Apr 13, 2011 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Think “pink,” and what comes to mind? Breast cancer awareness?
How about yellow? Bone cancer, or endometriosis. Or suicide. Or soldier support.
Red? AIDS. Puzzle pieces? Autism.
But for survivors of rape, sexual assault and incest, there is no awareness campaign of any hue.
“I realized there are no medals given or color-coded products sold to recognize the intense courage and fierce determination required to overcome the trauma that remains from these crimes,” says Renee DeVesty, CNY outreach director for Camp Good Days & Special Times . “So I decided to produce an event that would bring light and healing to their path.”A
‘The Clean Slate Diaries,’ will recognize and honor victims of rape, incest and domestic violence through live music, art, dance and the spoken word from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday April 23 at the May Memorial Unitarian Church, 3800 E. Genesee St. in DeWitt.
Maren Guse, 24, an information management graduate student at SU, has worked with DeVesty and participating survivors to create a video of survivor stories for the event. An exhibit of artwork created by survivors will be unveiled that night, too.
While there are resources and events for survivors in Syracuse, The Clean Slate Diaries is unique in its approach of specifically honoring survivors in the community, DeVesty says.
The gathering will bring together survivors and supporters in a big, vocal way to draw attention to a particularly gruesome topic. It’s an issue that most people are uncomfortable talking about, so they don’t — and that’s just the point.
“Most rape, incest, domestic and intimate partner abuse and violence takes place because of the silencing effect it has on victims,” DeVesty says.
End the silence, and stop the cycle of abuse, she adds.
“If we can improve how we handle and treat an individual who actually finds the courage to come forward and speak, it can be empowering for all victims, aid in their healing process and increase the number of cases that are actually reported – stopping the incidence of the crimes.
DeVesty was 19 years old when she was raped by two male friends while overnight at a lakeshore camp in Central New York.
As is the case for rape and sexual abuse survivors, DeVesty’s trauma didn’t end with the assault. It didn’t end when she realized she was pregnant as a result of the rape, or when she decided (“regretfully,” she says) to terminate the pregnancy. The psychological damage from the incident drove her to years of alcoholism, abusive relationships, debt, an eating disorder and, finally, to seek counseling to accept what had been done to her and the subsequent decisions she had made.
Twelve years passed before DeVesty, at 31, began to heal psychologically from the rape, and even that wasn’t the end. It was a long, difficult journey that required years of counseling and professional support, she says.
“For me, the most difficult part was the psychological damage this did to me,” DeVesty says. “The thought process is so poisonous — the shame, the guilt, the fear, the silence. It all feeds into this punishment that I inflicted on myself for years and years, believing no one would understand, no one would believe me — thinking I had to keep this ugliness secret or I would never be loved. I suffered far too long for all the wrong reasons.”
DeVesty says she eventually found a genuine sense of serenity, and was encouraged by a friend to pass her healing experience on to others.
But it wasn’t easy. The first time she told her story, she trembled, wrapping her foot around the stool for stability.
“At the end, a young woman came up to me and said, ‘I wish my best friend heard your story, maybe she wouldn’t have killed herself,'” DeVesty recalls. “That is why I speak now, and will continue to share my story.”
For survivors, by a survivor
Jolie Scarantino, a victim advocate at Vera House, said The Clean Slate Diaries is the first example she’s seen of a program organized for survivors, by a survivor.
The Clean Slate Diaries was organized to show survivors they’re not alone in what they may be experiencing, while also bringing awareness to the community that this stuff is really happening, Scarantino says.
Awareness events typically are geared toward people who haven’t experienced sexual or domestic abuse, while resources for survivors group them with other survivors.
DeVesty’s event will bring those two groups together.
“The great thing about this program is that she’s openly inviting people who support the cause to participate in the event,” alongside survivors, Scarantino said.
On average, Vera House works with more than 700 sexual assault victims annually.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates that less than half of reported rapes result in a prison sentence for the rapist.
Factoring in that 60 percent of rapes are never reported, RAINN contends that as of 1999, 15 of every 16 rapists walk free.
In spite of the shame, fear and guilt many rape survivors experience,
DeVesty said she didn’t have much trouble finding survivors willing to contribute to The Clean Slate Diaries.
Guse says the more she and DeVesty talk about the project, the more she hears from people about their own experiences – friends, colleagues and strangers have come forward to share their stories, she says.
“I never realized, and never before could have imagined, just how many people have been touched by sexual violence and how there is truly a veil of silence around it,” says Guse.
The Clean Slate Diaries event is free and open to all survivors of rape, sexual assault and incest, and to those who support them. To learn more about the event visit facebook.com/cleanslatediaries .