'Telling Our Stories' free writing workshop will give voice to survivors of sexual abuse

NEWFANE — A year and a half ago, I received an outpouring of support when I published my story about both being sexually abused by my grandfather as a child and about Vermont Public Radio not allowing me to use the word “grandfather” to identify my abuser. I was also the recipient of many, many confessions of untold abuse.

Ever since, I've been thinking about a way to help others break the silence that keeps this kind of abuse secret - and thus perpetuates it.

And now, in collaboration with Brooks Memorial Library, The Women's Freedom Center and The Commons, I have a way. These partners are supporting Telling Our Stories, a free writing workshop for survivors of sexual abuse and violence.

The workshop will take place at the library on three Saturdays: March 14 and 21, and April 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. I'll facilitate, and an advocate from The Women's Freedom Center will be present to offer support as needed.

The workshop is free, and participants are encouraged to attend as many sessions as possible.

Participants who wish will have an opportunity to participate in a public reading at the library on Wednesday, April 15 at 7 p.m.

The Commons will consider the stories of survivors who would like to share their work with the community; provisions will be available to do so anonymously, if necessary.

The goal of Telling Our Stories is twofold: First, by sharing our stories, we hope to make known how many people in our community have survived sexual abuse and assault, and by doing so, help end it.

Secondly, we aim to teach those entrusted with our stories of harm how to respond respectfully and responsibly. As one who experienced firsthand how a survivor can be re-victimized by those who don't want to hear her story, I want to do my part to raise the curtain of silence that allows sexual abuse and violence from being an all-too-common occurrence in the lives of women and girls.

From Anita Hill's remarkable testimony during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 to Christine Blasey Ford's testimony at the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, uncounted and unnamed women and girls have suffered sexual violence in silence.

More recently, women in entertainment and politics have spoken up. But speaking out is difficult. Women who tell their stories are not always believed and are often blamed for their perpetrators' behavior.

Nor is hearing our stories of sexual abuse and assault pleasant. Worse, it's often easier to bury our stories than to hold influential men who have preyed upon us accountable. It seems nearly impossible for ordinary women without the cachet of fame, beauty or influence to speak out.

In Windham County, we have a chance to change this pattern by Telling Our Stories and teaching our audience how we can be heard.

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