Women and Gender Advocacy Center allows survivors to share their stories

Charlotte Lang

Since 2009, the Women and Gender Advocacy Center has offered the Survivor Speaker’s Bureau as a chance for survivors of interpersonal violence to learn how to share their stories with others.

According to the WGAC’s page for the Bureau, telling these stories of interpersonal violence is an important part of healing and activism for survivors. Both primary and secondary survivors are welcome to join.

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Assistant Director of Victim Advocacy Casey Malsam at the WGAC, who organizes and runs the panel, said the goal of the Speaker’s Bureau is to allow survivors the chance to speak their truth and find empowerment while also allowing them the opportunity to listen to other survivors’ stories.

For survivors, the act of speaking one’s story can help that story hold less power over them. It is as if by giving it voice, the shame of the silence is lifted.”

Casey Malsam, Assistant Director of Victim Advocacy

“It highlights the responsibility that comes from being honored with these stories, the responsibility to believe survivors’ stories, to intervene in rape support culture (and) to end victim blaming,” Malsam said.

The Speaker’s Bureau offers a framework and support system for survivors who are ready to publicly tell their stories, Malsam said. The Bureau holds an orientation approximately twice each year. During this, survivors are asked to come prepared with an idea of who they are and how they want to tell their story.

“We spend some time getting to know one another, we share a meal and we share stories. We provide support in being a small private space to start exploring the stories, before opening it up to wider participation,” Malsam said. “Sometimes it can take a couple of trial runs before feeling comfortable to sit on an open panel and be so vulnerable.”

The panel of speakers in the Bureau are offered to organizations and classes looking to gain a better understanding of the impact of surviving interpersonal violence, Malsam said. These events can last one or two hours.

Those interested in joining the Bureau can contact Assistant Director of Victim Advocacy Casey Malsam at the Women and Gender Advocacy Center.

An event will include a panel of speakers sharing their stories and is followed by a question and answer period with the audience. The latter portion of the event is facilitated by a staff member of the WGAC.

“It is typically an incredibly impactful event for all who are present,” Malsam said.

Courtney Kavanagh, a student working with the WGAC, took part in the Bureau during the spring semester and considered it a great chance to hear others’ stories.

“It was amazing to hear people’s stories and was a really great opportunity, in general,” Kavanagh said. “I think everyone should go. It’s really important to talk about these things and debunk myths around topics like sexual harassment.”

Malsam said she too has seen positive results from this panel.

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“For survivors, the act of speaking one’s story can help that story hold less power over them. It is as if by giving it voice, the shame of the silence is lifted,” Malsam said. “For the audience, it can be affirming for other survivors to hear that they are not alone.”

Malsam also said hearing and sharing stories can provide perspective on how people can better support those struggling with trauma in their lives.

“Additionally, hearing survivor’s stories can help the wider population see just how harmful victim blaming and minimizing of impacts can be,” Malsam said. “Hopefully, it creates healing for our community and helps us end the active and passive ways that we allow this type of violence to exist.”

Those interested in joining the bureau can do so by contacting Malsam at the WGAC.

Charlotte Lang can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @ChartrickWrites.