April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S. and while Women and Girls Lead campaign partners were doing their part to advocate for survivors, our main efforts went to raising public awareness through film. We started the month with the highly anticipated two-part series premiere of Kind Hearted Woman, a documentary by David Sutherland. We’ve also been preparing for the upcoming May 13th broadcast of the Academy Award nominated documentary The Invisible War by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. These two films in particular show the powerful potential for storytelling to support healing.
An act of violence can last only minutes, but the effects on a survivor can linger for a lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, survivors of sexual assault are 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide. Multiply that times the 18 percent of women and girls who experience sexual assault, and the U.S. has a startling health epidemic on its hands. While awareness about prevention and punishment has steadily increased, Kind Hearted Woman and The Invisible War paint a rarely seen picture of what it takes to heal from the long-term effects of sexual violence.
In Kind Hearted Woman, we met Robin Poor Bear, a charismatic Oglala Sioux woman and mother of two. Robin is in a battle with sobriety after years of sexual abuse drove her to alcohol abuse. Robin’s story is not unique – alcohol abuse is 13 times more likely for survivors of gender-based violence. In the five-hour series, which was filmed over three years, we watch Robin heal before our eyes as her voice grows more self-assured, the bonds with her children deepen, and she remains steadfastly sober. “The more I tell my story, the stronger it’s gonna make me,” Robin declares. Watch Kind Hearted Woman online.
Viewers who tuned in to the Kind Hearted Woman broadcast on Independent Lens and FRONTLINE April 1st and 2nd responded to Robin’s story with an outpouring of compassion and support. Some even asked if there was a way they could contribute financially. As a result, the filmmakers established a fund where people can send donations to Robin and her family to use throughout their healing process. Learn more about the Robin Poor Bear Fund.
Kind Hearted Woman is also being used to train healthcare professionals in treating and responding to the harmful effects of violence. The Man Up Campaign and the American Indian Community House hosted a screening at Mount Sinai Hospital to facilitate a discussion on treating and responding to the harmful effects of violence. Throughout the year, Man Up partners with Native American communities to train and equip male advocates in fighting the high rates of gender-based violence on reservations.
During the May 13th broadcast of The Invisible War, viewers will meet U.S. service women and men who are living with the effects of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), a term developed in response to the widespread problem of rape in the military. MST is akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, which is characterized by severe anxiety, stress, or fear. On the whole, survivors of sexual assault are six times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Amy Herdy says in her interview for The Invisible War, “I have never seen trauma like I have seen from veterans who have suffered Military Sexual Trauma.”
When several of the survivors come together to file a lawsuit regarding their sexual assault cases, a powerful shift occured. They find strength in their common stories. “I’m not alone,” survivor Kori Coica repeats in the film, “I’m not alone.” The film’s Executive Producer Regina Kulik Scully hopes to recreate this transformative effect in the newly established Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program. The program, which welcomed its first group of veterans in February 2013, offers specialized, non-pharmaceutical treatment for survivors of MST.
In addition to the filmmaker’s efforts, our partner RAINN is working closely with the Department of Defense to offer a Safe Helpline to members of the military. The hotline makes available trained, impartial advocates who can counsel service women and men on what to do if they experience, witness, or feel at risk of sexual assault. Learn how to contact the Safe Helpline.
Also check out one of RAINN’s public service announcements, which is available to Women and Girls Lead partners and stations to use in support of the Kind Hearted Woman and The Invisible War broadcasts:
Do your part to support survivors by listening to their stories. Tune in to The Invisible War Monday, May 13th on Independent Lens (check local listings) and follow Women and Girls Lead on Facebook for sharable infographics and videos.