. This program treats severe trauma and creates an opportunity for sustainable living after the survival of atrocities like human trafficking or sex trafficking.
I always say I flew into Cambodia nine years ago thinking I would help some children. But they turned my world upside down. I thought I was going to rescue them. They saved me and taught me to love myself, how to forgive myself, how to accept my own trauma, how to realize that it doesn’t define me, and that I can appreciate it for what it taught me.
That is so beautiful that you have gained so much. You said that you have been through some trauma. I know you went through a rape when you were younger, and I could identify with that because I was raped at 16 years old. Has going through your own trauma given you that will to help others?
Absolutely. Sometimes in our need to save ourselves, we develop a rescuer complex. That can help you do good in the world, but you won’t do as well as you can until you save yourself.
And that’s what I learned from the girls in Cambodia. They taught me everything. By helping someone else, you are opening the door to healing within yourself, your mind, your body, your soul, and that’s what really came across.
In hindsight, I went through a million different twists and turns before I got to that place. I was suicidal, and many young men and women are also suicidal after their trauma. So I always tell them, “Some little girl or little boy is going to go through something and they need you to be here. And at that moment when they need you, you have to have been strong for them so they know they can get through it, too.” It’s amazing how effective that is.
It is such a profound experience to sit in a room with 200 people and know that we’re bonded through tragedy. It is the deepest bond you’ll ever feel, because I can look in someone eyes and I just know. And they know that they’re ok when they’re with me.
When we want to help someone out, it is an opportunity and an invitation to heal ourselves.
I encourage that desire to help someone out because it will be the step that leads you to your own healing. I caution it, though, because you have to be aware of how addictive it can be.
Wow. I connect so much on such a deep level with what you are saying. I know you’re an amazing artist. And you had to film a rape scene as an actress for 90210. What was it like to do that as a survivor in your real life?
You would think that would be the worst thing ever, but this is the irony of trauma. I was in clinical denial.
They asked me to come talk about something they wanted to do for the show. Of course, no one knew anything had happened to me, right? So out of respect for me as a person and an actress they told me about the storyline and asked if I would feel comfortable. I said something like, “Oh this would be such a great platform to talk about it and to connect the dots with the charity I work with.”
I had one scene where Jessica Stroup, who played the character Silver, told Naomi, my character, “You are in love with him. He didn’t rape you,” because that was what the teacher who assaulted me in the television show told everyone.
After we did most of the shooting, at the end during a peak emotion scene, I had an implicit memory trigger PTSD flashback. It was from ten months after my rape when one of my friends said, “You’re in love with him.” My rapist had told my friend group that I wasn’t hanging out with anybody anymore because I was in love with him.
And all of a sudden I started hysterically screaming and crying. But they kept filming because they thought I was still doing the scene. Jessica, the other actress in the scene, said, “Thank you so much. That was amazing.” And I said, “This show was not for you.”
Then I blacked out, ran off set, and disappeared. My makeup artist, who is a survivor himself, came and found me. I was facing the wall in the corner of an industrial warehouse-like place, completely unaware of my surroundings.
That’s how trauma works. We hold this in our bodies, and our bodies respond when they have the specific trigger memories. My body felt like I was reliving that moment so many years before. I hadn’t even acknowledged it had happened. And that’s what people don’t understand about this kind of trauma. This is how my brain coped. People don’t realize that you don’t choose to be in denial. Your brain does that, and you genuinely don’t recall.
That whole moment led me to feel empathy for people who are in denial of trauma.
I’m adamant about the way we talk to girls because we are the reason they apologize for their own rapes. We make them fear. That is a major problem in our society. We tell a little girl to go put something else on because if she is wearing that, it’s her fault. We don’t teach boys not to rape. We teach little girls not to “get themselves” raped. I can’t stand it, it pisses me off.
First of all, I agree with that completely! Inspiring Lives Magazine readers are predominantly women who are very empowered or are looking to be empowered. What would you tell them to do to take those next steps to be their best selves and rise above?
To all women everywhere, first and foremost: be yourself. For me, that means being sexy! I love being sexy. I love dressing sexy. I love feeling sexy. I love dancing sexy. And I am constantly told, “You can’t do that! You are a rape survivor. You are a role model. You are this. You are that.” Oh, absolutely not! Yes, I was raped one night. But, women should enjoy their sexuality and the sexual prowess of their feminine energy. It’s completely preposterous to me and I encourage women to be your sexy beautiful I-am-woman-hear-me-roar self, however you show that in your world. Do you according to you. And that’s it. No one else.