Survivors of abuse have gone through indescribable pain, anxiety and confusion, and are not always able to find proper outlets to share their stories. Break the Silence at Vassar (BTSAV) has created a new platform for these survivors. Until Friday, April 29, BTSAV will be accepting submissions for their forthcoming zine. The goal of their zine is to provide a voice of empowerment for survivors and a creative outlet to express how they reclaimed themselves or how they’re still struggling. All submissions will appear anonymously and can take on any form, be it poem, testimony or artwork.
BTSAV, established in 2011, is an online community that strives to end personal violation and empower victims by sharing their stories. The testimonies on their website also appear anonymously. BTSAV also provides a list of resources for survivors to reach out to both on and off campus.
In Spring 2014, BTSAV posted their first zine. It included a mixture of personal stories and artwork from survivors of sexual abuse and also had instructions and resources for survivors to go to. While they are currently compiling their upcoming zine, members hope it will take on a similar vein as their first and will make this zine available online.
BTSAV member Erin Boss ’16 explained the motivation for the second zine, saying, “We wanted to produce another zine this year, and we decided the theme would be on reclamation—reclaiming self, experience and space after violence or trauma. For the process of creating the zine, we are mostly drawing on what we did the first time around. We had a few zine-making events, tried to get the word out through weekly listserv emails, advertised on Facebook and tabled at Sexual Assault Awareness Month events.”
This zine is part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). All throughout April, there have been events that BTSAV or CARES have organized to raise awareness about sexual violence and how to prevent it. Some highlights have included the “Supporting a Survivor” workshop and a lecture from transgender rights and anti-violence activist Princess Harmony Rodriguez, which were both run by the Sexual Assault & Prevention Program (SAVP) and CARES, one of Vassar’s 24/7 peer-listening services. There was also a bystander intervention workshop tailored for the LGBTQ community.
SAVP coordinator Charlotte Strauss Swanson discussed the importance of SAAM and the environment it strives to create. She explained, “We need safe spaces to talk openly about what sexual violence looks like, to listen and learn from survivor stories and perspectives, and to collaborate to prevent violence on our campus and in the community. Our hope is that these events raise awareness about the ways in which sexual violence impacts us all and the strategies we can use to prevent it.”
This Monday evening in the Aula Center, SAVP and CARES co-hosted “Art in Solidarity,” which saw many different artists, ranging from a capella groups to spoken word poets, perform for a night of artistic healing. BTSAV was there with a zine-making station to encourage people to help with their current issue. Notably, the event featured an open mic that allowed people to tell their stories and have an open discussion over these serious topics. Art pieces made by survivors were also on display.
Some of the on-campus resources available for victims includes CARES, Sexual Assault Response Team and The Listening Center, all anonymous support services. SAVP provides emotional counseling as well as accompaniment for appointments at Metcalf and off-campus facilities. Feminist Alliance also provides a space for discussion on similar topics and strives to end sex- or gender-based oppression. If you wish to get involved with any of these organizations, the listening centers have an application process and many of the student organizations meet weekly and are open to new members.
It is important for victims and survivors to know that they are not alone in their experiences and there’s a multitude of resources for them to reach that are more than glad to help and provide the support needed. There are always friends to turn to and even Vassar faculty are willing to be there. For those who know somebody who is a victim, a supportive approach is to remind them that you are there for them and that they are not to blame for what happened.
“Zines can be a platform for survivors to have their own space to explore different aspects of their experiences and to heal. It’s very important for the community to hear the voices of survivors, to support them and to make space for their experiences. I think other types of student art exhibitions could work well for the same function,” BTSAV member Gracen Evall ’17 said about what she hopes this zine accomplishes for survivors and the Vassar community as a whole. “I am hoping that survivors will be able to use this zine however it could best help them, and for those who feel alone in their process of healing, I hope it gives people space to realize a community.”
Boss’ sense of duty in writing about the difficult subject of sexual assault has invigorated greater meaning to the zine: “I love being part of the process because I think it can be a powerful way to process experience through political work. Making something for a zine is an individual act of creative energy, but the result is a collective work of solidarity.”