Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Ruthie's Story

"Ruthie Jordan shares her survivor of sexual assault experience through this compelling short film. She continues to stand for justice on a collective scale for all women – especially for Jini Barnum, a woman who is no longer present to stand and see her own justice transpire. Often times Deaf women are not aware of their rights when such assault occurs. Ruthie has produced this film to ignite hope and inspire courage within her community to stop allowing power play coercion acts to occur and advocate for yourself – YOU are worth it!"

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Personal Stories and Policy Education in Nepal

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month.  StoryCenter is currently recognizing the importance of speaking out about rape and abuse by sharing new and archived pieces from our blog.  Today, we share a piece from our archives by Amy Hill, the director of StoryCenter's Silence Speaks program.


Linking Women’s Personal Stories of Abuse to Policy Education in Nepal

By Amy Hill, Silence Speaks Director

Editor’s note: since this piece was originally published on the WITNESS blog, the digital stories by Nepalese women have been screened in a variety of local community and training settings in Kathmandu and beyond, as part of our partner organization SAATHI Nepal’s efforts to protect women’s rights throughout the country.

From the moment I met Bandana Rana in 2008, I sensed that we would work together. She runs SAATHI Nepal, which has for nearly twenty years been challenging violence and injustice against women at all levels of Nepalese society. We talked about the importance of bringing stories told by survivors into human rights dialogues, about the power of visual media, about the possibilities for storytelling in Nepal. It took time, but three years later the vision became a reality, when I traveled this past October to Kathmandu to begin a SAATHI – Silence Speaks Digital Storytelling partnership on the Voices for Justice project.

Silence Speaks is a project of the non-profit Center for Digital Storytelling, offering workshops in which storytellers reveal and bear witness to personal tales of struggle and courage and are guided through participatory media production methods that result in short digital videos known as “digital stories.” The Voices for Justice project has supported Nepali women in sharing their personal experiences with gender-based violence in an effort to promote awareness and enforcement of the Nepalese Domestic Violence Act.

Nepal has one of the worst records of violence against women in the broader Asian region. According to a report prepared by the Nepal Department of Health Services, an estimated 81% of women in rural communities face recurring domestic violence at the hands of husbands and in-laws. Nepalese women and girls are vulnerable to both domestic and public violence, such as rape, sexual abuse in the workplace, and human trafficking. Although caste-based discrimination and the dowry system have recently been banned, these traditional practices which place women at risk of harm continue to be widespread throughout the country.

Political instability and a lengthy civil war overshadowed issues of gender-based violence for many years. Finally, in 2009, after a decade of advocacy by women’s rights groups, the national government passed legislation designed to protect Nepalese women impacted by domestic violence. While the Domestic Violence and Punishment Act represents an important step towards justice for Nepal’s women, absent effective public education strategies and concerted efforts to push for accountability in enforcement, it is unlikely to make much real difference in their day to day lives.

This is where we hope Voices for Justice can play an important role. With the goal of centralizing women’s first-person stories to raise community awareness about the new law and advocate for timely and effective response by police, legal officials, and health providers, I worked for five days with SAATHI staff and interpreters to support a small group of shelter residents in talking about their lives. We played games to get to know each other, took photos and video clips, and spent a tearful afternoon bearing witness to narratives that describe the unthinkable: the wife who was beaten almost daily, for ten years; the child bride whose in-laws poured kerosene on her and set her on fire; the young girl lured from the countryside to the capital city by the promise of education, only to be held as a sexual slave for months.

Given the stigma that surrounds gender-based violence in Nepal, SAATHI staff and I spent many hours prior to the workshop emailing back and forth about ways to protect the safety of the storytellers. We relied on the principles outlined in the Silence Speaks “Digital Storyteller’s Bill of Rights." All of the women were informed from the outset that their completed stories are likely to be screened in communities, at law enforcement and service provider trainings, and on radio and television, to give visibility to the new law. They were offered multiple opportunities to opt in or out of the workshop, as well as multiple opportunities to decide within and after the workshop whether or not to go public with their names and images. (Note: though final decisions have not yet been made, it’s likely that all of the women will remain anonymous in their stories.).

