By Rebecca Marchiafava, MPP
STAR Vice President
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Brene Brown
In the work that we do at STAR, we witness survivors’ stories. We hear about their pain, trauma, triumph, hope, and healing. Because of the privacy and inherent confidentiality of what we do, survivors’ experiences often remain unseen by the public.
Maintaining client confidentiality is critical to ensuring our clients’ safety and power over who has access to their most private and vulnerable information. But what if a survivor wants to share some of that information publicly to support other survivors’ healing and inspire change? After all, survivors speaking up has always been the driver of social change when it comes to addressing and ending sexual violence. We wanted to develop a program that would support survivors in doing just that.
In the summer of 2017, STAR sought out and received grant funding to launch Truth Out Loud, a survivor storytelling project, in our Baton Rouge branch. This idea stemmed from similar programs in other sexual assault centers and the belief that if survivors were given the time, space, and support to share about their experiences, that it would give them the opportunity to shed the silence and shame surrounding their trauma.
Survivors often disclose how isolating and stigmatizing the experience of sexual violence can be, which is in part why so many survivors decide to remain silent about their assaults. When survivors suffer in silence, healing and closure are practically unattainable. Through the sharing of stories, survivors can learn that they are not alone. There is also strength in numbers, and the more survivors speak out about the violence that was committed against them, the more the walls of shame and stigma surrounding survivors will begin to disintegrate, allowing for greater connection and healing.
The Truth Out Loud project gave us the resources to host a workshop series for survivors and create a video series that would feature the survivors telling their stories. Then, in fall of 2017, #MeToo unexpectedly went viral. Publicly and privately, an avalanche of long-silenced experiences were brought to light. Certain powerful perpetrators started being held accountable after decades of not being held accountable. The general public began going through what survivors and advocates had long been going through–learning to live with the reality that sexual violence occurs far too frequently and affects far too many people’s lives, health, and families…and coming to terms with that people we loved, looked up to, and thought we knew could be perpetrators of sexual violence.
Given all of this, was it too late for our survivor storytelling project to make a difference? Did #MeToo make a program like our survivor storytelling project irrelevant?
There was only one way to find out.
In spring 2018, we invited survivors to apply for the program and set up screening interviews with applicants.
In these interviews, many of the applicants said that they had already shared their stories with friends and family, but were interested in sharing their story more publicly to create change and help other survivors feel less alone. Some said they had felt inspired by the #MeToo movement and were grateful to see an opportunity like this be made available in their own community.
At the end of the workshop series, participating survivors shared the following feedback:
“I feel extremely empowered and supported and I am ready to take the next steps to move forward with sharing my story.”
“I have more tools and support to tell my story. I still have a little healing to do, but I’m better at vulnerability.”
“I learned that sharing my story of sexual trauma and healing doesn’t have to be so big and scary, and that there can be peace in it.”
“This workshop was so empowering for me in my heart and soul.”
Participants also shared that just the act of coming together with a group of other survivors felt so empowering and healing, and that despite the differences between each person’s story, there were shared experiences that helped them feel validated, supported, and less alone.
After hearing this feedback, we committed to hosting regular meetings of the Truth Out Loud group to help maintain these connections and allow opportunities for debriefing and providing support related to experiences speaking out.
In the months following the workshop series, we also produced a video series that is now available for viewing on our YouTube channel. We’d like to thank Tonja, Lacy, Vonnie, Kim, Katrina, Laura and Meagan for their trust in allowing us to feature their stories, and for their courage and passion for helping others and creating change. These survivors take action in countless ways to improve systems, improve their communities, heal themselves and support others in healing.
We are grateful to have received funding to continue this project for another year and hopeful that by doing so, we will continue to help build a supportive network among survivors and public support for survivors.
You can watch the Truth Out Loud videos here.
You can support programming like this by donating to STAR online, texting “STAR20” to 41444, or mailing a check to 5615 Corporate Blvd., Ste 200, Baton Rouge, LA 70808.