In 2012 The Victorian Women’s Trust awarded South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (Melbourne) a grant  to create a series of digital stories  about the Arts Program for posting onto YouTube.

The project is called  “A Message in a Bottle“; it is a cyber version of  standing at the shoreline and casting the message out to sea and an unknown recipient. We are casting these out to those who may have  a shared experience of  sexual abuse or family violence or  know someone who is suffering because of these things.   We are casting these out to those who are beginning to  think about how to tackle the wide-ranging emotions as well as the many other aspects of life  that are affected by abuse.

Over  the last 12 months I worked collaboratively with  participants to create their video by helping them shape the story they wanted to tell.  It was a process that could not be rushed.   Trust in others is undermined by abuse; I had to ensure that  every person who agreed to reveal something about themselves in a video had time to consider their participation, as well as collaborate with me so the project and the process was respectful, helpful and said exactly what they wanted it to say.  It is difficult to overestimate how challenging the process of revealing  can be.  Who will see it?   What might be the consequences?  How will I come across?   What should I say?

Participants were invited say whatever they wanted within the context of their participation in the art groups – sometimes I helped them kickstart their ideas as many felt they had nothing to say.   But of course they had a lot to say! and it must be remembered that these are merely glimpses of their experiences of creating, of finding new relationships, of being part of an arts community, of the struggles they experience as a result of their abuse, and the triumphs they have achieved in spite of that. Each video is about 3mins. There are videos by women, men, and parents with their children.

It took a long time before individuals agreed to participate, which I why there are a few early videos of me and Sally the counsellor.   A few women agreed to participate and once others saw them, many were happy to share a part of their story.   Nonetheless some did not wish to be fully exposed  and chose to show only their art works, whilst others made use of the computer’s special effects to conceal their identity.  View the videos with compassion – and consider the range of emotions and experiences, and hurdles that have underpinned  its creation.

To start I  discussed the shape of the project with the individual,  sometimes for many weeks, then we met to record the sound/video.  I made a rough cut which included images of their art work.   The participant and I met again to see the video and they were able to change, add or request any editing.  I was asked to cut out pauses – the stumbles and moments of uncertainty which I thought revealed some of the struggle of life post-abuse – but which the participant  saw very differently, add floating words,  include particular music, and delete bits and pieces that might affect others or a court case.  But mostly participants were immediately delighted with the video – and how it captured and revealed their story.

I love the project.   I loved the collaborative nature of it.   I saw things about the person and the work which I had not seen in the art group.  I also got a deeper insight into the effects  of abuse on a particular individual – each situation is unique.  I see great potential in this medium for survivors of abuse to have their voices and stories recorded and told.  For this to help shift the silencing,  to show the suffering and the scarring – but also to show that so much of what the abusers  and others had said of them – that they are hopeless, failures and worthless – is simply not true.   We see survivors at their best.   Creative, tenacious, generous.

This is  a moving, powerful, uplifting and sometimes sobering collection.

So, take a three minutes and click on one of these and see one person’s story.   I will be posting more later.

VANESSA AND ANNIE :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wOQENZDEvI

Vanessa and her young daughter talk about how much they have enjoyed being part of TOTEM, the parents and children’s group.

MAURICE: on TOTEM.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xRt3Tb2Enk

Maurice, a single father talks about participating in an after school arts project for parents and children affected by sexual abuse with his 11 year old daughter..

JESS, SECASA Counsellor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdKIsTVzWqk

Jess, a South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault counsellor discusses the joys and benefits of being in the mosaic group.

GAYLE and SARAH   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EWx7ntKE5Y

The cover of the book “New Perspectives on Coping and Resilience”, released 2012  featured the beautiful mosaic artwork of SECASA participant Gayle, and Anne Riggs’ chapter on art and recovery focussed on participant Sarah.   Both talk on this video of the power of  being seen & heard.

MARGARET : on ANGER   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIVvQWAodpQ

Margaret talks about how expressing her feelings through art helped her manage her anger.  She learned to put her feelings into the work rather than have them spill over others and cause them hurt.

EMILY’s STORY :     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0zX223JP9A    

Emily is a young woman who talks about how creativity helped her recovery by helping her identify her emotions.

VALERIE’S STORY :   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUjAr8wVSJo

Valerie, an art group participant and childhood sexual assault survivor shares her ongoing fight for life through art and words.  Her video reveals the long-term impact of child abuse and the sense of calm and place that she found in the art group.

ANNE’S STORY : Moulded in Clay      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED2av8aEm2s

Anne suffered a great deal of abuse as a child and struggled to express about her experiences using words.   She discovered the joy of clay and its wonderful capacity to express her feelings,  her past, and her dreams.

SARAH REFLECTS :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpIAtQ3T9nM

Sarah is childhood sexual assault survivor and has participated in a number of art groups.  Over the years she has experienced depressed, grief and low self-esteem.   Being part of the group, creating  and having  a positive attitude helped her recovery and build her self-esteem.

SIMONE’S STORY   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTChrLWZ8YA

Simone is a survivor of sexual assault who has suffered a great deal as a result of it.   She has struggled with substance abuse for many years.  She was afraid to tell anyone about her past and only revealed her secret around the time she joined the group.  She found friends in the art group who were sympathetic and kind;  she also found a  way to express her deep emotions.

The ‘Message in a Bottle’ video project was funded by the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (Melbourne) with a grant from the Victorian Women’s Trust. If you need to speak with a sexual assault counselor please phone 1800 806 292 (Victoria) or 1800 737 732 (Australia Wide).