Most readers will know that I run art groups with people (mostly women) who have been sexually abused, many of whom have also experienced domestic violence. Often these traumatic events start when our participants were very young and the impact on them is great.
When people have been repeatedly hurt by those who should be caring for them, trust is broken and it is often very hard to feel safe and welcome in the community. Shame, fear, depression and anxiety all get in the way. Many live isolated lives, with few friends and few social opportunities. As well as running these groups to support women’s desires to create, we also run them so women create and feel part of a community. It can take a few weeks for the anxiety to settle and for participants to feel like they belong in the group, but it is not long before there is laughter, kind words, and a sense of lightness in the room.
Now that the group is half way through its 12 weeks, I asked the women today to describe what it is about creating art as part of a group that is appealing to them? We had a small group today – here are their responses :
“It’s our own community, built on trust, acceptance and laughter.”
“Enjoy looking at what others have created. General conversations – and the topics that are discussed within the group”.
“Having a sense of belonging – a common interest, a common story – in a creative environment has been an inspiring experience”
“Motivation. Sharing ideas and stories/experiences. Feeling safe and relaxing … lowers anxiety. Making friends”.
“Being in a group helps with support; encourages sharing and provides a safe space for a chat while working.”
“Learning problem-solving and techniques. Listening to other people’s stories. Observing the different ranges of creative minds! Interaction is the attraction. Anne and Julie (counsellor) always available to show how! Idea and inspirational creativity!”
It is daunting to join a group associated with an abusive past, however, most women really want to come to be with others who have a shared experience. They love it that the focus is on art and not trauma, and they love feeling part of something. We run two groups through the South East Centre Against Sexual Assault (Melbourne) per year.
image: matchbox art created by Karen M. Seaford Group (2018)