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Stories of Survival
By Kristen Rebelo
Editor's Note: This is a trigger warning. The following video and interview content contains stories of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
This is the fifth in a series of videos by The James House, where survivors of abuse volunteer to share their stories. The James House provides support groups for men, women, and children who have experienced domestic violence and sexual abuse and is an important free resource serving the Richmond and Central Virginia areas. These resources include a 24 hour crisis line, shelters, private counseling, and many other confidential services. I have interviewed Director of Donor Relations, Kiffy Johnson Werkheiser, for her insights on the importance of storytelling as a method of community outreach.
With this being the fifth survivor video released, how has storytelling become a part your organization?
In the past we’ve tried explaining the magnitude of sexual and domestic violence using statistics. However, statistics don’t inspire people to take action—real people’s stories do. I could tell someone that based on the size of the population we serve, there are about 11,000 men in our area who have been sexually abused. Or I could show them Daniel’s story and have them understand how sexual abuse can tear a man’s life apart and get a much better outcome.
We have always incorporated engaging teaching methods into our community presentations but these stories connect the audience to the issue in a way we never could before. The James House has never brought former clients to outreach events and presentations because we view it as exploitive and potentially traumatic. Our services are free, and there are no strings attached—ever. But the public—potential volunteers and donors—wants to hear from the people you have helped. In asking survivors to be part of the videos, we tried our best to make sure that they were emotionally prepared and willing to go public.
Violence is a subject that can be difficult to talk about. Why is the process of survivors relaying their stories important?
Survivors of intimate partner violence have different experiences but they all share one thing in common. They blamed themselves. Most survivors do not report these crimes, and far too many remain silent in their suffering. Speaking out about the abuse breaks the silence. It takes courage for survivors to heal, and sharing your story takes even more courage.
When the community comes together to affirm the person’s experiences and support them in this effort, it can be transformational.
What influence do you hope you have on those who may be watching these stories?
I hope that anyone who views these stories feels the pain of the survivors but also feels inspired to take action. I also hope that they see how much The James House cares about involving the entire community in our work.
What resources is The James House providing to survivors in our area?
Our goal is to help clients to become healthy, safe and self-sufficient. To that end we offer a 24 hour crisis hotline, one-on-one counseling, support groups, emergency shelter, transitional assistance, emergency pet placement, court and hospital accompaniment, and community education. All of our services are cost-free, confidential and available to women, men and children.
What can our readers do to help?
Learn how to be a good friend to someone who is experiencing abuse. Believe them. Offer them resources. Help them make their own decisions.
Think before you ask questions, like, “Why doesn’t s/he just leave?” Leaving is the most dangerous times for domestic violence victims, and so often we don’t ask, “How can s/he stop being so abusive?”
Give your time, your talents and your resources to your local sexual and domestic violence crisis center. We’re all hoping to work ourselves out of a job but until we do, we need your financial support to sustain our life-saving programs.
See more stories here.
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