Violence Unsilenced: Trauma and Bearing Witness

Violence Unsilenced

One thing I love about the Blogosphere is encountering sites and projects that inspire me and further my thinking about trauma and healing.  In the midst of my recently discussed  musings regarding connections, I discovered a new site that addresses the ideas of community support and witnessing: Violence Unsilenced. Part of what is damaging about abuse is the sense of isolation, of being cut off from and different from others.  The reality is that abuse is in fact a far too common experience and survivors may gain a sense of connection and further their healing by reclaiming their voices and telling their stories.  Keeping the secret of abuse only furthers the agendas of abusers.

To have a witness to the horrors that were once secret can be empowering.  I see myself as a therapist as serving in that witness role. Connecting to a larger survivor community can help too. The internet offers opportunities for survivors to connect in all sorts of new ways.  A caveat: as with in-person disclosure, it is important to work on making informed choices about who/which sites to trust.  Please be sure to check out sights/sources/online communities.  Run them by your therapist or get references from others you trust.

Violence Unsilenced has created a site where survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault can tell their stories in the context of an online community that bears witness and pledges to listen.

Read their mission in their own words:

This blog was created with the sole intention of shedding light on the epidemics of domestic violence and sexual assault by giving their survivors a voice. I believe one of the last hurdles to eradicating abuse is the culture of silence and shame that exists yet today. I believe that you have people in your life that are being abused, you just don’t realize it. I believe victims are led to believe they are alone, that no one will believe them, and that people will think less of them. I believe every situation is complicated and unique. I believe that every single survivor of abuse is different from his or her comrades, and that by sharing stories here we can educate the public as to just how pervasive domestic violence and sexual assault is, and how it crosses all cultural, racial, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic lines. I believe this is society’s collective problem, not simply a problem of those directly impacted. I believe there are 70 million blogs out there, and that one in four women will experience abuse in her lifetime. I believe we who are active in the blogosphere have a responsibility to listen to our friends and to spread the word, so that we can strip abusers of this critical power.

Please keep in mind that reading the stories of others may be very triggering for survivors, so check in with yourself before and after.  If you have a dissociative disorder (like DID), think about how to check in with all parts of you, or make choices about which parts of you will view such information.

You can submit your story and/0r  take the pledge to support trauma survivors.

What do you think?

Would it further your healing to share your story with others?

Do you feel able to be a witness to the abuse stories of others?

Do you think that is important?

Why or why not?

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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18 Responses to Violence Unsilenced: Trauma and Bearing Witness

  1. Lucy Marrero says:

    Thanks for sharing this link! Have you heard of Creative Interventions? They have a similar approach and just thought I’d share because your post brought it to mind. I attended their workshop at Allied Media Conference this year and really dug it.

    http://www.stopviolenceeveryday.org/

  2. Dr. Young, thank you SO much for this post. Violence UnSilenced has had a lot of support from the traditional advocacy/therapy community and each voice like yours further adds to the validity of what we’re doing. To me, that’s priceless.

    Thank you for all you do.

  3. Roberta says:

    As a victim of childhood sexual abuse and author of Say It Out Loud (still working on getting published) I couldn’t agree more with Violence Unsilenced. The purpose of my book is to erase the shame associated with sexual abuse and lend hope and help to other victims. Healing will never happen if the secret stays locked inside. The Blogosphere is one avenue for getting our word out. Thanks! Roberta

  4. Lynn Tolson says:

    It took me 30 years to break the silence. I learned in therapy that when I told my story, and started hearing the stories of others, I moved through isolation to community. The community of survivors moved through denial to a collective consciousness of awareness. We go through depression, anxiety, to action.

  5. Roberta says:

    Until I started blogging, (http://write-to-survive.com) I never really felt connected to other victims of sexual abuse. Without seeing a face, let alone meeting someone in person, there is a strong bond felt between victims. I think it is an understanding that no one else in your life has. No matter how much you are loved, cared for, listened to, no one can really know what it is like unless you have been there. It is sad but so warmly embracing to know that we are not alone. Roberta

  6. Just me says:

    I don’t get this. I don’t get how it helps me to be re-traiumatized hearing the stories of other victims/survivors. I don’t get how knowing how common childhood sexual assault is can possibly make a difference in my recovery. Not that I fail to have great compassion for those sisters out there. I understand that silence gets us nowhere but should we not be telling our stories to Congress and to those who do not get it? Safety is not in numbers

    • Hi Just me-

      I think it is really important that you know hearing others’ stories would re-traumatize you now! I am well aware that that can happen for some survivors, or at certain parts of the healing process. That is why I urged caution when I wrote:

      “Please keep in mind that reading the stories of others may be very triggering for survivors, so check in with yourself before and after. If you have a dissociative disorder (like DID), think about how to check in with all parts of you, or make choices about which parts of you will view such information.”

      For others, it may not be so much about feeling safety in numbers, but a decrease of isolation and shame in learning one is not the only one to experience abuse.

      And for those forced to be silent, reclaiming their voice can be empowering.

      But as with everything in therapy and healing, what matters is what works for you!

  7. onesurvivor says:

    I find telling my story to be very powerful. As an RA survivor, it is sooooo easy to find myself wanting to doubt the validity of my abuse. I so relate to that.

    If I can speak it, it becomes that much more real. It is also validating when I describe things that others have also been through. It tells me I am not alone. Not alone with what I went through. Not alone in my struggles regarding the feelings that come with it. Not alone.

    Not being alone is a powerful thing in and of itself.

    Maybe…the more people who share their stories…the more it will start to sink into the minds of the bystanders that this is real…and that something needs to be done about it.

  8. Erin Merryn says:

    It is a great site. Your blog is nice too!

  9. Mojo,NC,USA says:

    One of the most powerful things about Violence UnSilenced is that even in cases where the author doesn’t “need” to tell the story (which is frequently the case) they tell it anyway knowing that somewhere someone is reading their own life story in someone else’s words. Someone they’ve never met has lived through the same kind of thing and come out the other side. The author already knows this, the audience may not.

    For some contributors, telling the story “out loud” is cathartic. For others, it’s a Hail Mary pass at the final gun. For still others, it’s their way of paying forward the help they received when they needed it.

    It isn’t the perfect solution, and as the sidebar says it should never be considered a substitute for professional therapy or legal advice. When someone asks me, I sum up the mission of VU in one sentence: “If you have a story you want to tell, VU is a safe place to tell it.” What purpose that telling serves is different for every single contributor, but what they have in common is that their stories may help them, but they absolutely willhelp someone else.

    Thank you SO much for posting this. I don’t know how I missed it when it came out, but I’m glad I saw it today.

  10. Keith Smith says:

    My name is Keith Smith and my story’s posted on Violence UnSilenced. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn’t a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quiet suburbs of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

    I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. He was arrested and indicted but never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 34 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

    In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

    Over the past 34 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

    Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

    Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, sharing my story with very few people. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn’t my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other survivors know that they’re not alone and to help survivors of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

    My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at http://www.Amazon.com

    For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

    For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at http://www.meninmytown.wordpress.com

    • Keith-

      Welcome to my blog and thank you for sharing your story. I hope you will continue to read and participate. I very much understand the impact of the type of horrific traumatic experience you describe. I want you to know that it is possible to heal from this, to no longer feel haunted. You are very right, time alone doesn’t make things better. But good trauma therapy is available and can truly make a difference.

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