Giving a Voice to Those Impacted by Sexual Violence

with Anne K. Ream of The Voices and Faces Project

People who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, or human trafficking often live with lasting trauma and stigma. But some are reclaiming their power through storytelling, using their testimonies to create change by fostering compassion and encouraging social action.

Anne K. Ream, Founder and Creative Director of The Voices and Faces Project, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss how personal narratives can change hearts, minds, and policy.

Posted on:

Mar 31, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking, also known as gender-based violence, deal with lasting trauma, stigma, sensitivity, and other concerns. It's part of why they're often reluctant to report victimization or seek care. But one group is working to support this community in a unique way, through storytelling. Young women: I am not too young to understand that no one should know all the things that I know. Young women: I am 14.

Anderson: Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The clip you just saw came out of the workshops provided by The Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006. They have worked with 1,000 writers, activists, survivors to help channel their experiences with gender-based violence into powerful testimony. And joining me to talk about this work is Anne Ream, founder and creative director of The Voices and Faces Project. Anne, thank you so much for being here.

Ream: Thank you so much for having me, Tetiana. Wonderful to be here today.

Anderson: So help us understand the why in all of this and why it's so hard for these survivors to talk about their own stories.

Ream: You know, we live in a world where we often want to disappear the stories of people who have survived trauma or abuse, and survivors feel that. And so going into the world and sharing your story in a way that empowers you and calls for the culture to change can be extraordinarily difficult. But it's important because the world won't change until we do it. And for survivors, speaking truth can also be transformative for them personally.

Anderson: So you mentioned the word "change" here, and I'm wondering why your stories are so key to creating some of this change.

Ream: It's really interesting. There's actually a large body of data that shows that stories, versus statistics, really break through. Often we understand an issue in a very abstract way. We've heard about sexual violence. We've heard about trafficking. But when you encounter someone who's lived through that violence and had their life changed or altered by it, you really start to feel the beating heart of that violence or that abuse. And so story often breaks through ideological barriers. It breaks through the resistance people have to hearing the truths that are difficult. And it calls people to action in a way that statistics alone cannot. So stories really are one of our most powerful tools for calling the culture to action and creating change.

Anderson: I'm wondering about the primary goal with all of this work. I mean, is the aim here to share the story with legislators, the media, the public, or is this about the process itself?

Ream: It's really all of the above. I mean, one of the things you see when you're in the workshop with writers is how transformative it is for them individually to start thinking about how their personal story could possibly lead to change, how they want to share their story. But when those stories are developed, you know, whether it's in the form of poetry or a public speech or spoken word or memoir, they're powerful and they're potent. And you see them when they're read or shared in front of policymakers, community groups, local legislators -- You see that they have the power to change minds and hearts. And so writers coming through this program really are looking at this as a twofold goal -- "How can I transform personally by confronting and thinking of ways to share my story? And how can this story call the culture to action?" And when those things come together, it can be quite extraordinary.

Anderson: What are some of the positive changes that have happened because of this storytelling work, and what do you think still needs to happen here?

Ream: Yeah, I have seen writers from our project do some extraordinary things. They've lobbied on Capitol Hill. They've advocated for legal change that has actually occurred. We had a -- We've had several writers actually publish books, one specifically who published a beautiful young adult novel based on her experience with sexual violence that now is being used in high schools and on college campuses across the country to educate people on sexual violence. So we need more of that. We need a chorus of voices. A single voice will never create the kind of change we need. What I think needs to happen now, I think it's less about survivors sharing their stories because they, and we, have been speaking for a very, very long time -- It's that the world needs to embrace these stories and not just feel when they encounter those stories, but act. Actually engage in creating change. So a lot of the change I think we need to see is on the public right now.

Anderson: What's next for The Voices and Faces Project?

Ream: That's my favorite question right now because, of course, we started our writing program just a decade ago, and having had over 1,000 writers come to the program, we started to see that the storytelling model we were using not only was really resonant for gender-based violence survivors -- It had applications for other communities. So we're expanding our program. We're right now doing writing workshops with refugees and undocumented persons, with young girls and older men affected by the criminal justice system. We're also working with survivors -- or people who have lived through or are living through income inequality. And so in 2022, we're launching the Center for Story and Witness, which will be where Voices and Faces goes, a global storytelling center, where we'll bring our writing workshops to larger numbers of communities and train other workshop facilitator and instructor teams to do what, right now, myself and largely one other colleague have been doing over the last decade. So we have a lot in store, and we're really excited about where all this is going.

Anderson: And I'm sure people are gonna want to find out more about all of this work. So what's your website? Where should they go?

Ream: Voicesandfaces.org. And I do hope that your audience does visit. It's a beautiful website where you can encounter the writing of many people who have come to our writing program, powerful stories of survivors, a real exploration on why storytelling and testimony matters so much in the moment we're in now, and it's just a beautiful, beautiful space. So I do hope you'll visit. I'd love to see your audience there.

Anderson: Anne Ream of The Voices and Faces Project, thank you so much for being here.

Ream: Thank you, Tetiana. I've loved our conversation very much.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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