We also took great care to avoid re-traumatizing the women during the process. Some have only been in the shelter for a few months and continue to struggle with recurring memories and nightmares about what they lived through. I was grateful again and again for my own training and experience in working with survivors; for the presence of the peer translators, all young women with whom the storytellers bonded; for the support of the SAATHI staff who assisted; and for the courage of the storytellers.*

SAATHI eased the participating women into the process of sharing their stories by bringing them together for art-making sessions, prior to my arrival. They created detailed drawings of their abuse experiences, which will appear in the final digital stories. During the workshop, we created a sense of safety and protection and helped those participants who occasionally became lost in the past spiral out of their pain and back into the present moment of caring and attention. During the workshop debrief, almost all of the women expressed relief and gratitude for the opportunity to tell their stories in a nurturing, women-only environment.

Because the workshop coincided with Diwali, we ended with a candle-lighting ceremony that gave each of us the chance to express a hope for herself as well as a hope for women around the globe. Again there were tears and heartfelt wishes for an end to suffering. I expressed the hope that my daughter, who turned one in September, will grow up into a world where women can live safely and freely… and the hope that the stories shared in the workshop will lead to positive change.

An anonymous excerpt from one of the stories from the Voices for Justice project:

I got married at an early age without my parents’ consent. I thought that after marriage life would be good, but my dreams were shattered. After the wedding, I found out that my husband was not the person I had thought him to be...

He would beat me until I was unconscious, and when I woke up, he would say, “I thought you were dead, but you’re still alive.” I was not allowed to work (outside the home), or tell my story to anyone. I felt so alone...

Somehow my father knew what was going on. He asked me to come home, but I didn’t want to, because I had married by my own choice... I tolerated all this pain for ten years. My husband threatened to kill me, again and again. I was thrown down to the floor, I had scars and black and blue marks all over my body. My children used to be terrified. When my husband beat me, they would shout and cry...

Finally, for the sake of my children’s future, and for my own safety, I left my husband. I came to Kathmandu and stayed with my sister in law. She helped me find the shelter, and the stories of the other women consoled me. Now I’m being trained in housekeeping. I know that one day I will find a job and be able to take care of my children on my own.

View stories from other Silence Speaks projects.

*For more information about the Silence Speaks approach to addressing trauma, please contact Amy Hill at amylenita@storycenter.orgVoices for Justice is funded jointly by the Global Fund for Women and the Colorado Foundation for Women’s Beyond Our Borders Fund.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: "Listening . . . And Telling," a story by Elizabeth Ross

In 2005 I was part of a group who produced stories about the impact of child sexual assault through The Center for Digital Storytelling’s Silence Speaks initiative. Initially after viewing the stories at the end of the workshop, I felt curiosity and surprise at the immediacy of impact: I felt proud, visible, and necessary – quite different from how I had walked into the Berkeley lab feeling on the first day. What has become clear was that this process of internal re-structuring has continued to this day. Making Listening and Telling was the beginning.

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Voices from Around the Table

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month.  StoryCenter is currently recognizing the importance of speaking out about rape and abuse by sharing new and archived pieces from our blog.  Today, we share a piece from our archives - a story that it took twenty years to share for the first time.


Editor’s Note: this piece was originally posted on Nov. 26, 2013, as part of a series about the global “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” campaign.

Voices from Around the Table: Reflections on Gender-Based Violence

It was a weeknight in March, too warm for the time of year. I wore a sweater anyway, because it was windy – wind always makes me feel nervous. I’d met him once before, at a dining hall. When I showed up at the party, he came right over. He was polite, and funny…he got me a beer, we danced…we talked around each other, like we weren’t sure. He kept re-filling my cup…and I kept drinking, like I often did, back then; it took some kind of edge off.

I don’t know when my friends left, or how I managed to walk to his dorm room. All I know is that when I woke up the next morning, in his bed, my dress and sweater were still on but the rest of my clothes weren’t. And I was in pain. I left while he was still asleep, we didn’t talk again. He graduated a couple of months later.

