Situations of sexualized violence and bullying have been forefront in the news lately (always). It weighs heavy on my heart and mind.
In the face of this violence, how can we imagine and ensure non-oppressive realities/alternatives?
Actors, audience members, and facilitators move their way through a crisis situation. The audience watches the play. The second time, they get to interject. Become one of the characters. Make different choices. Alter the outcome. But remain in character.
It is an opportunity to feel the issue with your body and mind. To play out different possibilities in a safe place. To understand that we all have choices. To imagine different choices. To try them out. To be ready for a real life situation. To be empowered.
This fall, a company called Sheatre, will be touring Saskatchewan with a forum theatre play “Far From the Heart” about sexual violence and dating violence. I got to see a screening as part of International Women’s Day celebrations in Regina. It was powerful.
And what was most challenging, for me, was the discussion afterwards where people expressed ideas that sometimes sexual assault is the woman’s fault. And if the woman wasn’t wearing that, or hadn’t said that, all this could be prevented.
That discussion was echoed in a recent news article that a friend posted- about a woman who was walking in the evening, got separated from her friends, pulled into a car, and sexually assaulted by a group of men. A group of men. In Victoria. Dropped off a few hours later in a parking lot. And the police said that a woman should take responsibility for her own safety. Her own safety.
“We remind women to take steps to be responsible for their personal safety,” he said. Police recommend that women: Travel in groups and stick to well-lit areas. Carry a cellphone. Not accept drinks from people and not leave drinks unattended. If drinking alcohol, plan a safe ride home by cab or with people you know. If using public transit, travel with friends.
As I followed the discussion (on facebook and in the paper), many agreed the article, and the police, failed to put the blame where it belonged. And that it failed to send a strong message to those in our community who are responsible for such crimes.
Why is that missing from the story? Missing from our discussions about assault? Why isn’t that front and centre? Why these ‘tips’ that continue to sanction the status quo?
It is heartbreaking on many levels. We continue to blame women for being in the wrong spot, at the wrong time. And then we continue to avoid direct confrontation\conversation with the men who are responsible for this trauma.
To be fair, there is a second article that incorporates some comments from the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre but really the first story should address the real issues – not just after a public outcry.
As a young teenager, I used to ride my bike through the woods in the dark, coming home. I would be so scared. And I would do it anyway because – damn it – I have a right to take the shortcut home! And I would imagine all kinds of scenarios in my mind in which, if attacked, I would calmly convince the person not to hurt me. Or I would turn into Wonder Woman. Or the person would suddenly start crying and apologizing and be on the side of good forever. Well, Wonder Woman was a stretch but .. sometimes I was high. And I wanted to believe I was safe and in control.
We need to imagine real alternatives together. Like the ones we can practice in forum theatre activities. And then we can practice them in our own lives. To practice for life when it hits you in the face with a situation like, “Let’s pick that girl up” and you can say, “No, let’s not”.
And then, we can see news stories that say something like: “We urge men to hold eachother accountable and prevent sexual assault. We recommend that men: Say no to sexual assault. If you are in a group, and someone suggests sexual assualt, say no and then use your cell phone to call the police. If you feel like hurting someone, stay home and call a crisis line. Get the help you need. You can change for the better. All of us are responsible for creating a safe place.”
We are all responsible.
This is a good interview between Democracy Now! and Augusto Boal – Boal explains the origins of forum theatre and his own journey of learning about oppression/non-oppression.