Unsilencing Violence: Where Abuse Survivors Tell Their Stories
Back in early 2009, just after I launched ViolenceUnSilenced.com, a well meaning friend essentially asked me "What’s the point?" It’s not that she didn’t care about victims of domestic violence—she’s a survivor herself, and is very active in her advocacy community. She thinks speaking out is great in theory, but that it should be attached to something more tangible, such as fundraising for a specific charity, agency or shelter. She didn’t think "just talking about it" was enough.
Her comment threw me.
I’m a journalist by day, but I don’t do any writing on Violence UnSilenced—all I do is provide the platform. Violence UnSilenced is a speak-out site for the community, because one in four of has a story to tell. It is where survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual abuse tell these stories in their own words so that they can flip the shame from themselves back to where it belongs—on the perpetrators. It is a website to let other victims know they are not alone. It is a website to educate everyone who thinks abuse doesn’t matter to them, that they don’t know or care a thing about abuse, because statistics say they’re wrong—and we all care so much more about a cause when it’s personal. Violence UnSilenced is a website where survivors speak out and the rest of us listen and reply with words of support so they know they are heard.
That’s it. That’s all we do.
I obviously disagreed with my friend’s question on a gut level, but I didn’t yet have these last almost-three years of hindsight to bolster me. It’s just like anything else: you can receive a thousand well-wishes but it’s the one thorn of criticism that sticks. Privately I worried that she was right, that this was silly, that all of this was for nothing, that it was all just talk and no action. Publicly, I forged on and tried to trust that all of this was bigger than me, and that it was enough. More than enough.
But slowly and steadily, my insides started to match my outsides, with each private letter I received from survivors after they’d posted on VU: grateful, empowered, surprised that it felt as good as it did. Maybe it was at the one-year mark as I was building the anniversary video, and reconnecting with all of those first-year alums—and again, with the second-year video. Or maybe it was after reading and absorbing email after email after email, some saying they weren’t quite ready to speak out yet, but that hearing their own story spoken by a stranger let them know they weren’t crazy, and that they weren’t alone. Some saying they had left dangerous situations because of something you said—or you, or you, or you, or you, or you—on VU. Some actually said that reading VU was saving their lives.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating now: I wish you could see my inbox.
Since 2009, Violence UnSilenced—a simple speak-out site—has been embraced and cultivated worldwide by people online and offline alike. Traditional agencies such as shelters, schools, and law enforcement have praised VU’s purpose. News outlets have featured it, volunteers have nurtured it and, most importantly, thousands of people continue to read and share the stories survivors tell. In 2011 a group of skilled and passionate women joined me to form a board of directors and guide our transition to a non-profit organization so that we can better serve the VU community. The mission remains simple: we’re just talking about it.
I don’t know if my friend’s questions have been satisfied today--I suspect they have—but this is what I can tell you with utmost certainty: “just talking” about abuse is doing something. It is doing something big, something enormous, even. It is simple, although not easy. It is free, and invaluable. We’re doing it at Violence UnSilenced and you can join us there, or you can speak out in your own space. You can tell and receive stories wherever you are in your life, in your day, in your community, and know that it matters. You can open your ears and your minds and hearts and choose to believe survivors when they muster the courage to speak out. We might not ever fully know or understand the changes sparked by each of these voices, but that doesn’t mean the changes aren’t happening.
Today is the seventh annual It’s Time to Talk day, established by Liz Claiborne Inc.’s Love Is Not Abuse coalition. We hope you will take a moment to talk about domestic violence in your community, just as I have done here. Talk about it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, wherever else you wander on the web. Bring it up at work, school, or with your friends. Contact a local advocacy agency and ask what they need. Write on your own blogs and link them below. Share resources on sites like Love is Not Abuse and Violence UnSilenced with your friends and family.
You can join us in whatever way feels right to you, just know that it matters. Know that it’s not "just talking."