For so long I said nothing. I felt ashamed…responsible. I didn’t know what to call it. Then twenty years after it happened, I finally told a college friend. She reminded me that her ex-boyfriend had raped her, when we were sophomores. We shook our heads, wished both guys had been different. Then she said, “I’m sorry. I wish I had known, so I could’ve been there for you.” 


Silence Speaks is a project of the Center for Digital Storytelling that surfaces personal narratives of struggle, courage, and transformation and works to ensure that these stories play an instrumental role in promoting gender equality and human rights. We use participatory media, popular education, and testimonio practices to support the telling and witnessing of stories that all too often remain unspoken and unheard. With the permission of storytellers and project partners, stories are shared in local communities and globally through broadcast or social media outlets, as strategic tools for training, grassroots organizing, and policy advocacy to promote dignity and justice. To learn more about Silence Speaks, view stories, and read about projects, please visit silencespeaks.org and "like" Silence Speaks on Facebook.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month - "Staci's Story"

"My story is not something I try to forget.  It would be especially hard because I have written many papers and spoken at many different events about my story. That is why I was so excited to have another opportunity to share it - because spreading awareness of the issue is a passion of mine. When creating my digital story about my incident with sexual assault, I didn’t realize how many details from that night I had tried to block out of my mind. The process brought flashback after flashback from that night. I do have to say that even though the process was a difficult for me emotionally, I definitely enjoyed the process. Seeing a finished product of me telling my story in a way I never had before was somewhat relieving. Now I can continue my healing process knowing that other people can now truly understand what that night was like from my perspective, and how the small details can make such a huge impact on a survivor’s life."

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: It's On Us, It's In Us

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: It's On Us, It's In Us

It's On Us, It's In Us

By Sally J. Laskey, National Sexual Violence Resource Center

My story closely mirrors the story of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).  They are both about activism.  I was raised by activists and teachers. Some people (like my mother) would say that I have always had an agenda.  SAAM definitely has an agenda to prevent sexual violence. Working at the National Sexual Violence Resource, I am inspired by the activist stories I hear every day, but many people still feel very alone in thiseir work. Digital storytelling is a vehicle for sexual assault prevention activists to capture their histories and build new futures.

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Fighting Violence through Story

I’ve had a love for storytelling for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a home filled with books, and with grandparents and parents who enthralled me with their stories throughout my childhood. My interest in stories brought me to university, where I first majored in literature. The more I read, and the more I learned, the more I became interested in how stories could be used to facilitate dialogue between people. How personal experiences could be communicated through stories; whether they were created and revealed through literature, photography, films, or paintings. How these personal narratives reverberated in reality, and in fact constituted reality.

So when I started studying human rights last year, I was already interested in exploring how the arts could be used in the service of rights promotion. I was particularly keen to explore how survivors of human rights abuses could voice their opinions and influence policies that directly concerned them. With an interest in women’s rights, I decided in my dissertation to take a closer look at how personal narratives can be used as policy advocacy tools to combat violence against women (VAW), with a particular focus on domestic violence and sexual assault.

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The Importance of Production: Beyond Community Practice and Process

The Importance of Production: Beyond Community Practice and Process

I think a lot about digital storytelling. That’s a given, since I work for the Center for Digital Storytelling (StoryCenter) and facilitate digital storytelling workshops. I probably ponder too much. Just ask my family and friends. I know my colleagues at StoryCenter and practitioners around the globe would agree; we’re always on about storytelling, constantly trying to provide the best workshop experience possible.

Lately my obsession has expanded from the practice and process of digital storytelling – why we make them and how they’re facilitated, to the form and function of digital stories – what they are (or can be) and how they work. It’s been refreshing and even imaginative to consider the ‘production’ of a digital story rather than merely what the story is about.

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The Real Family Project: Celebrating Birthdays, Finding Community

Last week, I had a beautiful birthday.  I will admit that it was mostly due to Joe and  his beautiful community.  It is always weird to be the one entering a completely  new world.  Joe, in his letter about my birthday, mentioned the importance of that date for us.  It is the moment that this story really began.

