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House of the Unsilenced helps sexual abuse victims through art

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, August 16, 2018  /  08:38 am
House of the Unsilenced helps sexual abuse victims through art

Art and self-expression play a role in the survival of sexual assault victims. (Shutterstock/File)

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, House of the Unsilenced unites Indonesian creative minds in expressing their support for victims of sexual abuse.

Established by familiar names from the local art scene — some victims of sexual assault themselves — the House is holding a variety of workshops for the support of fellow survivors, beginning in July and running up to August.

The workshops include fiction writing, journaling, bookbinding, decoupage, 3D collage, self-care body movements and hip-hop songwriting. Artist Ika Vantiani, who also represents House, acts as curator of these activities.

The collected creations from these workshops are displayed at Cemara 6 Galeri-Museum in Menteng, Central Jakarta from Aug. 15 to Sept. 2, specifically picking a gallery close to the city center so as not to limit discussions on sexual violence to marginalized spaces.

The event also finds House partnering with likeminded institutions, such as the Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (LBH APIK), Yayasan Pulih, Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Arus Pelangi and Hollaback! Jakarta.

House has been involved in many creative pursuits including the publication of short stories, poems and essays in the #Unrepressed series, which are published on the website

Writer Eliza Vitri Handayani, representing House, says the unsilenced are survivors of sexual assault or sexual violence who choose to speak up.

“House gives them the opportunity to express themselves in a positive environment, through art. It gives a chance to find support and explore their creativity. It helps to deal with the past and to live in the present,” she says.

Talking about the roles that art and self-expression play in the survival of sexual assault victims, Eliza says it builds courage, especially within an environment where victims, instead of finding assistance, are often judged and publicly scolded for their “mistakes”.

“Self-expression is particularly important in a context where victims are expected to feel shame and guilt, where they are judged by others who may not know very much of what they have been going through,” says Eliza, adding how even the people closest to the victims are often culpable in the process of victim-shaming.

“Expression lets us define who we are, so we are not defined by others. The process of expression not only helps with thinking through and making sense of what happened in the past, or our trauma, it can help survivors feel proud and confident of who they are, in the present, as human beings,” she says. The end goal is also to influence attitudes toward sexual assault, similar to what the #MeToo campaign has done.

Eliza sees how strong the impact of these programs has been. She points to Bisik-Bisik Kembang Goyang, which was a showcase wherein a cisgender woman and a transgender woman created an installation piece about relearning sisterhood.

Eliza also points to her own writing class, where participants have written “moving or funny stories about losing friends, making connections, and regrets and lessons learned”.

For these “unsilenced” ones, the hope is that art is able to convey things that may be difficult to express verbally. In a society that is still predominantly patriarchal, House hopes that art can cut through the conversation strongly.

“This problem is not uniquely Indonesian, but there is still a strong tendency to blame the victims and explain the assault with how they acted or dressed rather than condemning the attitudes and behavior of the perpetrator,” Eliza says.

On the males’ side, there is even a defensive tendency of excusing the perpetrator, of “seeing the [male] perpetrator as subject to external circumstances and his own uncontrollable desires rather than holding him responsible”.

Some of the creative pieces also touch on the stigma of “purity”, which relates closely to how women are often viewed and treated in Indonesia.

“We still tend to see men as higher than women and see women’s worth as dependent on their sexual ‘purity’. We have seen many examples of perpetrators being asked to marry the victim […] in spite of the damage to her [reputational] integrity — imagine what kind of marriage it would be!”

The partnerships that House has built have been much to its benefit. The LBH APIK introduced House to a community of survivors they had worked with in the past as well as provided information for victims in need of legal counsel.

Meanwhile, the Pulih Foundation provided training for House’s psychological first aid volunteers, who are tasked with helping survivors dealing with emotional distress. Also, Lentera Sintas will present a therapy session at House and Hollaback! Jakarta will hold a “bystander intervention workshop”.

Other organizations are involved too: Magdalene conducted a session on the ethics of reporting cases of sexual violence, Arus Pelangi will hold a session on sexual violence as experienced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI) will assist in coming up with artworks representing forced pregnancy as sexual violence.

Eliza quoted Devi Asmarani, editor in chief of Magdalene, House’s main media partner, in condemning sexual violence as not only a legal issue, but also a public health and social justice issue.

“We need capable people and organizations working in different fronts — education, outreach, policy, health care, legal/law enforcement, media and many more. We need more initiatives or platforms where organizations and collectives with similar goals can come together and work in support of each other.”


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