During the 57th annual CSW, I was able to attend two presentations that helped me to open my mind about personalizing sexual violence. "Documentary Screening: Women Survivors of Sexual Violence" and "Victory over Violence: Women Leading through Education" were both parallel sessions of the CSW that did not focus on personalizing sexual violence exactly; but, they both shared the personal stories of women survivors of sexual violence. These powerful stories from women from organizations like Girl Be Heard, Women Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), and a divorced women's group from Turkey brought sexual violence down from an untouchable act practiced by villains into the real-world where sexual violence is done to humans by other humans.
For example, Girl Be Heard is an NGO based in New York City that works with victims of trafficking, sexual violence and assault through theatre and dance troupes. Through working with the troupes and live performances, these women survivors share their deeply personal, disturbing and very real stories. At the CSW session, one of these brave artists shared her story of being sex trafficked by an uncle through a spoken poem. These stories are shocking and get our attention in ways that academic writings or research on sexual violence just don't. However, these two sessions at the CSW showed me that personal stories can also have powerfully positive effects.
Personalizing sexual violence by having survivors share their experiences can help people who have not suffered sexual violence connect with people who have. Their stories' shock value helps others reach out to the storyteller and can lead to beautiful partnerships like Girl Be Heard that now helps hundreds of other survivors. While sharing disturbing stories of sexual violence may seem counterproductive, if the victim is ready, their story may have a positive impact on others and actually serve to stop sexual violence in its tracks in the future.