For me, birthdays have always been troubling.  It is not because I am growing a year older.  I am oddly at peace with my age, and I probably should be after it has been made public through this project everywhere.  For an adoptee, a birthday is a memory of loss.  It is the one day a year that you remember completely and without question that you once belonged to someone else.

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The Real Family Project: Being Thankful for Birthdays

The Real Family Project: Being Thankful for Birthdays

Every time I'm on Facebook I notice who is having a birthday.  Social media is mainly distracting, but that little convenience, being reminded about a friend's birthday, somehow balances out the distractions.  It feels great to say Happy Birthday to someone every day of the year.

I believe all lives deserve a shout out, at least once a year, if not 365, by a large number of people, who simply say, it is great you exist.

Tatiana turns 42 on Wednesday, November 26.  In 1972, that date was on a Sunday.  I imagine myself that weekend in 1972, aware that the birth mother was preparing to have a child, perhaps she had gone into labor the day before.  I had asked to be there, but perhaps the home where Tatiana was born was not so keen on the idea of the birth dad's being present, or perhaps it was decided by our parents it was not the best.  I know I never saw Tatiana at birth.  I wonder what that would have been like.

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The Real Family Project: In Tatiana's Words

The Real Family Project: In Tatiana's Words

A couple of weeks back, I accidentally kicked my son’s twenty-five pound weight. It still hurt a couple of weeks later, so I went to a doctor. At the doctor’s office, I was given the medical form to fill out. I realized that this was the first time in forty-one years that I actually could fill out this form. I had all of the information. I briefly wondered if I should call Joe.

This is what it means to be adopted.

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Presenting The Real Family Project

Presenting The Real Family Project

We are writing to invite you to become part of a journey with us: a journey to explore the story of two people finding each other across 40 years of time, to look at the issues of adoptees and their families, and to make sense of what it means to construct family in the twenty-first century. 

Our names are Tatiana Beller and Joe Lambert.  We are both writers and media professionals.  We are both steeped in the issues of story, of life, of culture.  We were both born in Texas.  We both have boys, 19 years old, one Sebastian, one Massimo Sebastian, born 2 weeks apart.   

Joe is Tatiana's birth father. Tatiana is Joe's biological child. Father? Daughter? The names give us trouble.  We are strangers who know each other in a very peculiar, a very profound, way. 

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Why Sound? – by Joel Knopf

Why Sound? – by Joel Knopf

One fall morning, I step outside my door and listen. I’m amazed by how many sounds I hear. A bird calls; another answers. A gaggle of school children moves left to right, full of laughter and overlapping conversation. A dog howls and a woman says to a stranger, “Sorry, she’s really into squirrels.” And how could I have ever thought there was only one wind? This morning, the wind is a pastiche of rustles, slow and fast.

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Youth in Papua New Guinea Speak Out About Sexual and Reproductive Health – by Julia Sidney Mayersohn, Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea

Youth in Papua New Guinea Speak Out About Sexual and Reproductive Health – by Julia Sidney Mayersohn, Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea

World Contraception Day (September 26th) marked the premiere in Port Moresby of a collection of moving digital stories created by youth peer educators from around Papua New Guinea. The videos, which offer rare and thoughtful insights into deeply real issues that affect adolescents all over the world – peer pressure, first boyfriends, and fear of unwanted pregnancy – were shown to a theatre full of students and dignitaries, as well as members of the press and media, as part of a film festival organized by the United Nations. 

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Media Services – Digital Storytelling at Community College of Denver

Media Services – Digital Storytelling at Community College of Denver

As a learner-centered college, CCD continuously strives to improve student outcomes through innovative learning techniques.

Digital Storytelling has been demonstrated to increase students' engagement and retention, and has become an invaluable tool in our arsenal.

For more than 20 years, the Center for Digital Storytelling has worked in hundreds of colleges, universities, and K-12 school districts across the United States and around the world to introduce the multimedia curricula into the classroom. Students learning Digital Storytelling come to understand the art of collaboration, shared responsibility, and accountability for their projects.

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