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Project gives voice to the often 'invisible' crime of sexual abuse

By Keener A. Tippin II


Somewhere at Kansas State University a woman has a story to tell.

She could be in your history class or live on your floor in the residence hall. She could be cheering next to you at a K-State football game. She could be working out next to you in the Chester E. Peters Recreation Complex or in line waiting to get something to eat in the K-State Student Union. She could be an acquaintance, a close friend, your study partner, your sister or even your girlfriend. She could be anyone.

But make no mistake, she has a story to tell.

An invisible, ugly, horrible, hateful, violent story. A story that tells the truth about the violence endured by victims of sexual abuse.

Yet she suffers in silence, uncomfortable and too ashamed to share her experience.

"Sometimes it's important to talk about difficult things," said Mary Todd, sexual assault advocate and assistant director of K-State's Women's Center. "And after someone who has been victimized by a sexual crime has done grief work, addressed the physical, emotional and relational aftermath of rape and has moved on, it is still important to talk -- if not for herself anymore then for others -- to revive hope in those who have not yet found a voice to begin their own healing.

As such, the center began a campaign last year that allows people to feel comfortable in describing a crime that has happened to them yet has been kept under wraps because of the stigma attached to sexual violence. The "Making Violence Visible" campaign gives a voice to victims of sexual abuse to tell what happened -- regardless of how ugly or horrible the crime committed against them may be.

According to Todd, events involving rape, intimidation, battery, sexual assault, brutality, being drugged and coercion under fear of violence occur in the counties around K-State every day. Yet most of the stories are never told. Until now.

This collection of narratives will not only provide evidence of the prevalence of these crimes, but also collectively create a powerful chronicle that cannot be ignored; making the invisible visible.

Todd said collecting the accounts gives those who have endured sexual and other violence an opportunity to tell the two sides of their story: the violent, evil, unwelcome, unasked for intrusion into their life that forms the ugly side of the story as well as the restorative side comprised of healing, growth, finding a strength, endurance and spirit inside that many women were unaware they had.

"These stories will be used, we hope, to open eyes, open hearts, educate, anger, sadden, inspire and motivate," Todd said.

In the security of the center, women can safely document their experiences, choosing to either remain anonymous or to put a face and name to the story. Audio or video recording options are available, as is assistance in writing or recalling the narrative. The collection of stories will be displayed in the Women's Center but Todd would eventually like to have a chronicle of the stories in other forms and locations.

Todd said the goal of the project is to promote change by sensitizing people to the issue of sexual assault, making it OK to talk about and respond. She said this project, along with the Campaign For Nonviolence, are examples of the effort of many individuals to cause that cultural shift to occur.

"Rape is such a deeply personal violation that those who are assaulted of course find it difficult to speak about it," Todd said. "But as a culture and community, we have a responsibility to speak out loud about the criminal violation of rights sexual assault entails. If you're playing darts with some friends in a pub and your wallet is lying on the table, the unspoken rule is that no one touches your wallet but you. Your friends will jump all over someone who tries to break that rule.

"Wouldn't it be great if we protected each other the same way," Todd said, "If there was an unspoken rule that someone's very person, much more valuable than a wallet, was off limits unless permission was granted?

"A second imperative of the cultural shift is that boys and men learn that they never, ever have the right to force behavior or activity involving another person. It is a theft, it is violent and it is primitive behavior. So many men use their strength for helping, not for hurting and for building up rather than tearing down. We have this type of man on the K-State campus -- and perhaps as more men read and hear about the effects of sexual assault on women, more will become active in changing the culture."


August 2003