On June 16, we held our first informal barbecue gathering for survivor and police participants to meet for the first time. We were grateful to have Elder Brenda Mason, collaborative artists, guest musician and educator, Lise Vaugeois join us, too. The two groups – the survivors and the police have been involved in a parallel creative process taking part in facilitated art workshops and the immersive digital storytelling workshops.
The approach of this project from the beginning is the use of arts expression as a way of facilitating dialogue and engaging community.
“Art is a great leveler. It’s something that brings people to their own deepest place where they can tell their own personal stories and it’s also a great way to share your story with someone else, ” – Gwen O’Reilly, Executive Director, Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre. ‘Honouring Our Stories’: art helps police, survivors share impact of sexual violence by Cathy Alex, CBC News Thunder Bay.
By listening to feedback, we thought a barbeque and music workshop would be something folks appreciate. Composer, musician, academic, educator and workshop leader, Lise Vaugeois facilitated a fun music workshop for the afternoon, after our lunch. Starting with brief introductions, an opening by Brenda, some warm-up musical introductions, we heard each other’s voices in a circle and shared some laughs as we were in the moment making noises and eventually learning a song. Lise brought a variety of percussion instruments like drums, rattles, and a few odd instruments. One of the police participants plays fiddle and played a song, with Lise on guitar. Lise shared a bit about her teaching experiences and one of the songs we learned is one she teaches to young people which centres one of the seven grandfather teachings– respect. (A thing we all have the right to that we commonly want, need, are worthy of, we learn to earn and give, and sometimes of often we each don’t feel we have or get enough of
Before this gathering, each group took time to view the digital stories to see, hear, and begin to understand more about each other’s’ life experiences and perspectives. How we are going forward has been shaped by taking time to view each other’s’ digital stories and have a facilitated conversation. Different positions of power, glimpses of vulnerability and humanity are revealed by the digital stories. Starting from a place of naming the strengths and challenges shared by each person who completed a digital story, we were able to begin to understand and explore some questions through a dialogue…
How do participants who have experienced sexual violence view themselves and what do they want people to know and understand?
How do survivors of sexual violence view police and their role in the community?
How do police view themselves and their role to address sexual violence?
What are some of the assumptions that society says about survivors and what is the impact of these?
What are some of the assumptions that affect police and what is their role in addressing sexual violence?
What are the different associations for the word victim and the word survivor?
There are a lot of considerations and important tensions that I acknowledge in our community that I reflect on. The systemic review of the police, deaths of Indigenous youth, the frequency, complexity of violence in the community, and the different feelings of safety and belonging that people express are some examples. There are a lot of supports and services in our community, public campaigns, grassroots initiatives and caring people. A coordinated and collaborative response takes a lot of ongoing work and relationship-building. The different ways in which systemic violence affects each person in this community is part of understanding the gaps and figuring out how and why sexual violence happens and what we can do to address it and respond. As a part-time advocate, I see how people experience challenges when it comes to accessing resources or are limited in some ways when it comes to participating in community and free from experiencing sexual violence. Accountability and a sense of justice is not always found at the end of the day as you can see different rulings on different cases and the ways people who experienced the harm and sexual violence can be re-victimized, silenced, blamed, or minimized. To those who haven’t had the ability to talk or share their experiences or have felt they were not believed – we think of you as we gather and as we listen.
Bringing the focus back to survivors’ experiences in Honouring Our Stories– each participant has had different experiences with police that they have been reflecting on or are reminded of. For some, they have had limited interactions. For others, it’s complicated and with mixed responses and experiences. We heard from participants the different associations with the words victim and survivor, uniform and police.
A weaving and mixed media piece by a participant who is a survivor of sexual violence.
A participant preparing the edges of fabric.
What is clear is that everyone is impacted by sexual violence that is happening in our community. This includes the police participants who have shared some of the ways in which witnessing trauma affects them when they step out of the uniform. With this point- what I am reminded of here is the resilience of survivors of sexual violence, the life-long journey of living and healing from the experience, and what some of the possibilities and limitations are when it comes to the ways in which we have responsibility to address this pervasive issue in need of systemic change.
#HonouringOurStories #WeBelieveSurvivorsFunding for this work was provided by It’s Never Okay: Ontario’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment